“This article is not going where you think it is. Please sit down.”
Sex education is considered part and parcel of pre-university education in Singapore. Time to time, we would be taken to seminar sessions- sometimes separated according to the gender we identified to, and sometimes all together. The sessions were less about the physical details of insert-tab-A-into-slot-B (which, I am told, happened in younger classes), but more about cultural notions and customs that surround the act, namely: relationships, marriage, ‘courtship’, etc.
No one liked it. Not because it was uncomfortable, per se, but more because it was preachy. I personally didn’t agree with the heteronormative, rosy picture it painted of marriage and motherhood (necessary, since Singapore faces a declining population crisis) while sneakily reinforcing gender stereotypes. Others had different (or similar) problems. And that is where things got interesting.
After each session, twitter student forums and study-benches conversations would go ablaze. For every time the instructor mentioned the necessity of mom-and-dad, someone would tweet that they were fine with dad-and-dad, thankyouverymuch. Each claim that girls were not (supposed to be?) interested in sex so much was followed by ladies asserting they enjoyed pornography. Every time it was mentioned that marriage was the natural culmination of love, someone would roll their eyes. Like I said, it was all a bit too preachy.
But is there a way that sex education can not be preachy? No matter what the particulars of it, it would always be too conservative for some, while simultaneously being too daring for the others. And there lies the dilemma- that is, the sex education right.
In India, we do these things differently. Rather, we don’t do them at all. A formal introduction of sex education in our syllabus is not in realms of reality, now, at this juncture, where our society still reels at the very notion of coitus. Even the youth, so liberal and so educated, only seem to touch upon it in terms of porn and giggles.
I cannot stress upon how worrisome this is. We have people seeped in superstition regarding the basic practices of hygiene. Teenagers entering into physical relationships without proper information or preparations. We are still more comfortable with consulting websites that specifically prohibit us to enter, rather than trusted sources like parents or teachers. At the root of these situations, is the problem of embarrassment. By turning sex into a shameful topic, not only are we stifling discussion, we are also making people uncomfortable with their own bodies.
But what exactly would we do? Sure, we can make it optional- have peer educators and endless debates on logistic matters. But what exactly would we teach? There are two specific problems, at the two extremes.
We cannot make personal relationships a subset of bigger agendas. A brief trip into Indian history will illustrate what happens when state imposes ideas on personal issues like family planning. Other institutions, which seek to regulate personal behaviour, such as religion, would also lead to the same problem. Firstly, any imposition or advice– no matter the well meaning- can be seen as a breach of individual rights and privacy that should be tolerated with great caution, if at all. Secondly, any uniform agenda is bound to create more divisions than anything. By encouraging or condemning anything, we would be alienating groups of people one way or another, as seen in the Singaporean version. After all, problems like homophobia are result of expecting identical behaviour from varied people.
We cannot leave personal relationships in individual hands either. As much as we claim to live-and-let-live, interpersonal relationships do form the basis of society. While I am not one to believe in many things, some expectations must be established. One example is the notion of consent from both partners, which leads to the definition –and criminalization- of rape. Few would question that necessity. Reproduction itself poses a tricky situation. Out of two countries I have lived in, one suffers from over-population and the other, under-population. The quality of life suffers in both, and future is unstable. Planning and uniformity, while appearing tyrannical, becomes a necessity.
Where is the desired middle?
I am afraid too many moral battles have been fought over that question without any sort of concrete answer. And perhaps that is right. Every reader, without doubt, would have thought up their own answers, and it is very unlikely that any two would agree completely. And then twitter, student forums, and study-benches conversations would go ablaze. In this chaos, where each individual would, and should form their own opinions, it is almost necessary to encourage dialogue. Better that opinions are formed based on information, confidence, and comfort, rather than in embarrassment and ignorance that currently shrouds this issue. While we may be inviting discord, it still seems a better alternative than silence.
While we don’t have the perfect answer, dissecting the question itself can reveal a lot. We just need to get talking.
“The entire history of human desire takes about seventy minutes to tell. Unfortunately, we don’t have that kind of time” – Richard Siken