With over 1 billion in population, it’s clear that Indians have sex. We like sex and indulge in it but there are many of us that don’t know much about it growing up. Even today, conversations about the ‘birds and the bees’ are not ones Indians find comfortable to have with their children. Sex education in the country is vastly different based on the community, background and kind of education you receive – however, a good school still doesn’t mean good sex education is a given. Despite being the ‘wokest generation’, conversations about sex, sexual relationships, health and hygiene, and consent were not part of our formative years. Ask your friends and family about their experiences with sex-ed growing up and most of the answers will range from hilarious to ignorant and down-right scary.
We turn to Google at the drop of the hat to answer all of our strangest queries. The amount of misinformation floating around the internet is something worth worrying about considering the growing number of social media users and easy accessibility. On one hand, we have fetishised portrayals of sex in the content that we consume in Bollywood and on the other, we keep mum when it comes to talking about it in a healthy manner because it’s so stigmatised. 20-year-old artist Priyanka Paul often addresses this though through the work she creates. “I went to a school where sex-ed could only be considered a luxury because we rarely ever had it, so we grew up knowing so little about sex and how it works, but simultaneously were also exposed to so much media that’s constantly fetishizing sex and telling us it something to aspire to and is everywhere, and I mean that has definitely led to a major imbalance with regard to how we perceive sex on a daily basis,” she says.
Paul teamed up with graphic designer Rushil Bhatnagar and together they’re releasing BEDx Talks, a zine aimed at giving millennial Indian men the sex education they never got growing up. “This started as a Facebook status - ‘Just In: UNESCO has officially declared cuddling as BEDx Talks’. Priyanka and I then discussed that this has the potential to become a platform for sex education. What started as a classroom personal project, we scaled out to reach to a broader audience. And thus, BEDx Talk was born. A Desi sex-ed guide for millennial men,” says Bhatnagar.
Targeting an audience aged between 16-26, Paul and Bhatnagar know their audience intimately and have designed their zine in a way so as to actively engage with them. “These are millennials who are aware of things, curious to know more and lazy to read about it. The tone and visual language are set to the same, to be more youth-centric, open and honest in terms of dealing with the younger generation,” Bhatnagar explains. Using vibrant colours, wit and humour, he says that Bedx Talks addresses topics ranging from the unsaid bed rules to discussing foreskin in length. “The seriousness of the topics is such that people don’t usually open-up and talk about these. We are trying to shed a light on topics as such and make it more inclusive by including the age of consent and why men should know more about this at an early stage,” he adds.
The duo decided on their subject matter by asking questions – posed to themselves and to people in their real lives and digital ones as well. “We were left with a lot of questions (that we found answers to) and a lot of answers (that we needed much more people to know about), so all the topics are just things that we’ve felt curious about and felt like they needed to be addressed,” says Paul.
They created ‘Mr Dickinson’, your penis-headed guide on this journey of sex education filled with Bollywood references and imagery. When asked about the use of Indian cinema throughout this first edition Bhatnagar says, “Bollywood acts as a visual aid in terms of setting a benchmark of idealising the image of how consent doesn’t play a role in the society and with overly sexual and wrong portrayals of romance and making of love. It almost becomes a responsibility to shift to a different medium and provide sex education which we deserve to know.”
Paul comments that the industry has always been integral when it comes to defining masculinity for men in the country. “We thought it’d be a good idea to take all that Bollywood jazz and that bright visual imagery and all the negative connotations it has had in its depictions of sex and to turn it into something more meaningful, to in a way redefine masculinity and to change the Indian outlook about sex.”
The zine is bold, provocative and neither Bhatnagar nor Paul are shying away from it. They hope that Bedx Talks will open up more discussions with regards to sex education, of course, but also the kinds of conversations we’re having with the men in our lives. “Here’s hoping we make more content directed towards men about subjects that matter. Less unrealistic male-oriented porn and more male-oriented sex-ed.”
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