Thiruvananthapuram, Jan 29 (PTI) "Why is consent so important in sex?" asked Nirmal, a second year BA student at a prominent college in Kerala during a sexuality education programme held on the campus.
The 19-year-old wanted to know if there is anything wrong in being honest about his sexual feelings towards a girl on the campus.
"If I have feelings towards a girl, why should I be ashamed about expressing it?" asked the teenager, matter-of-factly.
At a time when talking openly about sex is still considered taboo, around 100 students at the famous University College Thiruvananthapuram, sharing seats with the opposite sex, showed that talking about sex was as much a part of their well-being as much as their right.
The event was organised by the National Service Scheme (NSS) of the college in association with Vvox, a sexual health platform backed by Harvard-trained and ASSECT-certified sexologists from India and the United States. ASSECT is the American Society of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists, which is a body that certifies and provides training to doctors.
The session comes little over a week after the Kerala High Court observed that boys should not touch a girl or a woman without her explicit consent.
The highlight of the event held here on Saturday was high participation of female students. Some of the topics discussed at the two-and-a-half-hour long session included, masturbation, virginity, pornography and the importance of eating right in sexual health.
Responding to the teenager's query on consent, Sangeeth Sebastian, sexuality educator and founder of Vvox, said it is important to avoid any unpleasant situations by ensuring that the other person is comfortable with his sexual advances in the first place.
"Whether your feelings will make someone else uncomfortable or not, is something which you cannot control," said Sebastian.
Sebastian said Vvox in association with Pixstory, a hate speech fighting social media platform, Kerala House, a Thiruvananthapuram-based restaurant and Kanal, a gender sensitisation platform, is on a mission to provide medically accurate, scientific and reality-based sexuality education in campuses across the state.
According to Thapasaya M, a final year BA Political Science student, the session helped them in clarifying a lot of myths and misconceptions about sex, especially those relating to masturbation and virginity.
"Sex is not a dirty word, but an integral part of an individual's healthy living," Thapasya told PTI.
Her view was also shared by Maya, a second year Geology student, who felt the session connected well with the current generation. "I never had sex education in my school. Today, I learned that there is nothing to be ashamed about sex. It's something that should be understood with responsibility and respect," she said.
Sheeba S, assistant professor, Zoology and NSS programme officer, said internet porn has become the de facto sex education for most youngsters.
"Learning about sex from porn can give you distorted and exaggerated ideas about sex, which is why providing the younger generation with medically accurate sexuality education is so important," Sheeba told PTI.
Titled 'Eat, Play, Love, responsibly', the session explored the link between food and fitness on sexual health, through interactive sessions, Powerpoint presentations and contests.
"Nearly 80 per cent of sexual difficulties can be addressed easily without any medication or medical intervention, if you have just the right information," said Sebastian.
"And that's what we are providing through our campaign. Our campaign module has been vetted by a team of top doctors from India and the US, including Dr Lawrence I Sank, one of the most cited sex researchers on male sexual dysfunctions in the world," Sebastian further said.
He hoped that in the coming months, the campaign would be expanded to campuses across the state.
Annu K Kunchappan, managing partner, Kerala House restaurant and a campaign partner, talked about how junk food can impact sexual health by clogging the penile arteries.
"Most of us don't realise that the immediate impact of eating junk food is how it can adversely affect our sexual function, even before it can cause heart trouble," she said.
Taking note of the rise in sexual harassment cases in the society, the Kerala High Court had recently observed that the lessons in good behaviour and etiquette must be part of the curriculum at least from the primary school level.
It said boys should understand the phrase "no" means "no" and urged the society to teach them to be selfless and gentle, rather than selfish and entitled.
The court said this while considering a plea challenging the order of the Internal Complaints Committee and the order passed by the Principal of a College in connection with a harassment matter.
It said showing respect and honour towards a woman was not old fashioned, but a virtue for all times.
The session at the University College was also organised at a time when a significant section of Kerala society was up in arms against the Left government's bid to introduce gender-neutral uniforms, mixed seating in schools or changing school timings, as suggested by an expert panel.
Senior Muslim League leader Abdurahiman Randathani had recently alleged that as part of the Left government's gender-neutral initiatives, students were being made to sit together and taught about masturbation and homosexuality.
"Just imagine what will happen if teenagers are made to sit together and taught about masturbation and homosexuality. What will happen to the culture of this land?" the IUML leader had said during a Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) protest march against the Left government over various issues in Kannur last month.
The protest had forced the Kerala government to inform the State Assembly that it has not taken any decision on the expert panel's recommendation. PTI TGB HDA HDA