Condom Conversations : Educate, Don't Abdicate
Banning that condom ad isn't helping our children, says Moha. Photo: AFP
In a country such as ours where tabloids and news platforms scream out gut-wrenching headlines on a daily basis pertaining to sexual assault, rapes, violations and sex –scandals, the glaring lack of a holistic, mandatory and panoptic sex-education in India is becoming increasingly palpable.
The other day my nine-year old niece asked me where babies come from. As we all tend to do in the face of this all-too- familiar predicament, I proceeded to change the topic. But we all know these seemingly innocent questions by nine year olds will soon require full-blown discussions about the birds and the bees. It falls on parents to impart this knowledge as in most schools in the country and most societies, both urban and educated as well as rural and uneducated, the conversation is still treated as the elephant in the room, best left unaddressed. It’s an untouched topic by most parents too which leaves the child to unearth these answers on their own as they transition from children to adolescents to adults.
Recently, the Information and Broadcasting Ministry in India barred TV channels from airing advertisements through most of the day related to the selling and buying of condoms in the name of indecency and being “harmful to children that may make them indulge in unhealthy practices.” Instead of spreading awareness and laying emphasis on sex education campaigns designed for this adolescent demographic, shunning any mention of or reference to anything even remotely pertaining to this important topic is the norm and nothing is harming them more than this.
A 2015 study revealed alarming statistics. India has the largest number of adolescents – a whopping 243 million with more than 50% of them living in urban areas. This is a significant section of our population that is vulnerable to risky and unhealthy behavior and experimentation leading to deteriorating quality of life and health in later years as a result of a lack of a comprehensive education on the various nuances of sex education.
Increasingly as a result, the onus of imparting this education has fallen on private educators and sex experts who have started to take private classes in many parts of India to empower girls and parents to be able to have a healthy dialogue around this most tabooed of topics in our societies that most schools are outsourcing and parents are avoiding altogether. As Anju Kishinchandani, a sex educator who runs workshops out of her Mumbai home points out, “ In India we don’t hesitate to have sex but when we have to talk about it, it’s against our culture.”
The same applies to menstruation, for example although the dialogue around this has started to open up, at least in some households. Ms Kishinchandani’s workshop is one many growing number of privately run programs that have resulted because of the unwillingness of parents to talk about reproduction at home.
In comparison, countries like the United States are more pro-active and this topic is addressed as early as middle school in most private and public schools with programs tailored around sexual health as well as how to avoid unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. While abstinence –promoting programs seem to be the more prominent norm, a comprehensive education on the holistic nuances surrounding the topic have been the most effective. The debate, however is still prevalent on the efficacy and availability of sufficient such education and the conversation tends to skew.
Returning to our own neck of the woods, the need for educating parents on how to talk to their kids about the bird and the bees has become just as crucial. Delhi-based sex educator, Sushant Kalra focusses on this effort and he found that during follow ups, not a single parent would have taken the plunge despite his efforts. He then tailored his program in a way that parents were made to bring their children to his class as a second step and forced to start the dialogue in front of other families. This did the trick as there is encouragement in numbers.
The story in poorer households is a sadder one, the silence around this topic even more deafening. Girls are brought up with the notion that sex is their duty and abuse, a side effect of their gender, to be accepted quietly. The Nirbhaya rape case of 2012 has derailed the conversation away from the positive aspects of sexual behavior and reproduction by focusing the narrative solely on harassment and abuse.
TV and other advertisement related to condoms, birth control, reproduction, avoidance of diseases, abortions and unwanted pregnancies need to be treated as mediums of spreading awareness among this burgeoning demographic instead of being thwarted. It is sad that when in 2007 the central government launched the Adolescence Education Programme in Schools, thirteen states called for its immediate ban invoking “against the Indian culture” as the reason.
The story is no different today, ten years later. Mediums of mass media like Internet, radio and TV today have become the torchbearers of spreading awareness and accessibility to information that is being held back in schools and homes. This presents a double-edged conundrum as the proclivity of such adolescents to stray towards pornography and negatively implicating situations is heightened, being unequipped to deal with them on their own.
We need to recognize the need to be able to talk and educate instead of shun and abdicate if we want any semblance of progress to this end in the next decade.
Banning that condom ad isn’t helping our children. But educating them about its benefits will.