Sexuality Education in India: It’s Not Comprehensive!

It’s been a disappointing
month for me: upon my return to India from the International AIDS Conference,
India’s National
AIDS Control Organization (NACO)

released its revised Adolescent Education Programme (now called Life
Skills Education) textbooks in India for use in sexuality education
courses throughout the country. The first editions were banned by 12
state governments for their "objectionable" and "explicit" content,
and their "attack on Indian values." (An article in Frontline
the tensions in detail.) 

The new textbooks emphasize
abstinence, do not explain sexual intercourse, and do not reflect the
diversity of young people’s lives.  We know from research that
abstinence-only programs have no impact on whether or not teens have
sex, and whether or not they use protection, or even know how to protect
themselves from sexually transmitted infections or unwanted pregnancies–surely
these textbooks will not move NACO towards its goal of preventing teen
pregnancies or reducing the number of new HIV infections among young

At a satellite session during
the AIDS Conference, I asked how an abstinence-only curriculum would
ensure that young people have the information they need to protect themselves
against HIV.  The panelists, India’s Health Minister, Dr. Anbumani
Ramadoss and NACO’s Director General, Ms. K. Sujatha Rao, avoided
the question and did not respond. 

Around the same time, back
home, in India, youth groups, educators, sexual rights groups, women’s
rights groups, disability rights groups, and groups working on child
sexual abuse came together to demand an approach to sexuality education
that would empower young people by providing them with comprehensive
and accurate information about their bodies, sex and how to protect
themselves and their partners against HIV and sexually transmitted infections.   

I also asked the panellists
how NACO intended to prevent transmission of HIV/AIDS among women who
have sex with women. We know that just because a penis is not involved,
it does not mean that HIV, and other sexually transmitted infections,
cannot be transmitted. And even though the rate of female-to-female
transmission is low, this does not mean that women who
have sex with women are not at risk.  Again, they abstained from
replying to my question.   

By ignoring the realities of
young peoples’ lives, including women who have sex with women and
those who identify as lesbians, we are missing a huge opportunity to
catalyze lasting and fundamental change.

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  • heather-corinna

    Neha: I’m so glad you’re writing here, and so glad you asked those kinds of questions (though obviously not glad they were ignored).


    I’m terribly sorry to hear that that’s how the revised curricula played out. 


    We get quite a lot of traffic from India at Scarleteen, and one of the toughest parts of the questions we get is that they often don’t even come from youth, but from heterosexual, married adults who just feel completely lost when it comes to anatomy, sexual function and even the barest basics of reproduction: clearly the expectation is that it’ll just all sort itself out without information.  Actually, those aren’t the most heartbreaking missives from India: tougher still are those from young adult women clearly so scared about their anatomy, about what sexual activity might mean when it comes to how they are valued, etc.  But it’s that pervasive feeling of being totally lost and adrift that really permeates.

  • invalid-0

    >we are missing a huge opportunity to catalyze lasting and fundamental change


    To which governmental overseer are you referring when you say “we”: India, The United States of America, or The United Nations? Last time I looked, India was a sovereign nation. So it must be India? If so, are you asking for solidarity? Apparently your leaders have made up their mind. Should the US invade them or the United Nations force them by resolution to do as you propose? We have much to do ourselves here in the U.S., as dictated by the Principle of Subsidiarity.


  • marysia

    Neha, thanks to you and others who have the courage to openly address sexual issues, someday (hopefully soon!) untold numbers of Indians will benefit.

    And the sooner the better…India is an emerging epicenter of the global HIV/AIDS epidemic.

  • invalid-0

    Whenever I read a piece on the controversy sorrounding sexuality education in India, I always wonder, given a chance, how Russel (Marriage and Morals) and Gandhi (My Experiments with Truth) would have reacted!

    I personally feel that while the emphasis on abstinence is not misplaced, an effort to snub curiosity of the young minds would be a great loss to the nation.

  • invalid-0

    I feel your pain. Especially since I live in West Virginia, not India. Four years of sex ed and not once did they mention to me what a dental dam was…and my first sexual experience was with a woman, without protection. I had no idea.

  • invalid-0

    I work for Dish Network (big deal) and after reading your article, I felt a bit better. It’s a measly-Mc-Job.

    I am so caught-up with a gillion channels of DISH-THIS, DIRECTV-THAT and TiVo that I should just stop a second and slow down.

    Thanks for your article. It was very informative.