World Sexual Health Day? We don't do that here

Pathikrit Sanyal
Pathikrit SanyalSep 04, 2018 | 19:09

World Sexual Health Day? We don't do that here

Just ahead of Teacher’s Day, September 4 every year should be an important day for Indians; an important day of learning and awareness. But the country seems quite content celebrating teachers without focussing on actual learning. The World Health Organisation (WHO) celebrates the fourth day of the ninth month of every year as World Sexual Health Day, in an effort to promote greater social awareness on sexual health across the globe.


The importance of this day, especially in India, cannot be overstated.

Even with the rise of sex-positivity in the urban landscape, sex, for the most part, is looked down upon. There are some very specific conditions under which sex is not seen as a vile, potentially dangerous and disgusting thing by Indian society (outside of the bedroom, at least). These conditions are, first, post-marriage, because premarital sex is a one-way ticket to narak, and second, with the express purpose of procreating. The climactic (pardon the pun) scene from Karan Johar’s short in Lust Stories presents an accurate picture of how Indian families encourage sex for “baby-making”, but one mention of orgasms is enough to trigger a stroke.

With that in mind, it is easy to understand why about 95% of Indians don’t use condoms!

And as extreme as that number sounds, it’s hardly an exaggeration.

According to the 2015-2016 National Family Health Survey (NFHS), only 5.6% of the sample set said they used condoms for birth control. What is worse than the worrisome figure is just how little seems to have changed since the previous NFHS, conducted in 2005-2006, which found that as few as 5.2% Indians used condoms. In fact, an analysis of the two consecutive surveys found that the use of “any modern method of family planning” — sterilisation, the contraceptive pill, intra-uterine device (IUD), post-partum IUD et al — among women of child-bearing age (15 to 49) decreased 6% over ten years, despite greater awareness of birth-control methods and an improvement in family planning services.


While there are many reasons why this is so — misconceptions such as "condoms reduce sexual pleasure" and "vasectomies make men sterile", social awkwardness, toxic masculinity, taboos, etc. — one of the reasons that needs to be examined more closely is the reluctance to talk more openly about sex. For the most part, sex education in India is very much like bad sex: sloppy, quick and leaves out a lot of things.

Oh yeah. 95% of Indians don’t use condoms! (Photo: Reuters)

There is only so much you teach pubescent kids with cold clinical terms and line drawings in a biology book. Sexual health entails a lot more than knowing what a “penis” or “vagina” is, and that “sperm + ova = zygote”. The awareness around sexual health also includes conversation of safe sex, on consent, on sexually transmitted diseases and also, very importantly, understanding that sex is not an immoral act.

That conversation, sadly, is not possible in a country where a former Union health minister suggests fidelity and values instead of condoms as prevention measure for the spread of AIDS.


Karan Johar’s short in Lust Stories presents an accurate picture. “Baby-making” good; orgasms bad. (Photo: Screengrab/Netflix)


And the same Dr Harsh Vardhan, a real doctor, also once wrote on his personal website that our so-called "sex education" should be banned; rather, yoga should be made compulsory. He isn’t the only one who has held such enlightening positions on sexual health and sex education in India. According to a Huffington Post report from October 2016, the HRD ministry asked an expert panel making recommendations for a new education policy to remove the word "sex" and "sexual" from a government framing policy on sex education for school students.

And then, there is Mr Dinanath Batra, an RSS ideologue and a man determined to reform saffronise education, who said that sex education will “pollute” young minds. According to Batra, “Instead, we should focus on character building among the student community. You cannot imagine how a woman teacher or a girl student would react to such an expression [sex-education] in a class”.

These may be just three instances, but they reflect a prevalent notion – sex education is Wrong. And when sex education is Wrong, then sexual health, across the board, goes for a toss. Unsafe sex, excessive consumption of morning-after pills, unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) — these are the benefits people reap when sexual health not a priority at all, but yoga is.

But it’s all good.

Who needs sexual health and awareness when we can ban sexually-explicit (not really!) condom ads on TV during the day.

Last updated: September 04, 2018 | 19:09
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