Ever since we were told that India’s health minister held the opinion that ‘Sex education’ should be banned in schools since it was against our culture, this subject has come back into the narrative of public debate. The minister later clarified that this was not what he meant. But beyond the accuracy of the statement itself, the truth is that a lot of people feel this way about sex education. The question that arose for me was, why this discomfort?
In India, the passionate kiss or a tender caress can almost never be part of a mature conversation and especially if such thoughts are aired in the presence of a woman. That would be considered utterly reprehensible. We are a patriarchal and puritanical society and within this space, sex as a subject is taboo, especially with women. There is more to this than embarrassment or awkwardness.
In our minds sex education seems to hold within it a subtext; the unstated societal norm (created by men) that girls/women should not be exposed to or participate in such discussions. Those who break this norm will not fit into the idea of a ‘good woman’ or be considered — to use that Hidious expression — ‘marriage material’. Even though we know that girls experience and hence explore their sexuality as much a boys, we prefer to brush it under the carpet. In our consciousness we find it difficult to accept the fact that teenage girls like boys struggle with their own bodies and its transformations and hence need to be informed about that subject. This will of course result in girls becoming sexually and emotionally aware. But is this acceptable within our social framework? We after all live in a society where many feel women ‘invite’ molestation and rape when they dress in a certain way.
Women are seen as ‘sensuous creations’ that satisfy the man. Our films repeatedly portray women in such a manner. The man chasing the girl, using sexual innuendos to ‘acquire’ her is completely acceptable. But the girl is almost always innocent and succumbs. Even the girl who has spunk during courtship, once married suddenly turns into a shy and coy ‘Bahu’ and ‘patni’. The woman always belongs to someone. On the other hand sexual virility is celebrated in the man; ‘the macho man’.
A sexually sensitive, conscious and assertive woman is considered immoral. Similarly the idea that dancers are ‘easy’ or that all film actors are ‘fast’ comes from a deliberate negative typecasting of women. Therefore it is considered good for a woman to be sexually suppressed because that will keep her from ‘straying’. It is ingrained in us that sex is the domain that should be managed by the man and the woman’s job is to play by the set rules. Hence, there is no necessity for her to understand her own sexuality and responsibilities. In any case, even her sexual liberation can only be sanctioned by a man. The sindoor and the burqa are symbols of this arrangement. Our ideas of virginity and morality come from this twisted notion.
This socially sanctioned domination is the cause for the abuse of women. Let us not make the mistake of attributing these perceptions to the lack of education or exposure or associate them with the rural-urban divide. We are as a culture, extremely judgmental about people’s fidelity based on their sex, race and colour.
If men look at themselves even closer they will find this chauvinism ingrained even in the most liberal mind. Within that precious space shared by lovers there are times when the moment is not right for physical sharing. But men find it very difficult to accept ‘No’ for an answer; it hurts their masculinity. But women are expected to accept such a rejection from the man. The sharing of the physical is about love and trust, but even that is trapped in the man’s ego.
There needs to be a shift in the perception of sexuality in our society and this is where sex education can play a pivotal role. Sex education is not only about safe sex, condoms and AIDS. It must instil in every student a deep sense of respect for oneself and the partner both at a physical and emotional level. This learning is as essential for the girl as it is for the boy. The boys in fact have a greater responsibility in transforming the ‘man’s world’. They cannot see themselves as sexually and physically dominating creatures. This change has the potential of changing the sexual paradigms of society leading to a more gender equivalent and caring society.