Social barriers prevent sex education among youths in our country Credit: Representational image

At the very mention of the word “sex”, there is always some kind of uncomfortable silence attached to it. In a society that does not openly talk about issues relating to the subject, most people grow up with little or no knowledge about their sexual well-being that eventually has a large impact on the quality of their lives.

This is also true for Nagaland where most of us shy away from the topic which leads to the point where many young people are deprived of informed choices and decisions they can make regarding their sexual health.

During a recent campaign on “Youth Dialogue: A Perspective on FP 2020” held across 12 different states in India, wherein Nagaland is one of them, Siddharth Mohanty, manager-advocacy and partnership, Family Planning Association of India (FPAI), had rightly pointed out that “there is mental stigma in our own minds surrounding the issues of “Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR)“. He further went on to say that there are always social and cultural barriers or stigma and discrimination that prevent young people from openly talking about their sexual health.

“We have to talk about these issues right from the early stages of their adolescence so they grow up understanding it and respecting each other”

The campaign that attempted to create dialogues with young people on several issues surrounding family planning covering an important list of topics such as SRHR and adolescents, gender based violence, comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) and its need in India, gender equality, mental health and well being, stigma and discrimination around women and SRHR, etc, indicated that many young people especially found it difficult to talk about “sexuality”. This is primarily because parents don’t talk about it with their children, teachers don’t dwell on the subject, and people in general don’t discuss it resulting in young individuals making wrong choices about it.

Because we come from such a society, there are stories about young girls who were confused and terrified when they first got their periods only because they had absolutely no idea that menstruation is a normal process of growing up. Our society has also been witness to several cases of unwanted/unplanned/teenage pregnancy, which, I think, is because of the lack of awareness and education on the subject. Adolescence is a time for transition, encompassing the time from the onset of puberty to legal age of majority. There is a critical need to impart adolescence education to this age group, so they are aware and know how to maintain a good mental and physical health, including reproductive health throughout their adulthood.

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During the campaign on ‘Youth Dialogue’, many young people confessed that they were never taught about sexual reproductive health in schools or that their parents never indulged in the subject. However one cannot emphasise enough on how important it is for children to grow up well equipped with the knowledge of their sexual well being.

Young people must be informed and empowered about their sexual reproductive health so they can protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections, HIV/ AIDS, or unplanned pregnancies. For a place like Nagaland, it is also alarming that the state accounts for a staggering percentage of 91% through sexual route for HIV transmission.

Despite this disturbing figure, the talk about use of condoms is still considered a taboo, though interestingly, during the North East Multimedia Campaign that was held in Kohima in February, one lakh condoms were provided for free by the world’s largest HIV organisation working in 43 countries across the globe under the banner — AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF).

This is revealing of the fact that the need is definitely there. That the organisation managed to distribute an overwhelming number of one lakh condoms in one place, and all of it in one day speaks volume. Perhaps because all they had to do was just pick while passing by without having to ask questions or talk to anybody, it was easier to avail the free service. Otherwise, it is always a challenge for especially young people to come forward and share their problems and queries related to sexual health. Not even with doctors freely, which is perhaps also because of the stigma attached to the subject.

Speaking of which, a doctor recently related that there is so much stigma and discrimination regarding this that forget about young people even grownups are ashamed to talk about their sexual reproductive problems and find it extremely difficult to open up even when they come for checkup for a certain problem they are going through. “Only after a lot of probing, they slowly open up,” he added.

“Education and sensitisation on sexual reproductive health is the key towards normalising talks surrounding this issue”

In this age of technology, young people have free access to a lot of information which are not formally taught otherwise. There is just too much information about everything under the sun in today’s age of technology that one has to be very careful in getting the right kind of information. We have all heard of stories about relationships that spark off online and end up disastrous, or the kind where people get duped online, and several other instances where because of one’s gullible nature and ignorance, people face dire consequences.

Internet and social media are a great place to learn, communicate, connect, network and also educate and update ourselves on many things going on around the world, but only when harnessed judiciously. With young people exposed to all kinds of information on the Internet, it makes it even more crucial to formally teach them at the school level because it is at this stage that they seriously take in information related to any subject.

One of the dangers of garnering information on the Internet is that they can get incomplete, inaccurate or possibly harmful information and this, in turn may lead to undesirable consequences. Therefore, it is of critical importance that young people are equipped with accurate information regarding their sexual reproductive health. Providing young people with knowledge, skills, values and access in this regard will help also them develop a life that is fulfilling, happy and healthy.

(Vishü Rita Krocha is a poet, author and a journalist by profession with experience in the field for over 10 years. She also runs a home-based publication house called PenThrill Publication House. Views expressed are her own)

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