When I think about sex education, I often (and admittedly biased) think about the impact it has on a woman’s life(being a woman that naturally comes to my mind). Whether she does not fully understand the physiology behind the seemingly mystical menstrual cycle, the options for contraception to prevent against STDs and pregnancy, or even the act of sex itself, discussing these topics has historically been a sticky issue. But what is most thought-provoking and exciting is the world where women have power through sex education and fundamental resources. Where a girl does not have to miss school because she does not have access to sanitary pads or tampons. Where a woman can understand the wonders of her body and man can grow in awareness and understanding of the taboo “period.” Is it fine to talk about puberty and masturbation openly?
But then I think, would I be comfortable talking to my parents about this? Or even a stranger? And do not even get me started on how terrifying it would be to talk to a stranger about sex education in the presence of my parents.
Recently, I traveled to a local mall in Bangalore and did just that. With one native friend and another friend from the U.S., we questioned different demographics of people, inquiring about their experience with sex education (whether it was discussed in schools, at home, or understood through the media). One thing that I found across all groups (including teenage boys, grandmothers, mothers, daughters, younger and maturing men, and couples) was an openness to talking about sex education. Whether or not people were just trying to be polite, most opened up and were transparent in what they knew and how they learned it.
Oftentimes, men did not know the meaning of a sanitary napkin. Most people did not have an understanding of contraception. I heard some people say that talking about sex was taboo. Others were involved in sex education themselves.
This diversity in experience and perspective reminded me of many accounts I have heard at home and at college. I have heard some stories of abstinence being the only sex education taught in rural Indiana. I have experienced a sex education where scare tactics were used by showing a slideshow of horrendous genitals infected by STDs in an all-girls, Catholic school. I know some people that received no sex education and did not know the physical meaning of sex until high school.
On a completely different note, I heard about the extensive and objective sex education given in some areas of California. I hear about the legislation being passed in New York to ensure that sanitary products are as accessible as soap in bathrooms (particularly in schools, prisons, and homeless shelters).
With such variety in opinion on the topic of sex education, where do we go from here? I hope to see a future where sex education is empowering and respectful of culture. So where do we start?