These Numbers Prove We Need Sex Ed—Now!
Last week, India’s health minister, Harsh Vardhan, made headlines when he defended a call on his website to ban sex ed in India. His perspective is neither new nor original. Introducing sex education at the school level has always received a mixed response from various segments of Indian society. Perhaps the biggest anxiety of sex ed critics is that it may lead to promiscuity, experimentation and irresponsible sexual behavior. They also say that while sex education may be appropriate in Western countries, in India it conflicts with the rich cultural traditions and ethos.
People on both sides of the debate tend to get really emotional about this topic, which prevents meaningful dialogue and progress. So we decided to step away from our feelings, and look at the numbers – letting data expose the truth about the need and impact of sex ed in India.
So, the first question: Does sex education of youth lead to increased promiscuity and increased sexual risk taking?
The answer: Nope. It primarily achieves just the opposite.
For example, a 2011 paper commissioned by UNESCO reviewed 87 studies about youth sex ed programs around the world, including India. Nearly all of the programs increased student knowledge about the consequences of sex. Two thirds delayed sexual debut, reduced the number of sexual partners, increased condom or contraceptive use, or reduced sexual risk-taking. Many other studies confirm similar findings.
Moreover, we could not find a single study to date that shows that providing young people with sexual and reproductive health education results in increased sexual risk-taking. No joke – there’s not a single one.
Ok, so now that we’ve established that sex ed increases awareness about sexual health and reduces sexual risk taking, we can ask the second question:
Can sex ed be conducted in India without upsetting our strong cultural traditions?
The answer: Yes, it can. In fact, sex ed is needed in order to uphold our most precious values and customs.
Today, adolescents in India are indulging in pre-marital sex more frequently and at an earlier age than the past. The incidence of teenage pregnancies in unmarried girls is rising and most of them face the risk of induced abortions under unsafe conditions. Sexually transmitted infections have increased rapidly in the last decade, with half of all HIV infections occurring in people between 15 and 25 years olds. (Check out this study for more details.)
Reputed social scientists in India confirm these trends are primarily the result of three phenomena: poor knowledge about sex and sexual health, stigma about discussing sexuality, and inability/unwillingness to use family planning. Therefore, if we want to reverse these trends, and uphold our values, one of the best ways to do it is to institute comprehensive sex ed in our classrooms.
Now that these cold, hard facts are staring us in the face, it’s time to put them into action.
Check out TARSHI, an amazing NGO in Delhi, for some solid resources on sex ed. The website’s FAQ section has information about sex, sexuality, and sexual health, and the ‘Resources’ link provides a plethora of online sites to help you dive deeper.
If you want to get really hands on, Azadi is currently recruiting for its Instigators program in low-income schools in Mumbai, searching for students and young professionals to devote 2-4 hours a week for 3 months conducting puberty/sex education with students. Check it out here.
Finally, share this article with your friends and family – so we can get the facts out there and build momentum for a policy-driven, comprehensive sex ed program in our country.