“What cannot be talked about cannot be put to rest. And if it is not, the wounds will fester from generation to generation”. Sex education has long since been a controversial topic in Pakistan. The word ‘sex’ is enough to make the common man perceive you as an abomination of society, someone from whom your children should be kept away. It is therefore unsurprising that sexual health education is not part of the educational curriculum. However, I believe it is time to take the bull by the horns and address this topic in light of recent rape and sexual assault cases which have made frequent headlines over the past month.
Stereotypical attitudes are highly witnessed among teachers and pupils, which raises the question of literacy in society. After all, isn’t education supposed to liberate one from the confines of illiteracy? Nevertheless, it seems that even the highly educated members of society are knee-deep in the rigid illiterate structures of society.
Despite the use of sexual innuendos towards females and the rise of premarital intercourse, sex health education is ignored as it is felt to be going against Islamic teachings, breaking cultural rules, and over-exposing children to ideas which are deemed to be taboo. It is a widely instigated belief that sex education leads to more sex, thus aggravating social issues rather than solving them. Religion is used as a tool by rightist conservatives, who oppose any idea which they perceive to be against long-embedded cultural norms. Despite the slow rise of secularism in Pakistan, it has a long way to go in terms of sexual health awareness and safety.
Ironically, sex education would actually help prevent, or reduce, teenage pregnancies and diseases such as AIDS and STDs. Most adolescent teens are unaware of these diseases, much less the symptoms. What’s more, many young adults do not use contraception due to personal beliefs and expectations, partner’s desires, fear of judgment, and lack of knowledge and/or awareness about sexual health. Equally intense issues are that of sexual harassment, abuse, and exploitation. Numerous incidents regarding harassment and rape are brought to notice, most involving girls aged 5-10, yet little has been done to teach children on how to recognize a prospective dangerous situation and how to prevent it.
Despite these cultural notions, it is essential for us, as a society, to ponder over this issue in a logical way, as sexual health education could reduce many problems present in society. Rape, pornography, nudes, and harassment all worsen in the absence of adequate sex health education. Besides helping to prevent teenage pregnancies, sexual health education highlights the unethical and inappropriate aspects of sex, hence providing exposure and reducing the possibility of sexual misbehavior among youth. How else do you expect a youngster to say ‘No’ to harassment if they cannot even identify that it’s harassment? How can you accuse a 16-year old girl of becoming pregnant if she has not been taught about the consequences?
From a psychological and individual point of view, sex education highlights the importance of self-respect, self-worth. Having multiple sexual partners or random sexual acts is physically, mentally, and socially harmful, as, besides the possibility of diseases, social consequences such as blackmail and bullying can have a toll on mental health, which ultimately affects other aspects of life. According to NBC News, experiencing ‘sexual harassment can either trigger symptoms of depression and anxiety that are new to the person; or it can exacerbate a previous condition that may have been controlled or resolved’. What’s more, 80% of honor killings, acid attacks, and suicides are due to the inability to deal with the consequences of sexual acts. A rape victim would be forced to believe that it is her fault that she got rapped, and thus promote self-harm and self-loathing, ultimately resulting in severe depression, psychological disorder, or suicide. The media pointedly overlooks this fact, as it is dominated by religious, social, and political powers that demand that the subject of sex should not be addressed, lest a child’s innocence is spoiled.
Sex is a normal, undeniable part of life, and should be treated as such. With or without the appropriate education, it is bound to happen at some point in life. Despite this fact, our society repeatedly chooses to shut its eyes and ears towards this growing need for proper exposure and education regarding the topic of sex. Most children learn about sex from websites, books, or their peers. This significantly increases the risk of misinformation and misunderstandings, leading to possible harm. Moreover, young adults engage in casual sexual activity which is harmful despite the fact that the participants are old enough to give consent. Casual sex could possibly lead to accidental pregnancies and cause emotional, physical, and social repercussions for both partners, especially in Pakistani conservative society.
Parents need to teach their children about sexual health step by step, starting with the very idea, or definition, of sex and moving on to the details as they grow older. Subsequently, the child would learn that sex is not something to be stigmatized and would grow up to be a functional, ethical member of society, whose sexual needs have been channeled in a morally appropriate direction. Despite the social backlash and reaction from extremist social groups, sex health education could still be provided to students in a subtle, culturally appropriate way until they are old enough to know more i.e. the concept of conception, sexual partners, etc. The idea is to break the stigma of sex and to help prevent many of the negative occurrences in Pakistani society, not to criticize religious beliefs or encourage sex among young adults.