Is Sex Education still a taboo in India?

India May 23, 2021

Casteism in Sex

Traditionally taboo in India, sex is viewed as a procreational and not pleasureable activity. However, recent sexual assault and rape cases show that sex is used as a tool to subjugate and shame women, especially in rural areas. According to the National Crime Records’ Bureau (NCRB), there were 88 rape cases filed by women every day in 2019. A common factor in these heinous crimes is that of caste, and the use of forced sex to degrade and disempower young women from lower castes. In September 2020, a 19-year old Dalit girl was gang-raped by four upper caste men of a village in Hathras, UP. The gruesome incident highlighted India’s caste disparity and also how an act like sex has taken a completely different meaning for those of lower castes.

Despite being abolished after independence in 1948, caste continues to be one of the most prevalent basis of discrimination in India. While some consider it a privilege, for others, it is a life sentence. Upper caste men and women have the liberty to engage in sexual activities for pleasure, have access to basic sexual education and contraceptives that prevent STDs and ensure a safe and healthy experience. However, due to the generally weak socio-economic status of the lower castes, they lack awareness and resources to practice safe sex.

Sex between couples in India follows heteronormative norms; it is considered a duty of the women, her purpose is to “satisfy” her husband’s needs and bear children. This is one of the biggest reasons for non-consensual yet legal marital rape.

Sex Education: A need of the hour

These problems are further strengthened by the deep-rooted patriarchal norms of the Indian society. The only way to overcome these issues is by establishing progressive sex education at an early stage and destigmatize sex.

Mandatory sex education at age-appropriate levels that focuses not only on the biological aspect of sex as a method of reproduction but also covers importance of consent, contraceptives and prevention of STIs, as well as emotions and relationship dynamics between sexual partners have been introduced in Netherlands, Switzerland, New Zealand and Australia. Schools in the United Kingdom have also proposed similar programmes that address sexuality, abuse and gender roles.

In 2015, a study published in International Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health evaluated 22 sex education programmes and found that programmes following traditional sex education lowered rate of teen pregnancy and STIs by 17% while programmes that addressed gender and power lowered the rate by 80%.

This proves that holistic and comprehensive sex education programmes are 5 times more effective than traditional sex education.

India had 16 million teen pregnancies in 2017, which accounts for 11% of the teen pregnancies in the world, and 6% of the Indian population, i.e., 30 million adults have been diagnosed with STDs. To battle these statistics, the YP foundation, a youth-led initiative, has designed a sex education program that inculcates gender equality, sexual diversity, consent, emotional wellbeing, consent and contraception to promote safe sex among young adults in the country. It was termed as one of the best sex education programmes by The Guardian.

Sex is the most natural act that all living beings practice, and mindful sex education ensures mutual satisfaction and safety. Therefore, it is imperative to introduce and promote progressive sex education platforms that are inclusive and accessible to all.

This article is a part of the collaborative series between The Paradigm and VexEd. VexEd is an initiative to provide comprehensive, holistic and inclusive sex education through module-based workshops. We aim to create a safe space for conversations around taboo topics that most educational institutions do not address. Click here to know more about VexEd.

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