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Calling sex ‘sex’

Kinshuk Gupta | Updated on March 12, 2021

We are like this only: Even among students of medicine, it is common to compare genital organs with fruits or vegetables   -  ISTOCK.COM

Why innuendos, double-meaning jokes or crude descriptions of the anatomy fill in for sex education in India

* What is tabooed becomes a thing of attraction. In the park of our college, you will invariably find two things — barking dogs and used condoms

* The one floor allotted to male infertility in our hospital stays vacant while every other floor bustles with patients. Contrary to this, we find walls painted with ads of male infertility clinics in makeshift tents

* A well-structured and well-delivered sex education is a moral right of an adolescent

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The first time we attended a surgery OPD as an undergraduate, we witnessed the per rectal exam of a young boy. As soon as he dropped his trousers, a boy in our group mocked him, using a colloquial Hindi word for the size of his penis, and we burst out laughing. We get patients with lumps in the breast or a leaky bladder — the examination of which requires them to expose their private parts. This needs a safe space where the patient trusts the doctor, but we failed to build a rapport with our patient at the very first attempt.

This insensitivity stems from a nearly non-existent sexual education in schools and homes. In my journey from a small-town school to a college in a metro city, I find that there is always an inclination among students to talk about sex. My college friends have devised creative ways to talk about it — comparing the anatomy of genital organs to fruits or vegetables, or using ‘that’s what she said’ jokes. But calling a penis a cream roll, or breasts a pair of melons, or vagina a peach, clearly point at one thing: We want to talk about sex, a lot of it, but the taboo is to call sex ‘sex’.

Recently, a friend asked me to prescribe him pills for a larger penis because he feels inadequate as compared to porn actors. Most of us are self-taught in matters of sex; we have either gorged on pornography or listened to crude descriptions of the act by friends during lunch-breaks. This has led to anatomy being placed at the highest pedestal — boys believe that lasting longer in bed or having large penises is a sign of manliness, while girls think that only certain physical attributes will get them male attention.

What is tabooed becomes a thing of attraction. In the park of our college, you will invariably find two things — barking dogs and used condoms. Popular media is flooded with videos of couples getting into OYO rooms later raided by the police. In the first year of college, I saw my friends enter romantic relationships. A fascination for sex was palpable in these love affairs even though it wasn’t about just that.

With this powerful urge, either during college or after marriage, we cannot ruminate upon the finer aspects of physical intimacy. For example, the narrative of pleasure, especially female pleasure, is almost always missing from the conversation. As teenagers, sex to me and my friends was just the physical act of inserting the penis into the vagina. Not talking about sex has contributed to confusion in our heads — physical intimacy is often confused with intercourse. While intercourse is the biological process, intimacy is mostly psychological. It is more about about security, a non-judgemental place to talk freely about one’s fears and fantasies.

The one floor allotted to male infertility in our hospital stays vacant while every other floor bustles with patients. Contrary to this, we find walls painted with ads of male infertility clinics in makeshift tents — gupt rogi yahan milen (venue for those with sex-related problems). One reason for people not visiting infertility clinics is their learned behaviour. But another important factor is the indifferent behaviour of doctors. As doctors, we devote almost a decade to study human diseases, but there is no course on the psychological impact of those diseases.

There is always an excuse of too much burden of work, poor infrastructure, or the fear of emotional involvement that makes us shy away from conversations about the impact of the removal of breasts or testes on the patient’s sexual life. Doctors are tested either on how easily they diagnose or how perfectly they treat — the boundary of duty, more so in government set-ups, extends only till the patient is discharged from the hospital. This is also because we cannot think of sex as recreation, but only as a mechanism to make babies. So after your family is complete, doctors (or anyone) will frown upon you if you talk of seeking sexual pleasure.

There is a certain rigidness among adults with regard to sex education. My doctor parents, too, didn’t broach these topics. I had no confidence to talk to them when I first became conscious of an erect penis or nocturnal emissions. I don’t know if they were shy or thought that everybody learns about such things through experiences, We associate sexual education with sanskar or feel that talking about it will distract children. The young eventually find out about it, but their information comes from perceived facts rather than experience, which does more harm than good.

A well-structured and well-delivered sex education is a moral right of an adolescent. Sex education is not limited to the chapter on reproduction or contraception; it aims at sensitising the young about their changing bodies, promoting healthy sexual behaviour, and offering people the social skills to refuse unwanted sex.

According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, reproduction is a human’s basic and concrete need, which should be fulfilled before a person can move towards abstract needs such as love or acceptance. While sex is a normal physical need, like food and sleep, not talking about it has made it a thing of shame or joke.

With the hormones gushing into the vessels, it is normal for an adolescent to think and raise queries about these issues. Right information and friendly guidance will only help them understand their body and own it.

Kinshuk Gupta is a medical student based in Delhi. He also edits poetry for Jaggery Lit

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Published on March 12, 2021
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