No matter how many optional ways I’ve considered for starting this piece, I keep returning to ‘hot’ and ‘masala’. I’ve been reviewing sites online to understand the meaning of Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) and cannot get a video posted on YouTube out of my head. Oddly enough, I didn’t note down the URL though I am normally very thorough about jotting down all sources reviewed for anything I write. This particular video leapt out when I searched for CSE and sexuality education for children. Aunty gives boy a bath. (There are many hot and sexy, even educational bath videos but I can’t find this one again.) The video was about a teenage boy with an intellectual disability and showed his routine – gets ready, gets fed and gets dropped off to special education class by his mother. It’s a longish video. The high point comes at the end of it – a bath scene where the boy doesn’t want to bathe so his mother bathes him. He reaches out and touches her sari-and-blouse covered breast. She shrieks, slaps him and leaps out of the bathroom. There are many things to think about in this video, but I wouldn’t put sexy, or hot aunty or hot bathing scene as top of the mind thoughts. However – that was how it got sold and received many hits and some comments. I recall staring at the screen for a while wondering why life gets viewed the way it does, or bought and sold the way it does, in the underbelly of the online beast.
No URL, sorry, no have. I think my fuse blew.
Some more things I think about:
- Friend of a friend has gifted her 11-year old daughter a smart phone.
- In a recent series of interviews conducted by TARSHI with some parents and pre-teens on matters related to sexuality education, some parents expressed discomfort with talking to their children ‘about these things’. In the same interviews, children have spoken of wanting to know more about how to keep themselves safe, online, and from abuse. Interestingly, some have asked how they can help others. Some parents have vaguely said that they felt their children ‘knew’ about ‘these things’ but they’ve never spoken to their children about them.
- In some parts of the world, and this country, there are people who believe that if you talk to children about sexuality, you’ll spoil them.
- There are other people who believe it’s enough to teach them body facts. How to tell the difference between boys and girls by the difference in sexual and reproductive organs and systems. A form of biological stereotyping that in some ways, sometimes progresses to: penis people will pilot plane – non-penis people won’t pilot plane. (Oh this happens at school level, from the age of five. During something called Aeroplane Day at junior school many years ago my daughter was the only girl in her class to dress up as a pilot, all the other girls were cabin crew, all the boys were pilots. My daughter confused the class and her friends actually told her a girl couldn’t be a pilot. This was Mumbai, 2007, the school a very popular private school franchise.)
- Then there are those who firmly believe sexuality education is about teaching young people abstinence. They do believe abstinence education is effective, it’s a form of ‘No’ and stops teen pregnancies and STIs. On an abstinence website, I found a link to this article which says, “ Forget the ‘war on women’. American Enterprise Institute scholar Christina Hoff Sommers says that there’s a ‘war on boys’ unfolding in America’s public school classrooms.” .The article appears to describe a perspective somewhat similar to the boys-will-be-boys school of thought. Somewhere in the piece, Sommers is quoted saying, “As our schools become more feelings centered, more competition-free, more sedentary they move further away from the needs of boys…We need to reverse the male averse trends.” Comments left on the article are worth a thought. (Screenshot ahead.)
Becoming ‘feelings centered’ indicates moving away from the needs of boys? Anyway, while you answer that I’ll wrap up the abstinence education point simply by saying that it does not take into account many things, in particular, unequal power relationships (across age, sex, gender roles, family relationships, socio-economic class). A big causal factor for the creation of inequality is unequal access to, and processing of, information.
This is why Comprehensive Sexuality Education is so important. ‘Comprehensive’ implies a framework that helps you explore and understand all aspects of a subject, while implementation of CSE would require age-appropriate communication and content.
I began with the strange problem of the hot bath scene (which to me has nothing to do with a hot bath scene by temperature or turn-on value) and in my head it is strongly connected to the matter of CSE. I think one reason perhaps is because many people across age groups may need to understand what classifies as hot and what does not. What is a positive experience and expression of sexuality in an individual or between people – and what is not. It’s a bit like humour. Some things are funny, some things are offensive and harmful. Until you know what is funny and why, you can end up laughing at the offensive and the harmful because the people you’re with are doing so.
Early this January, the Pune Mirror carried an article on the front page titled ‘Time to bring sex back on campus?’ … exciting as that may sound, it dealt with the alarming findings of a study conducted by doctors (from DY Patil Medical College and Hospital) to ‘assess the knowledge about sexual health among male students of junior colleges of an urban area’. Some of what the doctors discovered:
- More than 90% of male students in junior colleges lack knowledge on sexual health.
- Basic terms (sex, masturbation, contraceptives) and issues around age of marriage etc. were unfamiliar knowledge areas
- Students barely 18 years old wish to get married on the basis of strong sexual attraction – why? Because sex before marriage is taboo.
In another part of the world, somebody asked “Could Comprehensive, Accurate Sex Education Curtail the War on Women?” The writer says, “What we need is not only for schools to accurately educate students, but for the conversations to continue at home from a young age through adulthood.”
So for the benefit of my friends with 10-year old children who can access the net on their smart phones – as much as for the 30-year old teaching the co-ed class something about the body and puberty – the reason we need CSE is because the world is full of information, online and offline, with newspapers at the doorstep every morning where columnists devote a considerable amount of time to discussing sexual harassment and child abuse in schools, and a wide variety of Chinese whisper versions of secret words and taboos are doing the rounds of the playground where everyone ages six through sixteen are part of the chain.
(A short story. Ten years ago I shared a lift ride up five floors with a neighbour who giggled and told me she thought her male baby help was abusing her baby boy but she wasn’t sure and help was so hard to find. She walked out of the lift and I forgot which floor I was to get off at so I ascended and descended a couple of times. So that’s a 10-year old kid out there somewhere playing Chinese whispers too. )
On the net you will find some lovely resources such as these:-
The Hormone Factory: Visually cheerful and attractive site, lots of information on sex and sexuality communicated in an easy, simple, friendly way.
KidsHealth: Child friendly site with health facts and advice for kids.
BodiMojo: Teen friendly, direct communication about relationships, disorders, substance abuse etc.
Center for Young Women’s Health: A comprehensive website from the Center for Young Women’s Health, Boston Children’s Hospital.
My body belongs to me: An animated short film that addresses the issue of CSA, speaks to children in an easy to understand, simple style. Filmmaker Jill Starishevsky is an Assistant District Attorney (New York City).
But that’s not all that’s out there. None of it is a substitute for a well-designed CSE curriculum based on age and socio-culturally appropriate communication, that extends to training a variety of users who may be required to implement this curriculum with an equally wide variety of students/clients and beneficiaries. It is beyond the scope of this little byte, and perhaps beyond my pay-grade to outline the scope of this curriculum but I could stretch a little and suggest that it incorporate facts, perceptions and positives as much as negatives, of body, relationships and social constructs. I would suggest that CSE is a way of reducing power inequalities and of allowing the possessor of information to also possess a degree of control over their thoughts, lives, choices and actions. Then perhaps we will have a larger section of society able to distinguish between issues of distress, disability, sexuality, pornography, consent, what’s hot and what’s not.
Ok, so now let’s watch some men draw a vagina …