A Call to Action for Comprehensive Sexuality Education

Today, about 358 million people in India, or almost one-third of the country’s population, are young people aged 10-24 years[1]. 43,888 of calls on the TARSHI helpline between February 14, 1996 and October 10, 2007 were analyzed which showed that 42.6% of calls were from people between the ages of 15 and 24 years. Young callers were curious about sexuality and most times did not have access to accurate and reliable information about their own bodies, sexual and reproductive health issues and relationships. Calls received from people including young people asking “does kissing cause conception” reflect that they lacked very basic and important information on sexuality.

Shrouded in shame and secrecy, the stigma and taboo around these topics makes it difficult to initiate and engage in conversations around them. Schools and parents, two major sources of information for young people while growing up, tend to avoid or shy away from discussing these issues and fear that more the information given, more likely that young people will experiment and engage in sexual behavior in the absence of any evidence or studies that support the latter claim[2]. A study with parents found that (acknowledged by few parents) parental inhibitions may be a result of their own lack of knowledge of sexual and reproductive health matters, and their perceived inability thus to respond to their children’s questions.[3]. In our conversations with both young people and older people recalling their younger days, we found that common sources of information related to sex and sexuality were listed as friends, movies, magazines, newspapers, and advertisements and nowadays of course, the internet. While these resources do give information and initiate conversations around sexuality, most people describe the information derived as confusing, conflicting and incomplete. Click here to hear young people talk about their views on sexuality and education around it.

Be it information on changing bodies, puberty, sex, sexual and reproductive rights, gender identity, sexual orientation, gender roles, consent, sexual harassment and gender based violence, young people do not have access to accurate and reliable information and services which would enable informed decision making. Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE), hence is key to create avenues for resources and discussion spaces on sexuality and related issues. Comprehensive Sexuality Education is a term preferred over ‘sex education’ as the latter is often misunderstood as teaching young people the why and how of ‘sex’. Let us first understand what CSE is and why it is a more formalized holistic approach than ‘sex education’:

‘CSE seeks to equip young people with the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values they need to determine and enjoy their sexuality – physically and emotionally, individually and in relationships. It views ‘sexuality’ holistically and within the context of emotional and social development. It covers a broad range of issues relating to both the physical and biological aspects of sexuality, and the emotional and social aspect and recognizes that information alone is not enough. Young people need to be given the opportunity to acquire essential life skills and develop positive attitudes and values. It recognizes and accepts all people as sexual beings and is concerned with more than just the prevention of disease or pregnancy.’

 (International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) Framework)[4]

CSE thus forms the basis for young people to gain information, raise questions, clarify doubts and voice and shape their views and opinions around issues of sexuality. It facilitates the process of reducing stigma around these issues with the hope of delinking them from guilt and shame, making it easier to speak out and access services/spaces without fear of judgement and ridicule. Comprehensive, age-appropriate sexuality information would thus go a long way in helping young people negotiate safer lives for themselves as well as inculcating a sense of respect for others and their rights. Creating such a conducive environment will work towards improving the physical and mental health and well-being of all people, especially that of women and girls, and help us move many steps forward to achieving #SRHRtargetForAll!

TARSHI believes in the right of all people and especially young people and women, to have information on sexuality, so they can make informed choices about their own lives. The right to information about one’s own body, the right to choose what one does with one’s body and the right to make informed health related decisions vests in each individual. Over more than a decade TARSHI has worked towards making accurate information available to young people through the helpline, publications such as the Red book and the Blue book, and conducting trainings and sensitisation sessions in schools and colleges on varied issues related to sexuality.

TARSHI, now calls on all partner organisations and women’s rights activists around the world in the re-launch of #May28 International Day of Action for Women’s Health, to spread awareness about the importance of and demand the rights to CSE in your respective countries as it lays the foundation to ensuring better access to information and services for women and girls regarding their SRHR (Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights).


[1] http://india.unfpa.org/drive/CPAP8UNFPAIndia.pdf

[2] http://sexualrightsinitiative.com/wp-content/uploads/India-UPR-1-YC.pdf

[3] http://www.popcouncil.org/uploads/pdfs/2011PGY_ParentChildCommunication.pdf

[4] IPPF (International Planned Parenthood Federation) (2010). IPPF framework for comprehensive sexuality education (CSE). London: Author.