June 11, 2014


[But the sex-ed seminar was not a success. Some weeks later the school head boy confiscated an item from a girl’s bag, declaring it contraband, much to her embarrassment. He proudly dumped the suspicious article on the teacher’s desk. She dragged the head boy out of class, whereupon she slapped him, saying, “Don’t ever put a sanitary napkin on my desk again.”]
By Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi
Credit: Awful Library Books
MOIRA, India — A ripple of glee went through the classroom of my school in north Bombay when our teacher, nervously adjusting her spectacles, said a sex-ed seminar was scheduled for after recess. This was at the end of the ’90s; we were a class of 15-year-olds; cable television had just arrived and American soap operas had caused much moral anxiety among our elders. I don’t remember much from this sex seminar, except that we were ordered to feel our testicles once every two weeks. To demonstrate this, an unconvincing replica of a scrotal sac was passed around, with fondling instructions. Our teacher appeared to shrivel. She had to pass the sac back from the grinning boys to the sex-ed instructor, who had just pulled out of his prop bag a plaster-of-Paris model of an erection.
But the sex-ed seminar was not a success. Some weeks later the school head boy confiscated an item from a girl’s bag, declaring it contraband, much to her embarrassment. He proudly dumped the suspicious article on the teacher’s desk. She dragged the head boy out of class, whereupon she slapped him, saying, “Don’t ever put a sanitary napkin on my desk again.”
While it’s glib to make light of Indians’ national awkwardness in speaking about sex, there is something deeper simmering. In December the Indian Supreme Court upheld Section 377, a colonial-era law forbidding intercourse “against the order of nature.” This outlawed all intercourse other than peno-vaginal sex. Homosexuals, rightfully incensed, took to public protest. In a show of support, thousands of well-meaning Indian heterosexuals removed their photos from their Facebook profiles. What many of them may not have realized at the time was that this heroically stupid law affected them, too, as, contrary to what the Supreme Court seems to have strangely supposed, rather a lot of heterosexuals — even that is understating it — stray from strictly peno-vaginal sex, and as such would be culpable under this law, which does not specifically criminalize homosexuality, as largely perceived. Put plainly, the law is anti-sex, and inhumane.
The Supreme Court’s reinstatement of Section 377, which had been struck down in a progressive Delhi High Court ruling in 2009, is seen as a triumph of conservatism. Many deem this a hallmark of the conservative Bharatiya Janata Party government, whose head, Narendra Modi, is India’s new prime minister. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a right-wing group which many believe represents a more hard-line Bharatiya Janata philosophy, recently said both live-in relationships and homosexuality should not be tolerated, declaring them Western imports (as if they were items well-heeled Indians might pick up from duty free).
In April the Supreme Court agreed to hear a final appeal on Section 377, filed by the Naz Foundation, a sexual-health organization. But under the new government, and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s vocal demand to preserve the law, the appeal was served its first roadblock.
Perhaps this is where India’s new government should beg caution. What if sections of India’s urban citizenry, through exposés on blogs and via private investigations, cast light on the private lives of its politicians? Abroad, the bedroom shenanigans of politicians is tabloid fodder. Not so in India. Before our politicians support laws considered inhuman and retrograde in other civilized societies, they ought to wonder whether their own actions fall within the scope of Section 377.
The most significant transformation in our urban youth is a growing refusal to subscribe to standard sexual classifications. Many from my generation believe the sexual self is essentially variable — only a kind of clothing, a performance. If you are a biological man who likes to deck himself out in satin gowns and have intercourse with a trans man, then what, exactly, is your sexual denomination? These questions are being asked more and more, and one suspects that it’s this conversation that has driven the recent expansion of the legal definition of gender: In April, the Supreme Court wisely recognized transgender as a third gender.
Now, as the Supreme Court reconsiders Section 377, Mr. Modi’s new government must remember that the conservative constituency that voted him in is also the one whose sexual rights are up for confiscation. For in principle, Section 377 does not discriminate between homosexuals and heterosexuals; as hateful laws go, it takes an equal-opportunity approach. (The law’s backers bring to mind my school head boy, who had no idea what exactly he was declaring contraband.)
So, if the Bharatiya Janata Party truly wishes to convince us of its secular, sensible, worldly, youth-friendly, pro-business, tourism-encouraging, liberty-loving credentials, it must put Section 377 where it belongs: in the bin. In the bargain, Mr. Modi would get more than our vote; he would win a young nation’s love.
Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi is the author of “The Last Song of Dusk” and was recently a visiting fellow at FIND: India-Europe Foundation for New Dialogues.
@ The New York Times


A coalition of sexual health charities calls for compulsory sex education lessons, despite warnings from traditionalists that it risks undermining children's "natural sense of reserve"

 By Graeme Paton
Children as young as five should be given compulsory sex education lessons to prevent schools marginalising the subject in timetables, ministers have been told.

A coalition of charities is calling for sex and relationships education to be placed on the national curriculum for the first time – making it a statutory requirement in all state primary and secondary schools.

In a report published today, the Sex Education Forum claims that compulsory lessons are needed to address a lack of awareness of sexual health issues, consent, respectful relationships and domestic violence.

It quoted figures from Ofsted showing that a third of schools are currently provide “inadequate” teaching in the subject.

Experts also warn that many other schools – particularly faith-based institutions – shun it altogether.


Under current legislation, sex education is a non-statutory subject, meaning schools are free to drop it altogether. The only compulsory element is at secondary level where schools must teach about the biology of sex and reproduction.

The calls threaten to resurrect a row last stoked in 2009 when Labour proposed introducing mandatory classes in personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE) – the vehicle used for delivering sex education.

The plan was eventually dropped just before the General Election.
The Coalition was accused of undermining the subject further by scrapping non-statutory guidance on PSHE, giving individual schools complete freedom over how to teach it.

Today, the Sex Education Forum – a group of organisations based at the National Children’s Bureau – called for a radical overhaul of the subject.
It released the findings of a survey of more than 200 teachers that found six per cent of schools have no policy on sex education and a small handful ban the subject altogether.

Some seven out of 10 teachers said they needed “more training to be able to teach good quality” sex and relationships education (SRE).

The report said: “Statutory status would allow SRE to be treated the same as other subjects – with teachers getting the training they need and enough time being allocated in the timetable for this vital subject to address real life issues including respectful relationships, domestic violence and consent.”
The calls came as the Commons education select committee prepared to launch an inquiry into the teaching of the subject.

Family campaigners have resisted calls to make sex education compulsory in the past, saying it risks exposing young children to adult themes before they are ready.

Norman Wells, from the Family Education Trust, has said that introducing sex education at an early age "runs the risk of breaking down children’s natural sense of reserve".

"Far from being a hindrance, children’s natural inhibitions and sense of modesty in talking about sexual matters are healthy and provide a necessary safeguard against both sexual abuse and casual attitudes towards sexual intimacy later on," he said.

But Jane Lees, chairman of the forum, said: “For too long young people have been telling us about what they wish they had learnt in school about consent and relationships and how better knowledge of their body and sexual health facts could have kept them safer and healthier.

"As the education select committee opens its inquiry, we are calling for all political parties’ commitment to make SRE statutory.”

Daisy Ellis, acting policy director at Terrence Higgins Trust, the HIV and AIDS charity, said: “We have reached a stage where teachers and students agree that the current approach to sex and relationships education is not working.

“Until those in Westminster make a solid commitment to make SRE a statutory part of the curriculum, generations of young people will continue to leave school unprepared and at risk of sexual ill health.”

@ The Telegraph