Young Indians are eager for clear information about sex, health and relationships, says Radhika.
When Radhika started TARSHI, some people found it hard to believe, she says.
“Decent people don’t use the word 'sex'. You don’t talk about it. You do it. I mean obviously Indians are doing it because we’re more than one billion people! But you don’t openly address it.”
At the same time, activists asked why she was working on sexuality when there were so many other pressing matters. They advised her that if she had to talk about sex, she should only discuss negative, horrible things – rape, domestic violence, abuse. Sexuality was seen as a ‘luxury issue’. Imagine - sex education a luxury!
But Radhika saw a big need for information on sex from a positive angle. She ignored the critics and went ahead with her plans for TARSHI - 'Talking About Reproductive, Sexual and Health Issues'.
While they’ve had a few crank calls - including one looking for an escort service - most callers had serious questions about sex. Almost half of them were young people under the age of 25.
Tarshi's top three helpline topics
- Questions about sex and the body, including genital size and shape, and how the body works.
- Sexual problems such as lack of desire, difficulties with getting an erection or ejaculating, or trouble having an orgasm.
- Questions about pregnancy and birth control.
Young people need this basic information because they don't get sex education anywhere else, Radhika points out. It's not on the curriculum at school.
Critics argue that “sex education may be necessary in Western countries, but not in India," and claim it has “adverse effects on young minds”.
Some say that sex education encourages young people to have more sex at an earlier age. Yet many studies show just the opposite is true, says Radhika. People who get good sex education tend to put off having sex until they're older.
TARSHI’s experience is that holding back information on sex from young people is harmful. They should be aware of their rights to have healthier and happier lives.
“Sexuality education is a misunderstood term. Many people think it’s telling children how to have sex,” says Radhika. But she points out there’s much more to it.
For example, many young women in India are under 18 when they get married - but it's not actually legal. Forty percent of young women and thirty percent of young men don't know the legal age for marriage, says Radhika. Fewer girls might get married young if people knew the facts.
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