To preach or not to preach?

(Here is an excerpt from the article ‘To preach or not to preach?’ published in the March 2019 issue of Teacher Plus.)

Let me narrate to you an episode from a conference I attended recently. I was speaking with a sexuality educator, who gave me a detailed picture of the curriculum he is expected to teach and the challenges that he comes across. At one point, he said something that made me so uncomfortable I remember it vividly.

“The best kind of sex is no sex at all. Teenagers do not have any emotional maturity. If they learn about pleasure, they will be out of control. It is our job to protect them. That can happen only by instilling fear about diseases they might get if they have sex before marriage.”

Now I have worked with teenagers, and I understand that many of them are going through an emotionally rough period. However, I am not sure if getting them to think of sex as bad, dirty or dangerous is a particularly bright idea. Biological changes can be messy to deal with, especially if one has not anticipated them. What they need is a vocabulary to make sense of what they are experiencing, not this fear-mongering.

I do not have a problem with pre-marital sex. It used to happen earlier, it happens today, and it will continue to happen. The task of sexuality education is not to moralize but to support students in learning about and developing a healthy relationship with their own bodies. We do them a great disservice by creating the impression that sexual intimacy is only about the dance of body parts, and what goes where.

Imagine the kind of adults our students will grow up to be if we began to think of sexuality education as an opportunity to learn about respect, boundaries and consent. They will have the confidence to stand up for themselves, not give in to pressure, and prioritize their safety. They will seek advice from trusted adults instead of relying on pornography or ill-informed peers.

This kind of sexuality education is missing from our schools because we have not worked through our own conditioning around guilt and shame. Even schools that teach about the so-called birds and bees are usually heteronormative in their approach. The definition of sex is reduced to peno-vaginal penetration aimed at reproduction. Other forms of pleasure remain unexplored. This is a way of saying that same-sex relationships, queerness, asexuality, masturbation and bisexuality are frowned upon.

(Chintan Girish Modi is a fellow with the Prajnya Trust, creating online resources to sensitize school teachers about the needs and struggles of queer students.)

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