So, I had my first sex education class only few weeks back, at the age of twenty four, here at my university in Sweden! It was a seminar where few of my teachers and gender and sexuality scholars had gathered to talk about the Swedish Association for Sexuality Education (RFSU) sex education animation movie “Sex on the map” that is shown in middle schools in Sweden. We watched the half and hour long movie to have a discussion, where the guest scholars pointed out the flaws and problems they thought there were in the movie. I sat there, blown away by the political correctness of the movie, thinking, ‘Wow…now how can anyone find flaws in THAT movie!’ (Of course, how could I find any flaws with my first sex education class?) Also I was rather amused at the idea of having my first ever sex education lesson sitting amidst my professors.
From that screening, I got the idea of doing a small scale case study for my previous course, with international students in my university, who hadn’t had any official sex education class in schools in their countries. I was thinking different countries and not just Bangladesh. I wanted to show them the movie and see their reaction, get their feedback, and see how they oriented with the movie, and finally ask them if they thought sex education was at all important in the countries they come from, and if yes, how would they format sex education in their countries. So, I had over one Bangladeshi female student and three male students from Iran, India and Tanzania. I held the screening in my kitchen, and what a heated and amusing discussion we had after that!
There were few points that all of them brought up during the focus group discussion, such as how sex education will give students ideas about gender, sex and sexuality, and how that will change attitudes towards selves and other people; how that will lead to cutting down on harassment of (mainly) women. Almost all the participants had similar stories regarding who they learnt ‘the stuff’ from—elder brothers and sisters, cousins, classmates, porn; no separate sex education teacher, how sex education usually meant referring to the diagrams of the reproductive organs of men and women in the biology class, and not really addressing the organ clitoris, and aspects like foreplay, orgasm, masturbation and myths related to masturbating (masturbating makes one blind or gives one pimples), how girls don’t have idea about menstruation and the anxiety they go through when they get their first period; teachers lightly brushing up on safe sex, but what exactly is ‘safe’ sex they never said, assuming that students should ‘know’ how to use protection. There were interesting talks about how to contextualise sex education in a sensitive way in countries where HIV/AIDS has a high rate and the urgent need to break and work around socio-cultural taboos surrounding issues of marital rape, diverse sexualities and genders, mutual respect and understanding. I also made a questionnaire that I asked the participants to answer individually.
How can we format a sex education class then? In which grades? RFSU made the movie ‘Sex on the map’ based on the questions on sex they collected from students anonymously. Can we do something similar? But of course the participants I did my case study with, also mentioned that most of them (including me) grew up in an era when internet had just started to arrive. Now it’s a completely different scenario. Students have access to information in a click. The question is, is that a good or bad thing. It is important that students and teachers decide to take a healthy, honest and unembarrassed notion about body, gender, sex and sexuality, and the first step to do so, is by starting to ask, talk and discuss.
(The writer is a Reporter, Star Campus, currently doing Master’s in Gender Studies: Intersectionality and Change at Linköping University, Sweden.)