If you’ve been brought up in an Indian family, traditional or otherwise, there is a good chance you never had the talk. Openly discussing sex is considered taboo, and even schools that dare to offer sexual education receive from parents.
The problem extends far beyond education into , where young adolescents lack any guidance on contraceptive usage, associated risks, or overall sexual and reproductive health. Despite wide-ranging systemic and often politically motivated issues when it comes to accessing care and advice, the problem starts at the family level with the discomfort of parents.
Let us start by addressing the giant elephant in the room: in the absence of conversation and guidance, do we really believe Indian kids grow up immune from “corrupting Western influences” and detached from the hormonal changes taking place within their own bodies?
Does a child’s curiosity about his or her body suddenly make them a deviant, shattering our pre-conceived notion of a “good Indian?” The gendered hypocrisy of such a statement when it comes to boys and girls is a subject for another time, but let us acknowledge that adolescents have burning questions that are going unaddressed by overly cautious, blissfully unaware, or simply uncomfortable parents.
Whenever sexual education is brought up in general, I often see the discussion centering on access to contraception or the contraction of sexually transmitted diseases. While these are crucial topics, there is one key area which often falls to the wayside: consent. Before STDs or pregnancy even become concerns, consent must be firmly established.
In the absence of a meaningful conversation about sex, where and how are adolescent boys learning about consent?
The answer is deceptively simple: pornography and peers.
Whether we like to admit it or not, adolescent boys grow up taking cues about sex from their peer groups and from what they see in pornography, or “blue films.” We can sit here and argue all day over whether this is actually happening and how young Arjun or Sanjay are good boys who would never do such a thing, but we would be deluding ourselves.
And no matter how much we disagree over the need for sex education, we can all at least agree on one thing: pornography offers the worst possible message when it comes to consent, namely that it isn’t important. With videos of women being coerced into sex, only to later enjoy the act, pornography does not exactly set a high bar in terms of what we expect from our children.
To be clear, I am neither calling for a ban on pornography (it’s already been tried and failed in India), nor implying that children will turn out to be rapists without a conversation around consent. However, young boys need role models they can look up to and learn from.
At the end of the day, a child’s curiosity about the world around them cannot be tamed. We have no real control over little Sanjay’s internet browsing- what is in our control is how grounded young boys are when it comes to valuing respect and consent. An open and honest conversation with the family can work wonders in this regard, and it is best to start . Perhaps it is time to sit down and have that uncomfortable conversation after all.
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