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OP-ED: We need to talk about sex -- again

  • Published at 02:58 am October 12th, 2020
sex education
Photo: BIGSTOCK

It is about time that we made sex education a part of the school curriculum

I first came across the definition and meaning of “rape” and “consent” at the age of 18. I was a first-year law student, and it was only due to the fact that these topics were part of my syllabus that I had any exposure to them.  

The first time I was being treated as someone mature enough to have a discussion about the very concept of “sex” in an academic setting came when I was legally old enough to get married in this country. And yet, I only came across this because I happened to belong to the small fraction of students choosing to study law. 

I was born into a traditional family where the topic of sex was not entertained during dinner table discussions. Nothing of the sort was ever brought up throughout my school life. Words and phrases such as “vagina,” “penetration,” and “sexual intercourse” were treated like trigger words which sparked almost immediate hushes, awkward judgmental glances and, in some cases, pretend-blackouts. 

Society has done a remarkable job of ingraining the taboo associated with these words deeply into our social functions. From primary through higher education, no subject or syllabus contains any information relating to sex education or the prerequisite of consent before embarking into sexual intercourse. Although many articles have been published mentioning the significance of sex education, we are still decades behind.

What is sex education?

It is defined as the instruction of issues relating to human sexuality, including emotional relations and responsibilities, human sexual anatomy, sexual activity, sexual reproduction, age of consent, reproductive health, reproductive rights, safe sex, birth control, and sexual abstinence. 

In simpler words, it enables young people to develop a better understanding of the concept of healthy sexual relationships, allows them to protect their bodies, and guides them in dealing with different sexual phases throughout their lives. 

If young children are taught to differentiate between “good touch” and “bad touch” as well as the importance of consent before participating in sexual activities, they will be better equipped to protect themselves from unwanted sexual advances and manipulation. 

If youngsters are taught about the definition of consent and the fact that “no means no,” surely a large number of them will not grow up to be the perpetrators of the sexual offences we see in numbers today. 

If we take the examples of developed nations such as the UK and Australia, among others, we can see that sex education has been made a mandatory part of their curriculum from the primary level. In Australia, The Victorian Government developed a policy for the promotion of Health and Human Relations Education in schools as early as in 1980. 

In the UK, legislation was passed making sex and relationships education mandatory across primary and secondary schools. Why, then, do we refuse to follow these developed nations in this regard while claiming to be part of a modern and digital world?

We should ask ourselves: From where is the younger generation attaining their knowledge and ideas of sex if they are never taught about it, either by their parents or their teachers? The scary truth is that they develop their understanding of sex from television programs, social media, and, of course, the most common source for adolescents: Pornography. 

The same pornography which not only depicts violence against women but also makes it seem rather enjoyable for the perpetrators in the process. In her renowned book, Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality, Dines asserts that 88% of porn videos contain violence against women. 

If today’s youth are learning their lessons on sex from these pornographic videos, then we really shouldn’t be surprised with the situation we have today. The solution of banning pornography is ineffective at best because there is a plethora of ways for teenagers to bypass these restrictions. 

Sexual education takes away the curiosity, the “wow” factor behind this entirely unexplored territory that nearly every teen is drawn towards, and sex-ed is proven to be far more effective at curbing porn addiction than arbitrary bans.

A Facebook comment reads: “Boyfriend er sathe room date kre eshe rape er biruddhe pos daw? Bah bah toh room date er oita kih enjoyment chilo?” (You make posts about rape after going on a “room date” with your boyfriend? Wow! Then what type of enjoyment was that room date?”  

This is just one example of views expressed by today’s youth in this context. The absence of understanding of consent and healthy sexual relationships has directly led our nation towards an exponentially growing number of rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment cases. 

As per the statistics published by the Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK), at least 975 rape cases and 204 attempted rape cases were reported in Bangladesh from January till September 2020, including 208 gang rapes. With these figures, there is no taboo-culture worth defending. It’s time to leave the 20th century behind.

Apart from sexual violence, other consequences associated with the absence of sex education in our curriculum include unsafe sexual intercourse, sexually transmitted infections, unwanted pregnancies, misconceptions about sex leading to relationship and marriage troubles, and a myriad of other things. 

It is high time we as a society took action to eradicate this state of embarrassment by enacting strict but smart measures. Incorporating sex-ed is the smart thing we should have done years ago. 

Times are changing. Whether you’re a scientist, a business magnate, or a political giant, you could lose it all if you’re a rapist, and yet you won’t even be scratching the surface of what you will have taken from your victim. The generation that succeeds us needs to understand this; it is our responsibility to ensure that they grow up as valid and useful members of society and not as cloaked criminals with no respect for privacy and social order. 

As long as we continue to systemically breed rapists in our neighborhoods, and our brightest minds are forced to focus on issues of basic social justice, we cannot call ourselves a civilized nation.

Safura Mahbub is a lawyer and an accredited Civil/Commercial Mediator.

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