April10.pdf
Manju Agarwal
Myths about Sex and Sexuality
THE
INDIAN JOURNAL
OF
SOCIAL WORK
Tata Institute
of
Volume 71, Issue 2
Social Sciences
April 2010
Myths about Sex and Sexuality
Need for Sex Education
MANJU AGARWAL
For some time now, there has been a lot of debate on imparting sex education to
adolescents in India. According to a powerful section of society, sex education will
corrupt the minds of young people and will promote sexual act before marriage.
Contrary to this belief, the present study on rural adolescent girls showed that girls
become a prey to incest, rape, unwedded pregnancies and low self-esteem due to
lack of sex education and relevant information about sexuality and reproduction. The
study strongly advocates the need for sex education to understand the femininity and
masculinity of sexuality, myths, misconceptions, questions and anxieties related to it.
The sample consisted of 86 adolescent girls, 23 close relatives of these girls, and 31
community-based workers. Interviews, semi-projective tests, focus group discussions,
and cognitive mapping, among others, were used to understand the psychosocial
world of adolescent girls.
Prof. Manju Agarwal is Director, Amity Institute of Behavioral and Allied Sciences,
Amity University of Uttar Pradesh, Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh.
INTRODUCTION
Adolescence has traditionally been considered as the most difficult period
in an individual’s development cycle. It has been aptly described, by a
great scholar, as ‘a ship launching out into the main ocean, without a helm
or ballast or a pilot to steer her’. The changes that adolescents undergo
(physical, psychological, physiological, hormonal, cognitive and sexual)
are not only stressful, but also confusing since these changes occur simul-
taneously and rapidly in the absence of any kind of support and expert
guidance to cope with the transition. The situation is aggravated with un-
certainties of career, marriage partner, sex life and the ‘self’ itself. Confu-
sion deepens with social definitions of adolescence and adolescence being
perceived as a period requiring controls and restrictions.
IJSW, 71(2), 267–282, April 2010

268
Manju Agarwal
Along with many researchers, Greene, Rasekh and Kali Ashet (2002)
say that adolescence does not exist for girls in India — either as an event-
ful and well-documented interlude between childhood and adulthood, or
as a concept in public imagination. According to them, it is a controver-
sial notion in India, as linguistically females are girl children till they
marry and after marriage become ‘reproductive beings’. They also ob-
serve that adolescence continues to be denied to them by parents and the
society. The evidence of it can be found in the treatment of adolescent
girls, leading to restrictions on their mobility, behaviour and strict moni-
toring of their interaction with males in comparison to their younger sis-
ters. Statements like ‘ab sayani ho gayi hai, ho, ghar me raha karo, akele
mat ghomo’
(now you are an adult, stay at home and do not roam alone)
are often uttered to them. In many cases, girls are denied education once
they reach puberty or are admitted into all girls’ college. Even bright girl
students are not sent out of the city for fear of their security. There are
also significant variations in norms, values and behaviour expectations
from girls and boys of this age group across cultures. The question raised
by Margaret Mead, in her study of girls of Samoa is that the social aspects
of adolescence, even if ignored, continue to be relevant till this date
(Mead, 1928).
In fact, when does a child cease to be a child and become an adoles-
cent/adult is either not defined clearly or is defined only culturally. We use
two terms only ‘abhi tum bachche ho’ (you are still a child) or ‘ab tum bade
ho gaye ho
’ (you are now an adult). Moreover, in many countries including
those in South Asia and particularly India, the girls, and even boys, marry
early and become parents during adolescence, in which case they are ex-
pected to behave like mature adults while they are still growing. Becoming
a parent only aggravates the turmoil of the teens. Before these adolescents
get over the plethora of changes occurring in them, they are burdened to
cope with another big event of life — parenthood.
PRESENT SCENARIO
Whenever we talk about sex or sexuality, eyebrows are raised and people
call it a Western concept. An adolescent education programme was
launched in Uttar Pradesh (UP) on July 4, 2007, and by July 6 the issue was
being discussed in the state Legislative Assembly by the Opposition.
Hukum Singh, a Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) called it a
‘corrupting influence’ on young minds. Another MLA, Om Prakash Singh
IJSW, 71(2), 267–282, April 2010

Myths about Sex and Sexuality
269
demanded to know the logic behind introducing sex education in a state
where co-education was still a taboo.
Talking about sex is taboo, studying in a co-education system is
taboo and we wish to continue to live with these taboos rather than
counter them and change the scenario. If sex education would corrupt
the young minds, then child sex abuse, population growth, and maternal
deaths due to teenage pregnancies should have been highest in West
than in our country.
Sex and sexuality are universal biological truths with several social and
psychological aspects associated with it. How can it be Western concept in
a country with highest rate of population growth and highest rate of child
sex abuse? Let us examine the social consequences of lack of this educa-
tion and learn from the existing models instead of making a hue and cry and
calling it ‘against our culture’.
Some answers to these questions are hidden in the data available show-
ing a grave reality. The national level Study on Child Abuse (India: Minis-
try of Women and Child Development, 2007) reported that 53.22% have
faced some form of sexual abuse — the highest rate in the world.
Thirty-five percent of all reported HIV infections are in India and, as per
the Report of the Uttar Pradesh Network of Positive People, 40% of
HIV-positive people in UP are below 25 years. In spite of the Sharda Act
being in existence since 1929, the national average age of marriage for
women is 16.4 years. Teenage pregnancies (mostly within marriage) are a
major cause of poor reproductive health and health outcomes in adoles-
cents. About 15% of pregnancies occur in girls under the age of 18 years,
where the risk of maternal death is 2 to 5 times higher. Early pregnancies
are also a major risk factor for high neo-natal mortality and 46 million
abortions (26 million legal and 20 million illegal) were performed in 1995.
The rate comes to 35 per 1,000.
The Netherlands, where abortion is legal and age-appropriate sex educa-
tion is imparted from childhood itself, has the lowest rate of abortion. It is 7
per 1,000 as compared to 28 per 10,000 in South Central Asia (Henshaw,
Singh and Hass, 1999).
The consequences of not working with adolescents is evident in devel-
opment indicators. They are not equipped with informed choices due to
lack of sex education and reproductive health education. It has serious con-
sequences on high maternal mortality rate and neo-natal mortality — the
IJSW, 71(2), 267–282, April 2010

270
Manju Agarwal
neo-natal mortality rate was 63.1 per 1,000 live births among infants of ad-
olescent mothers as compared to those between 20–29 years. This is re-
quired as 34% adolescent girls are already married and supposedly
sexually active. Less than 10% unmarried girls are also reported to be sexu-
ally active (IIPS and ORC Macro, 2000; Jejeebhoy, 2000). In comparison,
6% boys of 15–19 years are married, while 20–40% are reported to be sex-
ually active (Kulkarni, 2002; Santhya and Jejeebhoy, 2003). At the global
level, girls aged 15–19 years are twice as likely to die from childbirth as are
women in their twenties (UNICEF, 2001).
The second and third National Family Health Surveys (NFHS) (con-
ducted by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of
India) reveal that young people, who form 30% of the population are sexu-
ally active as early as 12 and 13 years, with 18–52 % of girls having their
first pregnancy between 15–19 years of age. The NFHS-2 shows that 50%
of young women are estimated to be sexually active by 18 years.
Girls are often married even before menstruation, but consummation
normally takes place after attainment of puberty and a ritual called gauna.
These statistics tell us that a large number of adolescents — both girls and
boys — are sexually active, when they are most vulnerable and have very
little information about an activity that may have a profound and disastrous
effect on their lives.
The data reported above and those available from several studies and
NFHS-2 and NFHS-3 makes us wonder why life skills education, includ-
ing sexual and reproductive health education, is banned in Indian states.
AIMS AND OBJECTIVES OF THE STUDY
The study has following aims:
1.
To explore the psychosocial world of adolescent girls of rural areas,
belonging to economically and socially disempowered groups of the
society
2.
To identify the myths and misconceptions among adolescent girls of
rural areas regarding their sexuality and reproductive life.
3.
To identify areas for intervention, which will assist the girls with more
choices and a better control over their lives, thereby enabling them to
live a life of dignity.
The study is expected to influence the policy decisions and resource al-
location for adolescents and facilitate development of appropriate
IJSW, 71(2), 267–282, April 2010

Myths about Sex and Sexuality
271
materials to deal with the myths and misconceptions they have about sexu-
ality and reproductive life and help them acquire the life skills necessary to
empower them in this context. In the backdrop of the findings, the author is
looking for a support group to advocate a unique place for adolescents in
policy making, independent of women and children.
METHOD
Sample
The study was conducted in the Gorakhpur and Sitapur districts of UP, and
Nainital of Uttaranchal. These are the districts where the Mahila
Samakhya — a non-governmental organisation working for women’s em-
powerment through education — had focussed its interventions on adoles-
cent girls and where a large number of adolescent collectives or Kishori
Kendras have emerged in the past few years.
The sample consisted of 86 adolescent girls (33 in Gorakhpur, 41 in
Sitapur, and 12 in Nainital), 23 close relatives of these girls (mother, sister,
or sister-in-law), and 31 community-based workers of the Mahila
Samakhya (12 in Gorakhpur, 10 in Sitapur, and 9 in Nainital). All girls and
women belonged to the lowest socioeconomic strata in UP and from a rural
background. The age of adolescent girls ranged between 12 and 20 years.
In case of Sitapur and Gorakhpur, more than 90% of the girls belonged to
the Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe, and minority communities. But
most of the girls in Nainital belonged to the general category as the overall
population of the district consists of mainly upper caste people. The level
of education and socioeconomic status of the girls from Nainital was also
higher than those of UP.
There was much difference in the level of education of girls in eastern
UP and in Uttaranchal. Women of Uttaranchal are very active and mobi-
lised as their male counterparts are usually away from home for jobs.
Research Tools
Interviews and semi-projective tests were used to explore the psychosocial
world of the adolescent girls. They were either interviewed individually or
met through focussed group discussions. In addition, cognitive mapping,
future search dialogues (FSDs), chapatti diagram, life-sketch, anonymous
slips of paper, and so on, were some other research tools. The research
tools and methodology were based on the perspective that girls should be
IJSW, 71(2), 267–282, April 2010

272
Manju Agarwal
given an open and free environment, which would enable them to speak
about themselves. They should not be bombarded with questions which
would hamper the quality of discussions. Hence, though an interview
schedule was prepared, it was meant to be used only as a guiding tool to
generate discussion. The emphasis was on maintaining the natural flow of
a get-together discussion.
RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
To questions on physical and sexual relationships, the girls, initially,
shied away from answering. They were at a loss for words and did not
know ‘what to say?’ On continued probing, the Nainital girls, who
had studied up to class 8–12, said that they had come across some ref-
erences in their science book, but in personal life their knowledge
was based on hearsay. For the uneducated girls of Sitapur and
Gorakhpur districts, their sources of information were adult talks,
adult jokes or something they saw in their own houses, where inti-
mate relations were no secrets due to constraints of space. It needs
thinking that such a serious matter, which affects the entire life of
girls and boys, does not figure anywhere in our education system.
Whatever is taught, as part of science in senior classes, does not re-
ally address the realities of life and the most elementary queries and
concerns of adolescents. Should not their fears and anxieties relating
to real life situations find a place in the curricula? Notions of sex and
physicality among the girls were far removed from reality, which
later created problems for them in coping with the demands of real
life. Some of the younger adolescents, though quiet, did ask on anon-
ymous slips, the meaning of marriage.
Both in Gorakhpur and Sitapur, the girls said that one of their biggest
problems was ‘whom to ask’ and whom to address their queries about their
disturbing first-time experiences, strange feelings and emotions occa-
sioned by their physiological and psychological changes. The girls were
intrigued by the contradictory messages emanating from within them-
selves, adding to their confusion. They could not understand that while the
birth of a child was a joyful event, why menstruation, which a girl must
have before experiencing motherhood, was considered bad and dirty? Why
marriage was a must for every girl, but expressing the desire to get married
was bad? Why was yearning for sex with husband a taboo? Why were girls
often rebuked for applying makeup or wearing fashionable clothes? Why
IJSW, 71(2), 267–282, April 2010

Myths about Sex and Sexuality
273
was this acceptable after marriage? There was no one to answer these ques-
tions satisfactorily.
They had many more questions and they wanted answers to them. For
example, how does one conceive? What is a physical relationship? What
does a boy do after coming in close physical proximity with a girl? Why
do physical changes take place during adolescence, like increase in breast
size? What is menstruation? Why do girls have menstruation? Is it good
or bad? Why does the stomach ache during menstruation? Should they
worry about the problems arising during menstruation, such as discharge
of blackish blood, non-stop flow, and so on? What happens on the suhag
raat
(wedding night)? How does a baby form? What is hysteria? The girls
did not know who to address these questions as eliciting answers to them
was considered bad and immoral. If they ever dared to ask their mothers
or sisters-in law, they would take it as a joke and evade the answer by say-
ing ‘let the time come, you will know everything’. No one had ever re-
plied to their questions in a satisfactory manner till their association with
Kishori Kendras and Kishori Sanghas, where the Mahila Samakhya staff,
called Saheli, replied to most of their questions and doubts. This applied
to all the adolescent respondents. New associates had yet to have their
questions answered. Younger girls were more bothered with questions
related to discrimination at home, while confusions of seniors were more
related to their body and reproductive issues. Younger girls did ask about
the meaning of marriage.
During our discussion with girls across the districts, it came out that
many young adolescent girls got involved in love affairs with boys. This
was happening in the case of both school going and non-school going girls.
Some girls had even tried to elope with boys. Pregnancy outside marriage
was also an issue and they identified ‘incest’ as the reason.
How skewed are their perceptions is reflected in their description of
‘what is rape’? They said that it was something wrong/bad done to the vic-
tim. But they could not exactly spell out ‘what wrong or bad was done’.
They agreed that such cases were rampant and could be attributed to two
main reasons: (i) ignorance among girls regarding ‘what really occurs
during physical consummation’; and (ii) unchecked freedom allowed to
the boys, who are brazen in their behaviour and subscribe to the popular
view that boys/men can do anything they like.
The reason why the girls remained ignorant was that though they at-
tained puberty at the age of 12, information about physical relationship and
IJSW, 71(2), 267–282, April 2010

274
Manju Agarwal
its consequences came to them only after they themselves had experienced
sex, either through marriage, molestation or criminal assault. The actual
experience of sexual/physical relationship through marriage or molesta-
tion/rape, without prior knowledge of sex, can cause trauma and can have
detrimental emotional impact on the girls, leading to maladjustment in
marital relationship and vulnerability to assaults. In another discussion, 80
out of 150 village women revealed that they did not enjoy physical rela-
tionship, even after 10–15 years of marriage. They also disclosed that their
husbands, generally, beat them if they failed to gratify them sexually. Due
to lack of education and information system, absence of an environment
where questions can be asked and answers given, the adolescent lacks the
maturity to nurture physical and marital relationship. It takes its toll in
terms of violence against women.
Despite these experiences on the question of the importance of counsel-
ling and educating adolescent girls about sexuality and reproduction and
about the various changes that take place during puberty, women re-
sponded with a shrug saying: ‘everyone undergoes these experiences and
learns just that way’. According to them, where was the need to inform and
educate in advance?
Some Misconceptions
Some of the misconceptions the girls harboured before joining the Kishori
Sanghas were that physical make-up by girls led to early onset of menstru-
ation and that it was dirty. Entering the temple or kitchen during menstrua-
tion made it impure and girls doing so were condemned. They also
believed that pickles, salt and small plants would be ruined if touched by a
girl during her periods. A number of studies have documented the fact that
many menstruation-related taboos are prevalent in India (Desai, Hazara
and Hegde, 1990; Singh, 2001).
The perception of girls about physical relations and pregnancy too was
very skewed. Some of them thought that kissing or sleeping on the same
cot with a boy would cause pregnancy. Most of them did not have a clear
idea that they could control pregnancy. A Mahila Samkhya study (2006),
which, explored girls’ knowledge of pregnancy, reported that 11 out of 33
girls in Auraiya district said that they knew something about conception,
but that their knowledge was incomplete or, at best, vague. They said, ‘it
takes place only after you marry’ or ‘there are two eggs; something hap-
pens with them and a child is conceived’.
IJSW, 71(2), 267–282, April 2010

Myths about Sex and Sexuality
275
These girls were very curious to get answers to their queries and ques-
tions. Approximately 40% of adolescent girls talked to their friends about
menstruation and about 12–15% to either their older sister or sis-
ter-in-law or mother. Their sources of information were as mythical and
unauthentic as their own. The Mahila Samakhya study also demonstrated
that 48.5% girls of Auraiya district and 53% girls of Sitapur district were
convinced of the correctness of restrictions on girls during menstruation
when they were impure and anything they touched was defiled. They
even believed the myth that if restrictions were lifted, the girls might be-
come pregnant.
Knowledge of reproductive health, physical relations and sexuality
among girls was very poor, unscientific, mythical and distorted. This was
true in case of all the girls, whether educated or uneducated. In a separate
study organised for educated girls from both rural and urban settings, to
evaluate their awareness of adolescent issues, the results were disappoint-
ing. The knowledge was minimal and far removed from the realities of life.
Even among girls who had attended high school, awareness was limited to
the chapter on ‘marriage’ taught in the home science class. Many girls ad-
mitted that they did not know anything about physical relationship until
they got married. They were so carried away by myths based on films and
run-of-the-mill books that they thought a girl would become pregnant if
touched or kissed by a man.
It was the ignorance of sexuality among girls that led to pregnancies be-
fore marriage, for which they were punished, sometimes losing their life.
Ironically, severe repression of the sexual urge, as expected by society,
often led to the breakdown of marriage. There was no authentic source to
address their adolescent queries of physiological and psychological
changes and the strange feelings and emotions stirring in their breast.
Some of the reasons for lack of awareness on sex among girls were that
they did not have any confidant in their close circle with whom to share
their anxieties. Second, there was the fear of being branded wicked if they
asked ‘those’ questions. Third, no one in the family possessed the right
kind of knowledge. Fourth, elders did not have the ability to communicate
effectively, even if they had some information worth its while. Last, the
facts of married sex life were dealt with rather casually and not considered
important enough for serious thought. They were treated as a kind of joke
and the girls were free to interpret it in whichever way they liked.
IJSW, 71(2), 267–282, April 2010

276
Manju Agarwal
Physical relations before marriage, including incest, was not uncom-
mon. Girls reported many cases in which fathers were involved in sexual
exploitation of their daughters. In such cases, the first move is to abort the
pregnancy, usually through quacks, or else the girls are made to consume
certain things which are harmful to them. If the pregnancy cannot be termi-
nated, the girl may even be killed by her own parents. In UP, boys are not
held accountable in such cases; in Uttaranchal, however, the boys are made
to answer.
Even though the girls are brought up in a highly restricted and con-
trolled environment, which disallows them to move out of the house or
interact even with female friends, affairs with boys ensuring in physical
relations do take place. In Sitapur district, the issue of pregnancy before
marriage came up during a group discussion. Some of the girls, with old
associations with Kishori Sanghas, could muster courage to talk about
this tabooed subject. Also, it was timely to discuss this issue as only a few
days back, a 16-year old girl had been poisoned by her own parents when
her pregnancy was discovered. What was surprising, even alarming, was
that almost the entire village knew about it but none dared to avert this
gruesome deed. None informed the police either. If the parents had not
poisoned their daughter, the villagers would, perhaps, have ostracised the
girl and her family. In Nainital district, when a reference to this incident
was made, it was taken very casually because such cases were not un-
usual. Unwed motherhood did not appear to hold any surprises for the
girls. They had heard of it. They also knew that, generally, the culprits
were within the family itself or from the pattedari — uncles, cousins and
rarely, even father.
Come to think of it: if the girls are not allowed to go out of the house and we
still hear of pregnancy among unmarried girls, who are then the culprits? (A
community-based worker from Sitapur)
Seven of the 40 girls who joined residential literacy classes in
Gorakhpur Mahila Samakhya, were found to be involved in physical rela-
tions with the men of their villages. On probing, it became evident that
these girls were lured by small gifts and words of appreciation and love,
something that was lacking at home. They also accepted that they had no
knowledge of physical relations and its implications before their involve-
ment. In one case, the parents themselves were responsible for such a rela-
tionship.
IJSW, 71(2), 267–282, April 2010

Myths about Sex and Sexuality
277
BOX 1
Nisha, a 15-year old girl from a village in Sitapur district was poisoned by
her parents. Next day, they floated the story that their daughter had died
of cholera. In reality, the girl was having illicit relationship with a boy
from the neighbourhood. The matter came to light after Nisha had been
pregnant seven months. Shockingly, the boy who was behind the affair
had, meanwhile, developed a similar relationship with Nisha’s younger
sister. The villagers, despite knowing the truth, neither raised eyebrows
over Nisha’s mysterious death nor did they punish the boy. A popular
local saying explained it all: Ladka sau ghar laangh sakta hai par bachna
ladki ko chahiye
(a boy can have any number of illicit liaison but the onus
is on the girl to protect herself).
In Sitapur district, the incidence of incestuous relationships between the
father and the daughter worked out to roughly one family per village. As
there is no reliable data available, it is hard to authenticate the estimated
number. However, there is no doubt that incest is not rare. The girls are
lured into such a liaison at an age when they do not even know the meaning
of it. Most of the time, they are threatened with dire consequences if they
report anything about it to anyone. They know that they alone will be
blamed and beaten, or hurriedly married off. Thus the freedom that they
enjoy, however meagre, will be lost. It has been observed that when girls
hint/tell their mothers about being touched or fondled by uncles, close fam-
ily friends or relatives, it is completely ignored as incredible, or a gesture of
affection misconstrued by the girls. May be, the mothers refuse to accept
the involvement of kith and kin in such unsavoury relationships because of
the unconscious fear that it would break relations and bring a bad name to
the girl.
As to the fate of the unmarried, pregnant adolescent girls, the first move
is to contact either a doctor or a dai for abortion. Sometimes, girls are mar-
ried off. If abortion is not possible for different reasons, the girl is put to
death by one of the family members or her life is made so unbearable that
she is forced to commit suicide. Mothers, usually, do the dirty work be-
cause it is they who are blamed for not having imparted good sanskars
(values) to their daughters, culminating in shame. In Nainital, the girls said
that they had not heard of anyone being killed, but an unwed adolescent
mother, was expelled from the village, along with her own mother, in Dhari
Block. No one knows what happened to them thereafter.
IJSW, 71(2), 267–282, April 2010

278
Manju Agarwal
The female relatives of the girls interviewed in the study, too, had sev-
eral misconceptions even though they were married and had children.
Eighteen out of 23 women said that their menstruation started 2–4 years
after marriage. Meanwhile, they continued to have sex with their husbands.
Five out of 23 women reported that they became pregnant without the ex-
perience of menstruation. These women did not know that menstruation
was a precondition to childbirth. They got married before puberty and got
pregnant without experiencing menstruation. It is also possible that since
menstruation is considered impious they denied it or became amnesic of
this experience. Curiously, some women went on to say that they did not
menstruate even after giving birth to 2–3 children.
We cannot expect these women to transmit authentic information to
their daughters, sisters, or sisters-in-law necessitating the need to sensitise
and train them on critical issues of life as they will always be a major
source of information to the new generation.
Some Harmful Practices
A practice common in villages, as shared by group, was that whenever girls
felt pain in their breasts their mothers tightly bound them with a hot
chapatti or applied ointment. Increase in the size of breasts was considered
bad and provocative. It attracted undue attention from men and had, there-
fore, to be stopped.
They further stated that they hid from their mothers or mothers-in-law
that their adolescent granddaughters were menstruating, for fear that they
would pressurise for the early marriage and gauna of the girls. They said
that, for the same reason, even the daughters sometimes did not tell their
mothers about their menstruation possibly because it meant intensification
of restrictions. Sometimes, they came to know of this fact after their daugh-
ters had given birth to children.
Visualising Their Own Adolescent Days
The researchers tried to lead some women back to their adolescence using
some self-realisation exercises. This helped them to open up a bit and come
forward to narrate their experiences. Their ignorance about critical facts of
life and the tremendous difficulties they had to encounter on account of
lack of information was shocking. They were still bearing the brunt of it.
There was a U-turn in their opinion about adolescent education and train-
ing after this self-realisation. It took a while before these women, shedding
IJSW, 71(2), 267–282, April 2010

Myths about Sex and Sexuality
279
their rigid stance, showed genuine concern for their daughters. They also
made many suggestions to equip their daughters with the necessary facts of
life to enable them face an uncertain future with confidence and courage.
The women said that, normally, at time of marriage, girls were in their
early teens and the grooms in their early or mid-twenties. Men being older
and having had greater opportunities of socialisation were aware of many
things of which their wives were not. The gap between the high expecta-
tions of the husband and the inexperience of the wife creates a rift that
rarely mends. Many times, husbands leave their wives for other women
(that is, second wife or a mistress). This statement of the women showed
that while they were aware of the crux of the problem, the rigours of the so-
cial system had forced them to turn a blind eye to the link between sexual
satisfaction and a healthy relationship between married partners. They
strongly expressed themselves in favour of providing information and edu-
cation to their daughters/sisters-in-law to prepare the nubile girls to meet
the exigencies of sex and marriage in life. This contrasted with their earlier
stand that the girls did not have any problems or that their problems ended
with their marriage.
On the first night (after wedding) my husband tied my hands and legs to the
bed and raped me repeatedly. My husband and I had to undergo a lot of
unnecessary pain and trouble because of my inexperience and lack of
understanding. (32 years old woman from Gorakhpur)
CONCLUSION
There is an urgent need to work with Indian adolescents as they constitute a
large section that is, 21.4% of the population (India: Ministry of Human
Resource Development, 2000). The young people (10–24 years) are soon
going to be 30% of the world population. Also, the process of social
change is much faster if one works with adolescents because working with
adolescents means working with three generations simultaneously: adoles-
cents themselves and their peers; the adults that is, their parents, elder
brothers and sisters-in-law, uncles and aunt; and the generation to come for
whom these adolescents will become a model of help directly and con-
sciously. In the backdrop of lack of awareness of the characteristic physio-
logical, hormonal and psychological changes that adolescents undergo and
the challenge of adjustment it poses for them, they are seen as troublesome
and a threat to the family and society. Hence, there are efforts to control
and leash their adolescence instead of channelising their energy and pro-
viding the required support. Indeed society needs to capitalise on their
IJSW, 71(2), 267–282, April 2010

280
Manju Agarwal
immense energy, excitement to take risks, and the capacity to innovate.
The present study on rural adolescent girls showed that they have lots of
myths and misconceptions about menstruation, sexuality, child birth, con-
traception, and so on, making them highly vulnerable to incest, rape,
unwedded pregnancies and low self-esteem. The author strongly advocates
the need for imparting sex education to the adolescents to equip them with
life skills necessary to empower them in this context. The study also high-
lights the importance of imparting sexuality-related education to the par-
ents of the adolescents as well. They are sources of information for
adolescents, but since they are themselves misinformed they pass their
own myths and misconceptions to the young generation.
Adolescents should be recognised as a separate age group as its needs
are unique. Presently, they are merged with women or children under the
Ministry of Women and Child Development or with Youth under the Min-
istry of Youth Affairs with diverse focus. A national policy on adolescents
needs to be developed, which addresses their psychological, social as well
as physiological needs.
REFERENCES
Desai, P., Hazara, M.
: Adolescent’s Menstrual Pattern, Journal of Obstetrics and
and Hegde, K.
: Gynaecology of India, 40, 270–274.
1990
Greene, M.E.,
: In this Generation: Sexual and Reproductive Health Policies for
Rasekh, Z. and
a Youthful World, Washington, DC: Population Action
Kali-Ashet, A.
: International.
2002
Henshaw, S.K.,
: Family Planning Perspectives (Volume 25), Supplement
Singh, S. and Hass, T.
: S-30-38.
1999
India: Ministry of
: National Youth Policy, New Delhi: Department of Youth and
Human Resource
Social Affairs.
Development
2000
India: Ministry of
: Study on Child Abuse: India 2007, New Delhi.
Women and Child
Development
2007
IIPS and ORC Macro
: National Family Health Survey (NFHS-2), 1998–1999,
2000
Mumbai.
IJSW, 71(2), 267–282, April 2010

Myths about Sex and Sexuality
281
Jejeebhoy, S.
: Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Behaviour: A Review of
2000
the Evidence from India. In R. Ramasubban and S. Jejeebhoy
(Eds.), Women’s Reproductive Health In India, Jaipur: Rawat
Publications.
Kulkarni, S.
: The Reproductive Health Status of Married Adolescents as
2002
Assessed by NFHS-2, India. In S. Bott, S. Jeejeebhoy, I. Shah
and C. Puri (Eds.), Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health:
Evidence and Programme Implications for South Asia
, Geneva:
World Health Organization.
Mahila Samakhya
: Opening Horizon, Uttar Pradesh.
2006
Mead, M.
: Coming of Age in Samoa, New York: Morrow.
1928
Santhya, K.G. and
: Sexual and Reproductive Health Needs of Married Adolescent
Jejeebhoy, S.J.
: Girls. Economic and Political Weekly, 38 (41), 4370–4377.
2003
Singh, A.J.
: Women’s Illnesses: The Indian Male Perspective—A Search for
2001
Linkage with Vedic Concept of Health and Hindu Mythology,
Bulletin of Indian Institute of Historical Medicine, 31, 39–56.
UNICEF
: The Progress of Nations 2001, New York.
2001
IJSW, 71(2), 267–282, April 2010