Discreet Sex Education Breaks Indian Taboo

Many private schools across India are now offering lessons on sexual health -- lessons that traditionalists say violate Hindu culture. While such lessons are offered to these pupils discretely, millions of students in government schools will receive no sex education, and political controversy has made some state governments less than keen to introduce it.

"India allows teenagers to learn English and other European languages, devour pizza, burgers, wear skimpy clothes and dance to English music," Rubina Hussain Sheikh, a teacher in Delhi, told about 40 15-year-old boys and girls in her class on sex education. "These Western influences are welcomed. So why is talking about sex in schools not accepted?"

Sheikh shows students at the school -- which asked not to be named to avoid publicity -- drawings of how an adolescent's body develops, and graphics detailing how HIV/AIDS and STDs grew in India. Slides displaying material from the ancient Indian erotic text Kamasutra are also presented.

Students are hesitant to ask her questions, Sheikh said, but many feel the course helps to dispel their misconceptions, she added.

"I had no clue about sex, pregnancy and the precautions required to protect oneself during intercourse," said Riddhima Tiwari, a 15-year-old student at the school. "I am glad that I am aware now."

"If implemented, [sex education] would have adverse effects on young minds," said Swami Nityanand, a Hindu priest in Delhi and senior member of the conservative Vishwa Hindu Parishad organization. In 2007, his followers burned school texts that discussed contraception and STDs and prevailed upon the government in Gujarat to drop chapters on reproduction from science textbooks.

Ravi Kumar Tandon, a Delhi doctor who specializes in sexual issues and worked on a survey of about 500 rural and urban teens in India, said, "Many rural girls thought a man's touch was enough to make them pregnant, while the urban boys said they access the Internet and watch pornographic videos to understand sex."