Ahh… I am sure many of you are wondering what this is going to be all about?
This post is inspired by a discussion I had with one of my friends this morning. We were talking about how “stupid” ( read “uninformed”) we were about some vital facts of life when compared to what our kids know today.
We were in class IX and eagerly awaiting the Bio class. Not that we cared much about the subject or Mrs Nair our teacher. What we were really waiting with bated breath was the lesson that she was going to teach us – the human reproductive system! So obviously there was a lot of commotion and whispers as she settled down. But the sly woman that she was ,she suddenly feigned annoyance and asked the class to “stand up” because we were being unruly. “I am not going to stay a minute longer in a class full of hooligans like you. You can remain standing and we will have a test on this chapter tomorrow” she said as she stormed out! Our disappointment was now coupled with an added worry about that blessed test! We found out soon enough that reading about sperms and ova, testes and ovaries for a test all by ourselves was really a bore!
“I am sure it is not all so technical and scientific ” – I remember a friend complaining before that test.
But then that was how we were “informed” -in scientific language where it was difficult to differentiate zygospores, anthers and stigma from testes and ovaries.
The nuns who taught us realized our curiosity and tried to deal with it during moral science and religious instruction classes. So, they went on and on about it in their own round about way. One of the nuns who handled moral science for our seniors apparently kept a drop box on the table so that girls could write out questions that they were too shy to ask. I am sure that box must have been filled to the brim in print writing. One of them shared recently on face book about how Sr. Marcelene once told their class to “thank the lord for giving us so many eggs!!!”
But the curiosity of a teen is further aroused when such “beating about the bush” kind of statements are made. We sought for information with a perseverance that was close to the Buddha’s search for “Nirvana”. We used to read those “Mills and Boon” romances. Unfortunately those days the maximum that those books would describe would be a kiss! Even that was something that we tried our best to understand. I was firmly under the impression that only foreigners kissed. I mean one did not see it in Indian movies and of course we never saw parents ever indulge in something like this. We used to read those pages over and over again until they were book marked by sheer use! One could open a M&B and get straight to that kissing place.
I , being the information freak tried to rummage through those old science journals in the school library while my friends read through the “ Ask the doctor” or the “Agony Aunt” section in a magazine called “Home Life”. I am sure the librarian knew about this research that being conducted but she never did anything to help. Actually, I am thankful that atleast she did nothing to put an end to it !
Finally, I got some idea about what “it” might actually involve and used this information to hold court with my peers in our neighbourhood. Soon, I became some sort of expert on doubts that might arise on the topic. I remember a friend once used a unisex toilet. She asked me if she could have become pregnant because she had used a soiled toilet seat ( I am sure you know the nasty habit that men/ boys have when they use the toilet). I was not sure but since I had been identified as an expert I said “I think so”. But privately I wanted to clarify from another neighbour- a much older girl who was in a medical college. When I explained the matter to her she n howled with laughter! I still remember her saying “The man does not piss into the woman you fool”. I was terribly embarrassed when I found that she had told many of her friends about this stupid idea of mine and they in turn often asked me about my views on unisex toilet use.
But jokes apart, if I were to point out a major lacuna in my upbringing I would say it was about the lack of any formal sex education. I do remember my mother explaining to me about menstrual hygiene and the need to stay away from “boys and men” but nothing that actually was about the act of procreation ( or pleasure?). She did try to “talk “to me before I got married. But I found it too awkward to discuss it with her. I sometimes think that may be today, I know more than her about these matters? I am sure she has no idea about homosexuality for instance ( or may be she does but has classified it in her mind as a sort of perversion).
We have tried to maintain an open dialogue with our daughter about this. When compared to mine, her school is definitely more encouraging in terms of getting children to talk about these matters. Then of course there is the media which provides access to information much more easily than it did during our days. But the point is to help children sift the information they receive from these sources so that they know what is a piece of information and what is a myth. As times change, I think there is also the subtle difference in the way sex is being viewed – it has moved from being something to do with procreation to something that is to do with pleasure. It is important I guess, to let children know that it is not a taboo but something that they would discover and experience when they are old enough for it. Ofcourse while we are at it there is no harm in also mentioning about contraception. Thankfully, in our home the later is a topic of drawing room discussion due to the fact that my late mother in law was the District Family Planning officer for Chennai. There are many hilarious stories about her inability to meet the vasectomy targets. We try to use humour to drive home the point. The daughter is very comfortable with the topic but I just hope she is not too hurt when she tries to talk about this with ease in a group that still has discomfort discussing it.
As part of my work with the communities in the villages I have found that while girls have some knowledge about the issues around reproduction boys continue to be clueless. Their source of information seems to be still drawn from those dog eared porn books that they pass around. It is therefore quite strange that many programs around reproductive health continue to target women and girls. No point in giving women information that they would never be able to use. I mean few men in our patriarchal society would listen to his wife if she suggested birth control measures His answer would be “how do you know all this?” And from there would creep in the doubts about the poor woman’s “character”
But there are some progressive programs that NGOs are implementing around this whole issue of sexuality and couple communication in a marriage. With a good facilitator these programs we find are becoming extremely popular. Many of them also contribute subtly to empowerment of women! Couples who have been part of such programs have often been known to come back and tell some of our colleagues how life for them is so much happier!
It is sad that the country which is home to the famous “Kamasutra” should today have become so “screwed up” when discussing sex. Many people still go to quacks who claim to cure “private diseases” and put their life at risk. . I am inclined to agree with Khushwant Singh who once said in an interview that “Indians have sex in their heads and not between their legs” We think about it all the time, many of our actions around it are so furtive that it almost seems like something dirty and most importantly we refuse to “talk about it”- when are we going to change?