KOCHI: With the High Court urging the state government to consider introducing comprehensive sex education in schools and colleges, the topic is in the news yet again. However, even now, there are some who find the concept uncomfortable.
This is where NGOs like Sex Education Kerala (SEK) play a vital role. Breaking the silence surrounding sexuality and reinforcing healthy conversations regarding puberty, anatomy, and sex, SEK has been striving to sensitise Kerala.
Founded in 2021 by Dr Edwin Peter, Thrissur-based SEK addresses what is called Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) in Malayalam, through online and offline sessions across the state.
“I came across the term sex education following the gruesome Nirbhaya rape case,” Edwin recalls. “I was in school back then.”
Subsequently, after finishing MBBS, Edwin decided to spread awareness on sex education.
“After reading about the international technical guidelines created by the UN, I figured out that sex ed was not just about sex, reproductive anatomy or physiology. It involves the cognitive, physical, emotional, and cultural aspects of sexuality,” Edwin highlights.
However, he didn’t find a proper sex education curriculum in India even in 2021. And while devising one on sexuality education, Edwin realised that most projects in India revolved around adolescents. “It never went beyond sexually transmitted diseases and sex organs,” he says. “When I initially searched for a dedicated team in Kerala, I couldn’t find one.”
That led to SEK. The maiden step of the organisation was a WhatsApp group, established along with co-founders Dr Hena N N and Dr Sajith Vilambil. In the past two years, SEK has conducted over 100 sessions online and offline.
To help people learn, unlearn, and relearn about sex, the NGO covers eight broad concepts. These include human rights and sexuality, long-term commitments and parenting, gender equality, gender-based violence, consent, privacy, communication, the social construction of gender and gender norms, etc. “We believe that local language can promote open dialogue understanding on a grassroots level,” adds Edwin.
At The Friends School in Thiruvananthapuram, the organisation took classes on child sexual abuse. At Sree Sankara University, Kalady, the sessions were on queer history. At Ernakulam Medical College, the group plans to provide adolescent educator training to medical students.
The team’s volunteer members get trained under experts such as mental and sexual health professionals, physicians, social workers, research scholars and lawyers. All members are made capable of imparting age-appropriate sex education sessions.
Curriculum in Kerala
SEK says it is important to provide comprehensive sexual education right to the lower classes.
“Kerala ranks top in basic education. However, we are still narrow-minded. This is evident when we consider gender equality ranking, child marriage, and child sexual abuse, ” he says.
“In kindergarten, the students can be given sessions on body autonomy, body parts and consent. In lower primary classes, these topics can be continued. It is better to address their doubts scientifically than waiting for them to search for answers online and stumble upon porn sites.”
Also, the group says Kerala needs to consider cultural nuances while devising a curriculum. “Our views on menstruation, vaginal health and social aspects of sexuality are different,” Edwin says. So he suggests the idea of training the teachers first. “Teachers have to be sensitised or else insecurities will prevail in the classrooms,” he adds.
“The students have access to a lot of content, so the information and questions they are likely to ask would be beyond basic sexual health. Of course, sessions for parents will also help.”