Remember the Chapter on Sex Education in School?
The lone chapter in school dealing with sexual health was all scientific terms and graphs of our internal reproductive organs. It made little or no sense to our hormonal teenage brain. The same diagrams and squiggles continue to dominate what we (very inaptly) call sex education in schools.
Just one out of 10 people in India between 16-24 years, actually know WHY periods occur. This includes BOTH men and women. A simple chat with family and friends will uncover how young adults continue to be confused and unaware about menstruation (periods, chums, being down), sex, contraceptives and everything else that falls under this umbrella.
‘Sex education’ in schools is laughable
Education about sex and sexual well-being, including menstrual hygiene, in schools, is truly depressing (hilarious, to be honest). The Adolescent Education Programme is a part of the CBSE syllabus, but it’s still a hush-hush topic. Often, teachers just skip the chapter or tell students, especially the girls, to read it on their own. And if at all a teacher covers the subject, they impart half-baked knowledge on periods, reproduction, STDs (sexually transmitted diseases), and contraceptives.
As a result, girls NEVER feel comfortable talking about period stains or cramps. Instead, they feel ashamed and awkward as nobody speaks to them clearly about the hormonal changes taking place within their bodies.
On the other hand, boys never get the chance to actually understand all the physical and chemical changes taking place in and on their bodies. They are not told about daily occurrences in their bodies like arousal, nightfall and other things that happen during puberty. Or even how to wear a condom!
Boys aren’t a part of period discussions – why?
Boys seldom learn about menstruation. Make a man watch a standup comedy on period cramps, and he will tell you that it’s not funny because it’s not relatable. The callous attitude of “Why do I need to learn this? It’s a girl’s problem” develops beautifully as a combination of what they learn in schools AND their homes.
Seminars on menstruation in schools primarily invite girls – deepening the divide. Because schools, parents, and peers never make boys understand periods, they develop prejudices that they find very difficult to overcome as they grow older. This lack of conversation often leads them to surf the internet, especially the ‘not-to-be-mentioned’ websites, for info. And unfortunately, those seeking info from porn are misled in more ways than one.
To add to this woe, the amount of garbage that floats around in the name of verified information online has made it impossible for young/ignorant/unaware people to find a trusted source. It has also led to all kinds of absurdities – from girls popping unprescribed abortion pills to boys wondering if their friend is PMSing because she is angry.
So what can we do?
When children ask – TELL THEM
It’s not just the responsibility of the schools to educate kids on the not-so-conventional topics of sex education. Parents have to participate too! Often kids’ curiosities pique due to numerous sanitary napkins ads on TV. This is a perfect conversation starter! Introduce menstrual hygiene and sexual well-being at home in simple relatable terms. The internet series Sex Chat With Pappu And Papa explains how.
Kids are smarter than you think, especially with the average age of adolescence decreasing further. So engage and educate to create awareness and make way for social change! It is imperative to promote social acceptance of menstruation and sex in order to quell the tide of misinformation.
Amplify the small changes
The National Education Policy (NEP 2020) explores the importance of teaching children sex education in school the right way from early on. The policy has included the much-needed and awaited chapter on Menstrual Health and Management (MHM). If implemented right, it is going to sow the seeds of change in attitude towards period hygiene and related concepts.
For eons, societal taboos have made it impossible to talk about sex. But it is time this changed. Sex-ed is not just about reproduction, it is about sexual well-being – be it physical or emotional or social. Let us speak about menstrual hygiene, sexual consent, attraction, contraception, STDs and the whole package. Let’s shun the stigma!