Sexual literacy and its impact on society and relationships

Friends media and pornography All the wrong sources of sexual literacyImage for representation
Features Sex and Health Saturday, August 13, 2016 - 12:47

A child hates being tickled but his family continues to do it blurring the lines of consent. Another thinks she has blood cancer the day she reaches puberty. A young woman begins to dislike sex because it’s too painful. A young man struggles to match up to the endurance of a porn-star. A young bride is told on the night of her wedding, “Whatever happens tonight, just co-operate”.

There are plenty of examples to illustrate just how important sexual literacy is and how much India and its society is lacking in it. Sexual literacy is the knowledge that one has about sex, sexuality and its impact on their body, mind and relationships.

Sexual literacy does not end at sex education, something that is still being debated in the country’s courts today. It includes anatomy, communication, consent, contraception, pregnancy and abortion, sexual pleasure, sexual dysfunctions, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and sexual violence.

Basically, sexual literacy is not just about the know-how of performing in bed but aims at having a holistic idea of how sex impacts one’s life, relationships and society. But it does have a beginning with sex education.

Greater literacy doesn’t guarantee sexual literacy

When it comes to talking about sexuality, India seems to be stuck in the Victorian era (before which there was Khajuraho and Kama Sutra) of shushing and shaming anyone who opens up about sex and sexuality. Time and again, our lawmakers are on the news talking about why sex education should not be taught in schools because it is a Western problem, it is against Indian culture and might introduce children to sex instead of preventing them from doing it until they’re married. In 2009, a Rajya Sabha committee heard a petition but stated that there should be no sex education in schools.

So where do young children get their information on sex? A study in South Delhi of girls aged between 14 and 19 showed that most of them got their information from peers, the media, books and magazines or the internet. 48% of them felt that they could not discuss the subject with their parents. Although, there is no guarantee that adults have the right information either.

So, sex education in schools is the best way to pass on the right information to young boys and girls. But even the limited information that some schools dole out is not wholesome; it does not deliver information on contraception, consent or communication. The dissemination of information is still driven by the need to prevent teenagers from having sex rather than equip them with knowledge on safe sex.

On the other hand of the gender spectrum, young boys and, some young girls too, derive their knowledge on sex from pornography. Pornography exaggerates real life sexual situations as it is designed for pleasure and not education. This creates a very serious gap between reality and expectations.

There is no correlation between being highly educated and being thorough in sexual literacy. It is important to remember that even urban dwellers may not have a stronghold on the subject. In fact, it is more likely that someone who lives in the city is more aware of how their car works than how their sexual organs do.

The impact of sexual literacy on society

One might jump to the idea that having a more sexually literate society will reduce the instances of sexual violence. While there hasn’t been enough evidence to comment on the role of sex education in the prevention of rape, it can definitely educate society on understanding the line of consent, where rape begins.

 

Here are a few examples of how sexual literacy can impact the Indian society:

 

The intention of sexual literacy is not just to be equipped with information about one’s own body and sexuality but to understand how it affects relationships and the society. This is why it is imperative that men be educated on menstruation as well.

While the seeds of sexual literacy, sex education, aren’t being rooted, the media and the internet create a dangerous environment for learning about sex and sexuality. Our television serials constantly demonize abortions whereas our movies over-sexualize women’s bodies and encourage stalking as a way to win someone’s heart over. And to add salt to an open festering wound, we have penis enlargement and vaginal tightening, whitening and lightening creams on the market.

Colour and size of sexual organs don’t matter. 

Read our article on sexual anatomy here.

The internet too is a great place for information but the fact is that when it comes to sex, the most searched parameter is pornography and not sex education. While there is good and accurate information, word of mouth and rumour is a lot more viral.

The impact of sexual literacy on relationships

Sexual activity and sexuality is an integral part of forming bonds or relationships with people. The know-how can only get you so far in a relationship. Sexual activity often reflects the basis on which relationships are formed or handled. So along with all of the above subjects that directly deal with sexual activity, sexual literacy includes understanding trust, mutual respect, ways of communication and conflict resolution.

Need of the hour

Sadly, the 2009 Rajya Sabha committee condoned sex education and concluded that ‘…message should appropriately be given to school children that there should be no sex before marriage which is immoral, unethical and unhealthy’, that ‘…indulging in sex outside the institution of marriage was against the social ethos of our country’.

Regardless, pre-marital sex does happen. It is crucial that sexual and relationship education be provided to the youth to encourage safe sex rather than abstinence. So, while the government takes its time to debate this, what is it that we can do to ensure that the rate of sexual literacy goes up?

It is imperative to get the right information. Ask a medical health professional or access a reliable source on the internet.

Secondly and more importantly we need to talk about sex and sexuality more openly to remove the stigma and normalise the subject. What is the need of the hour is a generation of youth that is not afraid to ask questions on sex and get the right information. It starts with us; to stop shaming the subject, to talk about it and to make sure the right information passes on to the next generation.

Maybe in the future, a child will say no and the elders will listen. Puberty won’t be a scarring experience but one that young children are prepared for. Young men and women can enjoy pornography but get their sex education from reliable sources. And relationships and the society at large will not suffer at the hands of a deficit of sexual literacy.

 

This is a part of the Sexual Health series bought to you by The News Minute in association with Happy Relationships. Happy Relationships is an enterprise that works in the field of sexual health and relationship wellness.

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