Posted by Nandini Cardoso
Sexuality education is a topic that is taboo in most of our homes. We avoid conversations around this topic or act prudish in matters related to sexuality education.
Teachers and parents hesitate to provide students with information on Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) because we either feel embarrassed to talk about such topics or because we lack the correct information ourselves.
Yet our students are viewing sexual messages everywhere they look, from television serials, to music videos, to dance moves, films, magazines and pornography. They are constantly picking up sexual cues about acceptance, body image and size, the clothes we wear, fashion styles and the language that we use.
In schools, we have holistic development of every young person on our minds as teachers, educators and counsellors. Thus, in a school set up, sexuality education becomes vital to correct misconceptions and also to sensitise students about a variety of issues that affect their lives, ranging from gender bias to abuse to safe sexual behaviour.
However, at schools, we tend to focus on talking to students about sexuality only when there is a crisis, or we want to educate them on HIV/AIDS. We fail to educate our students by not even helping them become comfortable with the names of their private parts. Plus we do not talk openly about the changes girls and boys will experience at puberty.
We fail to educate our students by not even helping them become comfortable with the names of their private parts.
We tend to talk to students about sex during Biology classes but even there, many prefer to skim through the topic lest the students ask us embarrassing questions. I’m sure that nearly every student from across the country has an interesting anecdote to share about how their teacher approached the Biology chapter on human reproduction!
The general approach of schools towards Comprehensive Sexuality Education is avoidance and the clear message is “do not talk about these issues unless required to”. We have not thought about the fact that our students are much more aware of things and yes, they have got their information from unreliable sources which may be incorrect. Even if a teacher is open minded and decides to talk to students on these issues, the other teachers sometimes try and stall the process fearing that they will have to do the same as well.
Teachers need to know how to break the awkwardness around sexuality!
I have noticed that if the student finds that the teacher is embarrassed when they ask questions on sexuality, they too start feeling embarrassed. When I talk to girls on menstruation, they always ask me to have the conversation without boys (ours is a co-ed school). They feel embarrassed if the boys ask why they were not included and I have had to handle the situation very tactfully. I have observed that the students resort to spelling words related to sex and sexuality in order to avoid the embarrassment of saying the word aloud.
This made me realise the importance of educating myself first on these topics. Teacher training courses often don’t cover gender or sexuality and we don’t get trained on how to discuss these topics in a classroom full of students who are embarrassed, shy or ready to giggle throughout the session.
Teacher training courses often don’t cover gender or sexuality.
I was a learner in TARSHI’s online course on Comprehensive Sexuality Education. I got to know about the course through the internet while checking out online courses. The online course helped me talk to my students about sexuality in an open, frank and non-judgemental way, thus providing them with the right information. Before I did the course, I would not say anything directly to them but now after taking the course I am able to use words related to sexuality aloud with the students, thus teaching them that if used in the right context, it is perfectly healthy to talk about sexuality-related issues without shame and embarrassment.
The course provides the learner with ample opportunity to define and get comfortable with the topic of sexuality. Generally, most material focuses more on HIV/AIDS, but the TARSHI course equipped me with skills to speak to my students on issues like homosexuality and sexual harassment too.
In fact the course has empowered me to encourage my students to report issues that make them feel uncomfortable, and many students have begun to report cases of sexual harassment. I also was influenced a great deal by the concept of Guiding Principles on sexuality that the course covers, and I have tried to use these principles a great deal in my work as a school counsellor.
Teachers need to involve other stakeholders too
The course was a great way to get comfortable with my understanding of sexuality and receive accurate information on related topics. But I still worry about the reaction of parents who might think that I am giving their children more than required information. This shows that we need to involve the many stakeholders who may have an impact on transacting sexuality education in schools – parents, school administration, other teachers, policymakers, etc.
Educating oneself is the first step for teachers and educators to begin discussing sexuality-related topics with young people.
As teachers, we may not be able to influence all, but we can certainly have discussions with parents, school administration and other teachers on the importance of sexuality education and the topics that we are looking to cover through classroom discussions. This way, we reduce the scope for surprises and negative feedback from important stakeholders, but get them on our side in support of sexuality education.
Educating oneself is the first step for teachers and educators to begin discussing sexuality-related topics with young people to help make them healthy and happy adults. It is also critical to have supportive stakeholders. We know that this journey is not easy, but it is an important one to go through for the sake of our collective futures.
Also Read: #WhyCSE: CSE In The Classroom
Nandini Cardoso has been working as a school counsellor for the past 14 years. In her words, “I am passionate and strive to be effective at the work that I do. I believe that with an open mind, one can learn a lot from the world around us.”