Imagine yourself sitting with parents and watching television when suddenly a seductive condom advertisement appears. Our natural instinct is to feel awkward and act innocent. But why? Is the concept of making love unpleasant? Is practising safe sex a crime?
Talking about sex is still considered a taboo in India, the land of Kamasutra. Since childhood, our senses are draped with ignorance whenever there is a possible perception of any sexual stimulus. Often, the most educated people tend to firmly push the apparently ‘uncomfortable’ topic of sex under the carpet and even consider it as morally disgraceful. The taboo around topics like sex and sexuality is the root cause for the rising incidence of sexual abuse in the country, and it is the responsibility of adults to educate young people to protect themselves against such abuse.
The most common myth associated with sex is that sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are always associated with someone with a bad morale. Dr Niveditha Manokaran, a reproductive and sexual health consultant believes it to be the primary reason behind the stigma
She says, “‘HIV diagnosis is a death sentence’ is another myth. We have evolved so much with HIV management and prevention strategies. HIV is no longer a death sentence, rather it is defined as a chronic condition, like diabetes, hypertension or high-cholesterol which all need lifestyle and dietary modifications along with lifelong medications.”
“These medications make the virus undetectable, hence making it possible for them to not transmit this virus to their sexual partners and children. It’s important to break this myth, as it changes the way a person lives and how others treat them,” she adds.
Why is sex a taboo?
The systemic ideal of how sex is understood has a lot to do with social inequality and control. We constantly associate sex and its conversations with poor morale and those who explicitly express their needs are slut-shamed. In many cases, we even attach shame to such urges, often because of what we are taught as kids.
Dr Manokaran points out that even doctors restrain from asking personal questions to patients. “I’m sure it was the right opportunity to ask about sexual assault, safety and contraception and provide counselling, education and advice. I’m sure there were patients who were hoping we’d ask, but unfortunately there weren’t any,” she says.
Regrettably, a deep-rooted sense of morality binds the sentiment of a large population from identifying the benefits and necessities of launching sex education programmes throughout the country.It is widely believed that talking about sexuality and its awareness may instead corrupt young adolescents.
Dr Manokaran further says, “We could not imagine asking any young, unmarried person, who presents with a STI, if he/she is sexually active without being judged or even crucified. I don’t think I ever did. We did test them and also provided the right treatment, but would never dare to ask the right questions, or take what we call a detailed sexual history.”
Need of the hour
Understanding the consequences behind sex is shaped by a sense of ourself versus various other actors in society.
The Indian demographic dividend is youth-dominated, and therefore, issues pertaining to youngsters, including sex and sexuality need to be given high priority. On the contrary, these issues are not even taken into account marginally. The stigma attached to sex and sexuality ensure that such issues never enter public discourse.
To bring about a true change in misogynistic mindsets, change has to happen on several levels. Comprehensive sexuality education and teaching safety, teaching consent, parent sex education, doctors being sex positive and non-judgemental, and contraception being used appropriately without judgement are some of the many ways to spread sexual health awareness.
Changes should start now to create a modern and free society. What we need right now is to just sit together and initiate dialogues over sex and sexuality in an inclusive manner because this is too crucial a subject to be kept under wraps.
(Edited by Amrita Ghosh)