Comprehensive Sex Education: Still a Distant Dream?
New but still the same old? The New Education Policy 2020 (NEP 2020) has earned the title of being “refreshing” and “transforming”, providing the much-needed change required in the education sector. Despite its holistic and multidisciplinary approach, it stays silent on one of the key subjects of comprehensive sex education. Now more than ever, it is vital that we open up conversations and engage in discourse about these topics which are only talked about in hushed whispers.
It is an established fact by now how taboo the topic of sex is in our society. Deemed inappropriate, immodest, and indecent, it is clouded by shame and secrecy. This perception of it has affected the dissemination of sexual education and also the way in which it is imparted. We all study that one chapter in the eighth standard that the teacher, more often than not, rushes through awkwardly. But that is not enough. Students need more resources and in-depth knowledge. Let’s take a look at what the NEP 2020 covers in this regard.
Sex Ed and the NEP 2020
Education is the single greatest tool for achieving social justice and equality. The NEP 2020, similarly, envisages equitable and inclusive education and learning for all. It includes every subject under the sun such as mathematics, astronomy, philosophy, yoga, architecture, medicine, literature, sports, and a multitude of others.
However, like its predecessors, it remains largely silent on comprehensive sex education. The concept of sex education has been subsumed by the heading of “ethical and moral reasoning”. This policy has reinforced the belief of how sex education is not considered a necessity in our society. Overlooking and not addressing this not only shows the parochial mindset of the policymakers but will also end up framing how the current set of students end up perceiving the issue of sexual and reproductive health, rights, and justice. Propagating and promoting existing taboos, the short-sightedness of this policy will result in health risks as well as unsafe choices.
So what is the need of the hour? A detailed curriculum on gender-sensitive and age-appropriate sex education is needed, with the participation of all necessary stakeholders. In addition, teachers and staff should be given regular training to relay scientifically and biologically correct information to the students. Lastly, the support of parents and the open-mindedness of society, in general, is imperative for the implementation of such a program in the long run and its acceptance.
Why is Sex Ed Important?
The question that now arises is why should we study sex ed. Haven’t people over the decades been doing fine without having this added subject in the curriculum? Here is what the statistics tell us.
In India, a woman is raped every sixteen minutes and 109 children are sexually abused every day. 23 million girls drop out of school annually due to a lack of proper menstrual hygiene management and awareness. India has the third-highest number of people living with HIV in the world and around 6 percent of the adult population is diagnosed with sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and reproductive tract infections (RTIs) each year. How long can we ignore and abstain from imparting sex education to our youth?
According to UNESCO, comprehensive sex or sexuality education is a curriculum-based process of teaching and learning about the cognitive, emotional, physical, and social aspects of sexuality. It aims to equip children and young people with knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values that will empower them to realize their health, well-being, and dignity; develop respectful social and sexual relationships; consider how their choices affect their own well-being and that of others; and understand and ensure the protection of their rights throughout their lives.
Sex education encompasses a wide range of topics from consent, reproductive health, and gender identity to contraception, sexual violence, and puberty. This knowledge not only enables the youth to make better decisions for themselves and communicate more effectively but also helps them in self-expression and identifying harassment or inappropriate behavior. Not imparting this essential aspect of education increases their risk of engaging in unsafe sexual activities and also seeking untrustworthy information from unreliable sources.
Having discussed both the NEP 2020 and the importance of sex ed, we can gauge what we have been missing out on and what the youth continues to miss out on. It is baffling how in our so-called “modern” times, society is still stuck in its conservative and traditional set of values, beliefs, and mindset. As a consequence, the seeds we will reap will be those of unawareness, ignorance, and possibly misinformation.
Instead, young adults, children, and their parents should be encouraged to have healthy sexual attitudes, and both should be provided with the necessary information to make wise and informed decisions. Children in schools without access to information will turn to friends, tabloids, the internet, and porn, which could result in a muddled understanding of sex as well as unrealistic expectations.
To help this generation make far healthier decisions around sex and sexuality, we need to start normalizing discussions and discourse about sexual health and education and tying them to respect, consent, safety, and love. Only when it is demanded by people, can we push decision-makers and policymakers to bring in drastic changes in the way we learn about sex and all things related.
Written By: Arushi Singh