By Ayman Fuad
In today’s socio-political climate, the importance of sex education globally has increased dramatically. However, it remains a concept predominantly confined to the Global North, evading the Global South where postcolonial legacies of religious strife, political suppression and lack of freedom of speech deem this subject a taboo. In countries like Pakistan, sex education curriculums are unheard of, and usually, not even parents take it upon themselves to educate their children about this particular topic. Whenever the conversation ever arises (usually right before marriage), the child has to stop the parent to inform them that they are already aware, since their first teachers were the Internet and their peers. These sources are misleading and detrimental and have the power to shape young minds in a way that will have negative consequences later.
If children and teenagers are not educated on these matters, they will seek other sources for this information, such as porn on the Internet, among other channels. The Internet teaches boys that sex is only about male pleasure and that women should be degraded and dehumanised regularly as they are during porn. Additionally, rape fantasies are typically fuelled, and an incel culture stating that women owe men sex is promoted. Girls are heavily sexualised at a young age on the Internet, and especially in porn. There is a widespread obsession with certain body types that young girls are exposed to online, which results in an unhealthy body image and sometimes eating disorders.
The Internet has a wealth of heterosexual porn, and where queer porn exists, it is usually lesbian porn that serves to satisfy heterosexual men’s lust. Thus, queers are usually left out of this cyberspace, pushed to the margins the way they are in the physical world, and resultantly have limited information about how to navigate this confusing arena of their changing bodies. Peers often end up teaching blatantly wrong information they might have consumed on the Internet or from another unreliable source without having any sexual experience themselves. This leads to the creation of a train of misinformation as the same knowledge is widely shared among the same age group without correction from anyone (until maybe much later, through own experiences).
Treating such an important part of human life as a mere concept that can be glossed over and largely ignored by the general public is highly problematic. A lack of comprehensive and medically accurate sex education curriculum also leads to a stunted understanding of the human anatomy, a dire lack of knowledge of puberty and bodily changes, high rates of physical and sexual violence in relationships and beyond, children engaging in early unsafe sexual behaviour, teenage pregnancies, lack of knowledge of sexually transmitted diseases and high transmission of these, unrealistic expectations of sex from watching delusional pornography (not rooted in real life, and mainly focused on male pleasure), etc.
The need for sex education in Pakistan is important not only because of the causes outlined above but because of the rising cases of sexual violence which have been coming to light. These cases reflect unhealthy power dynamics, the toxicity and violence of men that is supported by the patriarchy, and repressed sexual desires of people who do not know how to engage in safe and healthy sexual behaviour. This issue cannot simply be solved by developing a sex education curriculum since our patriarchal society remains misogynistic at the most fundamental level, but it is a start to trying to devise a solution and advancing healthier practices and reforms instead of aggressively demanding the death penalty for all rapists.
A comprehensive sex education curriculum should be introduced, which firstly stresses the importance of consent and boundaries. From a very young age, children should be taught that their consent matters and someone violating their boundaries must be reported. For this, clear lines of reporting to teachers and parents or a special committee at school must be set up, where the students are aware of their existence and the approachability of these individuals. Teaching children about puberty and what it constitutes is vital, since changing hormones will leave them confused and more ready to make misinformed decisions. Abstinence, pregnancy, and safe sex practices should gradually be elaborated upon, which should include contraceptives and the transmission of sexual diseases (STDs). The spectrums of sexual orientation and gender identity should also not be shied away from building a more inclusive curriculum and encouraging a safe space for all queer individuals.
The general public of Pakistan regards sex education as a taboo topic and has voiced concern over how the development of such a curriculum will promote promiscuity and zina (adultery). Such concerns are not grounded in reality since it has statistically been proven time and again that mandatory sex education leads to teenagers having sex later in their lives, instead of earlier. The clergy is usually the group that stringently opposes the addition of such topics to the curriculum on the basis of these subjects being ‘un-Islamic’. However, teaching children about the importance of consent and imparting knowledge upon them about their changing bodies cannot be considered un-Islamic, and should not be viewed from a religious lens, to begin with. Sex is a natural part of life and not preparing children and teenagers for adulthood is extremely dangerous. The appalling absence of a sex education curriculum is a crime on part of our education system which must be corrected expeditiously.