To my science teacher: ‘I don’t know understand what is happening to my body’
“Intercourse? What’s that? Their private parts into our private parts? Isssh, how?” I asked, extremely puzzled. My grade 7 classmate who was considered something of a legend in our small town circles for having not just seen but actually touched an older boy’s penis, explained, “Are, it’s simple. Look here.” She took out an Apsara pencil and an orange sharpener from her school bag. Then quickly went on to insert the tip of the sharpened pencil into the sharpener. “This is it,” she said. “Imagine your private hole to be the sharpener and his as a long pencil. Now, they[boys] want to get the maximum pleasure. So the deeper you let them insert their pencil, the more they will enjoy it.”
This conversation was enough for me to never enquire about ‘intercourse’ ever again. But the ‘how’ of the sex was all the rage amongst the 12-year-olds of my Convent school. Any girl with even the slightest information around sex would be pulled under a tree during the PT class and then made to amuse us with the details. One such rendezvous involved a girl from a higher grade telling us about a conversation she had overheard between her mother and a new bride. The mother was heard advising the new bride to suck her husband’s cock repeatedly but gently. “Ani ma pregnant honyasaathi tychi white ghosth ghilun taak (And then immediately swallow his white thing to get pregnant),” the mother had said.
While my other classmates giggled, I remember losing my appetite for days at the thought of having to suck a man’s cock in order to get a baby in my belly. Unfortunately for my teen-self, my school did not have an Otis from Sex Education series nor educational books or films, to help navigate the life of an horny girl being raised in a traditional household. Any questions around sex, feelings for the opposite gender or the tingling in our privates were immediately shunned. Many then turned to the biology books to understand our quickly changing bodies.
When I was 13, the NCERT syllabus merely covered topics revolving around reproductive anatomy and physiology in our science textbooks. There was no mention of the word sexual health anywhere. I checked to see if things have progressed now. While the NCERT books has made changes to include birth control, infertility, STIs and even sexual abuse, it still fails to talk about sexual health in a way a teenager really needs to hear. In India, where sex is already such a complicated issue filled with myths and misinformation, our children desperately need access to vital information around their bodies and sexual health.
Not just books but also our teachers completely failed to educate us about our sexual health. We had expected to get some clarity from our science teacher in grade 8 when the chapter on ‘adolescence’ was to be taught. To our surprise, the teacher in our small town school skipped the chapter entirely stating it’s none of her business to teach us about this instead it’s on our parents to take us through the ‘adult things’. Aside from the obvious problems of not teaching us the chapter, the teacher failed to recognise that many parents did not know how to read English, let alone teach us the science behind our raging hormones.
Helpless, we all resorted to our last and unfortunate option: porn. But turning to porn for sex education was like asking an emotionally unavailable man to do the bare minimum. An expectation that can only lead to disappointing repercussions.
Now porn sites may be a good source for a one-time jerk off but to actually learn and adapt a similar fashion of behaviour can be quite dangerous. For instance, when I first watched porn I almost threw up at the sight of a gagged women being simultaneously throttled and fucked from behind. It took me years to realise this isn’t a common practice and that sex is much more than dominance by a man. That sex is not always about power play. But can be about expressing love and care for another in a way that feels natural. Not forced or as a means to an end.
After a string of casual relationships, when I fell in love for the first time is when I truly realised how beautiful and healing affection from the person you love can be.
Over the years as internet boomed, I also learned about consent, STDs and sexual abuse. But I had to seek these information out instead of being educated about them in my school. If only sex education was given half the importance as the chapters of Harappan civilization, so many of us would have been saved from the misinformation that stayed with us for years. Evidently it was not only children but also adults such as my friend’s mother who thought performing oral sex could lead to a better chance of pregnancy. In reality, the opposite of that statement is true. The chances of you getting pregnant by unprotected oral sex are zero but you sure as hell are immune to catching STDs.
I wish our school had taken the initiative to teach us about sexual wellbeing, consent, sexual abuse and general advise on contraception, STIs and dare, I say, even female pleasure. So many years of dangerously following and believing in porn could have been saved. In my early twenties, I saw women letting men take advantage of them when they were clearly not ready to get sexual. They did it because it was deemed “cool” and there was nobody to educate otherwise. Who could have women and men turned to? Indian parents who are known in the world to be quite conservative and keep everything relating to female bodies hush-hush? Our friends who themselves had half-baked information? And our last hope, the teachers who refused to do their jobs?
If I had a chance to turn back to my teenage years and write a letter to my science teacher it would read something like these:
I don’t know what is happening to me. I have hair sprouting in private places. My breasts are getting larger and someone on the street stopped me and asked if I was wearing the right size bra. We learned in our chapter on reproductive anatomy that our private thing is called a vagina. It didn’t mention anything about a white discharge. Or the tingling feelings I get when I look at my classmate Vaibhav playing basketball. I feel very shameful. My friend said that it’s okay for our thing to get wet at the thought of someone we like. Is it normal? At times, our family driver repeatedly rubs his hand on my thigh on top of my pinafore. It feels really bad. Like I am doing something wrong. But I don’t know what to do? I don’t understand what is happening to my body. I am so angry at myself for feeling all these feelings. I have started to get my monthly periods. They hurt really badly. My mother says it’s because I am a woman now. Is this what it's like to become a woman? Like feeling helpless at all times and being ripped bare open with nobody to listen.
It still upsets me how much pain and feelings of shame could have been avoided if we had the resources and means to sex education. Having grown up in an environment where sex education was never a priority, I would argue that our children must not be put through the same ordeal. The questions on understanding changing bodies should not be left unanswered but encouraged. That public and private schools must do everything in their power to conduct teacher training and other activities to provide their students the sex education they deserve. If the school does not have the resources themselves for implementation, then partnerships with external sources that can provide comprehensive sex education must be explored to help ease young lives at the school. At the least, our aim should be to completely avoid incidents such as the demonstration of the intricacies of lovemaking by using a pencil and sharpener.
About the Author
Questions and concerns about sex have been brewing in Moh Maya’s (she/her) head since she was 10. So she finds it fitting to document the intricacies of sexuality here and in her half-written chapters of a book on love lives of young women from India’s urban and rural spaces. She can be found observing and photographing every day lives in the neighbourhoods of Mumbai.