‘Be your own inspiration’, says storyteller and sexual health educator Seema Anand

Seema emphasises that amidst any discourse, it is the stories shared that endure in memory, while the rest fade away.
Seema Anand (R), a renowned storyteller and sexual health educator.
Seema Anand (R), a renowned storyteller and sexual health educator.

HYDERABAD: Sex education, often overlooked and deemed taboo, is a subject many shy away from discussing. Seema Anand, a renowned storyteller and sexual health educator, challenged this norm by delving into the intricacies of sex at the FICCI FLO event on ‘The Art of Storytelling’. Embracing the stage, she shed light on the Kamasutra, highlighting its allure and sharing captivating stories from the book. Her insightful talk aimed to encourage embracing simple ways of understanding and accepting this crucial aspect of life. In an exclusive interview, we delve into how altering perceptions around sex, a rarely broached topic, can be transformative.

In her perspective, Seema, a PhD holder in Narratology — the study of narrative and storytelling — defines the art of storytelling as a universal skill inherent in everyone. She believes that each person naturally weaves stories into every facet of their lives, whether consciously or unconsciously. According to her, the crux lies in recognising the distinction between telling stories passively versus doing so intentionally and consciously. Seema emphasises that amidst any discourse, it is the stories shared that endure in memory, while the rest fade away. To convey a message effectively, she advocates understanding the narratives one chooses to impart. She underscores the historical efficacy of leaders who’ve conveyed their messages through compelling stories. To her, mastering the art of storytelling involves a heightened awareness of the stories being told and delivering them with maximum impact.

Further adding, she says, “In my perspective, this book allows for diverse interpretations, shaped by individual perspectives. Personally, I perceive it as a tool for women’s empowerment, offering various lenses through which to view its content. Take, for example, the ‘64 skills’ referred to as Saiyan racha, which involves the art of making a bed. Here, a woman’s specific bed-making style signifies her mood — whether happy, sad, or indifferent — signalling to her partner how she feels that day and guiding the approach to intimacy. While some might critique this as placing the burden solely on women to express emotions and men to understand, I see it as a mutual responsibility. It’s about her articulating her feelings and his role in comprehending and responding appropriately. To me, this concept underscores the essence of profound communication. What captivates me most is its wealth of invaluable advice, particularly in fostering deep, meaningful connections. Its portrayal of intimacy as something beautiful and desirable resonates deeply, elevating its significance. Moreover, it provides a platform that prioritises women’s pleasure, an aspect I find incredibly significant and empowering.”

The London-based storyteller and renowned TEDx speaker, Seema, reflects on India’s current stance on discussing sex openly. She acknowledges the challenge, stating, “India, unfortunately, still struggles to openly discuss sex. Despite claiming changes in our mindset, the door to open conversation cannot swing wide so quickly. Change will happen gradually, amidst inevitable pushback. It’s a process, not an overnight transformation.”

Regarding altering attitudes towards discussing sex, she highlights the impact of even one person changing a single perception. Seema believes that if someone can incorporate terms like ‘pleasure’ in conversations, perhaps with their daughter, it initiates a significant shift. She emphasises the profound influence parents have on shaping beliefs, noting that while the younger generation might outwardly embrace modern perspectives, they often feel they’re rebelling against entrenched traditions. This rebellion, she suggests, can lead to a sense of instability. Contrastingly, when concepts are imparted by parents, acceptance comes more naturally. She stresses the need for different approaches in educating younger children about such topics, underscoring the importance of parental influence in shaping attitudes and beliefs.

Regarding transforming sex education for the younger generation, she suggests a shift in approach, “When discussing sex education, our immediate focus tends to be on the physical act or safety protocols. However, I believe it should centre around emotions,” she asserts. According to her, sex isn’t merely a physical act but begins in the realm of thoughts and feelings. Understanding desires and their implications is crucial. She advocates teaching young individuals about recognising desires, understanding their meaning, and navigating the subsequent steps. Critical lessons should revolve around comprehending and managing emotions associated with attraction, addressing the high likelihood of rejection, and normalising arousal without inducing guilt or self-punishment. By instilling these insights, she contends, we can prevent detrimental consequences such as violence, including rape and assault. In essence, her approach underscores the significance of understanding and processing emotions as the cornerstone of effective sex education.

“We need open discussions about the emotions tied to sexuality. When we tell young girls that certain attire isn’t appropriate, we’re limiting their perception of what’s deemed ‘sexy.’ The media inundates them with one idea of sexiness, leaving little room for diverse interpretations. Instead of restricting their clothing choices, we should be asking girls what feeling ‘sexy’ means to them. By fostering this awareness within them, girls can establish their boundaries before stepping out. Unfortunately, these conversations rarely happen,” explains Seema.

Addressing the unfortunate association of the word ‘sex’ with abuse, she acknowledges the slow pace of changing this narrative. “Transforming this association won’t happen overnight. It’s about gradually altering the dialogue through respectful conversations. 

There’s no immediate solution; it’s a gradual process of change in language and perception,” she says while reflecting on criticism for her candid discussions about sex, “Initially, negative comments distressed me. But with time and deeper study, it became a norm. Among listeners, the abusive voices are a small minority. The true supporters often remain silent. Understanding this, you find courage to fight against the negativity.”

Offering motivation to those inspired by her, Seema advocates self-belief. “Be your own inspiration. Your strength should stem from within. Women are often taught to silently endure; I challenge this notion. Judge your own strength, have self-confidence, and embrace self-love.”

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The New Indian Express