Sex Education



Sex education, in the past, had been disseminated to help shape adolescents’ life choices. This is now transforming; it has now become a process where children are empowered and provided with facts that will help them make informed decisions. Sex education today involves exploration of gender identity and sexual orientation, understanding consent and non- judgemental assistance and guidance. This shows that “sex education” or “sexuality Education” (UNESCO preferred term) has and is constantly evolving.  

Taboos and Euphemisms regarding the term “Sex Education” 

“Sex” when used in common parlance is associated with sexual intercourse, and pornography. Which is why understandably “sex education” has a tendency to sound immoral. In 1969, a book written by Broderick and Bernard exhibited that since its inception there has been certain euphemism attached to sex education. Throughout many cultures and societies, discussions related to sex, sexuality, and reproductive health have been surrounded by taboos and cultural sensitivities. In various historical contexts, these topics were often considered private matters that should not be openly discussed in public or formal educational settings. The mere mention of sex education could evoke discomfort due to deeply ingrained cultural norms. The perception of immorality surrounding “sex education” is rooted in historical taboos, cultural sensitivities, and religious influences. Euphemistic language has historically been employed to navigate discomfort. As societal perspectives evolve, there’s a shift towards open, comprehensive approaches, challenging historical constraints on discussing sex education. 

UNESCO’S vision regarding “Sexuality Education”. 

 In 2018, UNESCO has published technical guidelines where “sexuality education” is defined as “age appropriate, culturally relevant approach to teaching about sex and relationships by providing scientifically accurate, realistic, non-judgemental information.” Sexuality education programmes was conceptualized as structured opportunities for young people, to help them explore their own values and attitudes and to practise decision-making, communication, risk-reduction skills, and other life skills that they need in order to make informed choices about their sexual lives. The guidelines presented that sexuality education plays a vital role in prevention of HIV, teenage pregnancy, sexual violence, abusive behaviour, and other sexually transmitted infections. The guidelines further aim to improve the propagation of verifiable scientific knowledge by reducing misconception. Moreover, the guidelines advise educators to refrain from using humiliating comments and asking personal questions. to respect the privacy, and sentiments of students alongwith maintaining confidentiality  

History of Sex Education   

  1. Structural Transformation in Europe and the USA 

Since the Enlightenment period, in Europe, sex education was combined with the child’s development process studies. While Rousseau believed nature will guide sexual act,Maurice. A. Bigelow, on the other hand, envisioned that religious instructions can help solve the problems of sex, that inevitably one experience in their lifetime. Such teachings were encouraged to put a check on man, in order to see that he is not instigated by immorality and improper sexual behaviour. Maurice advocated for sex education to be taught from early childhood and for it to extend beyond adolescence. He incorporated  topics such as social diseases, sex- hygiene, morality, and marriage in his teachings. However, his teachings were also dominated by narratives of fear, promiscuity, contamination, and innocence in an attempt to suppress sexual instincts. Years following 1920, saw some drastic change with regards to sex education.  USA and Europe experienced an increase in premarital sexual activity, as an aftermath of moral panic amongst the youth at the time of war and post-World War. There was a substantial increase in the incidence of venereal diseases contracted by young adults and teenagers getting involved in unsafe sexual practices. This resulted in institutionalizing sex education and  promoting abstinence-only programmes. Government and medical associations took over the task of formulating guidelines for teachers to impart sex education in schools and colleges. In 1980s, HIV/ AIDS epidemic in the USA put the federal government in action to respond to the spread of disease. In England, however, by 1985, sex education was integrated into the school curriculum. And by the end of the 20th century, new guidelines were directed for schools to organise comprehensive sex education.  

  1. Diverse Approaches in Asia, Africa, and South America 

Sex education in Asia varies, with traditional values often promoting a conservative stance. Africa’s diverse cultural influences shape attitudes toward formalized programs, combating taboos, and addressing HIV/AIDS misconceptions. In South America, Catholicism impacts views on premarital sex and contraception, leading to diverse national approaches, including comprehensive education and abstinence emphasis. Indigenous perspectives add complexity, highlighting the need for culturally sensitive sex education. 

  1. A Historical Trajectory of Sex Education in India 

In India, in Hindus precepts, sex education is bounded by religious scriptures and presented in a scientific manner that socially regulates sexuality. Pretence is seen in the way sex is perceived in Indian context as well, but surprisingly this was inflicted on us by foreign rulers who came to conquer. Ancient India along with holding celibacy as pious, celebrated sex. There were however admonitions on freely expressing one’s sexuality. The expression on “sex and sexuality” changed from Kamasutra era to how we perceive it now. In the Vedic period, sex was regarded as sacred but with the arrival of Buddhism, celibacy started being appreciated because of the belief that it leads to salvation. Consequently, informal teaching in an Indian household has since been in furtherance of the practice of either celibacy or abstinence until marriage principle. 

In post-independence India, with Family Life Education, the discourse on sex education began. Under the National Planning Committee, a sub-Committee on Health was formed with Nehru as its chairperson. Here for the very first-time birth control and child health services were promoted. Population-control education was made available to increase the awareness about drastically increasing population in the year 1969 by the Ministry of Health and Family Planning along with the Ministry of Education. Later on, the National Population Policy started inculcating the idea of small family through education. Post 1986, all the school textbook across the boards started focusing on the benefits of a small family, family welfare, responsible parenthood, and delayed marriage. Following which the Adolescent Education Programme, a school-based sex education programme started in India. 

Evolution of Sex Education 

  1. Patriarchal Roots and Evolution 

Sex education has had a patriarchal undertone since time immemorial, but we see now, with UNESCO’s liberal guidelines on sex education, and its gradual adoption by the domestic governments that the idea of sex education has started evolving. Recent past also witnessed the advent of a feminist approach to sex education.  

  1. Shifting Paradigms of Sexuality 

Earlier, sexuality referred to gender-identity and sexual orientation in interrelation with different cultures. In 1989 Jeffrey Weeks in his book stressed that sexuality is the product of social forces, it is vulnerable to the sanctions of organization. It was therefore thought that sexuality only exists through its social forms and social organization. Female understanding of sex was limited to birth control and abortion. The conceptualization that resisted diverseness of sex did see a resistance of some kind. This resistance was shown earlier to subcultures and minorities like homosexuals.  

  1. Feminist Challenges in Sex Education 

Sue Jackson and Ann Weatherall stated how it was a tough path for a feminist approach in sex education since the human body has always been perceived to be gendered the way it looks rather than perceiving it through embodied experience and inner reflection of one’s identity. In 2004, Encyclopaedia on Children and their Childhood, History and Society explained contextualization of sex education in terms of modern and the postmodern society, sexual morality and who defines it in recent times. Apprehension about modern-day sex education is highlighted as there is a departure from earlier discourse where sex education was about repression, control, and inhibition. In 2013, Tiffany Jones discussed the conservative opposition of sex education. And the reason why conservatives urge the pedagogy method to still be authority-centred, and their demand to inculcate dominant values and believes such as religion in passive recipients during sex education discourse. Their persistent resistance to the idea of recognizing gender other than the fixed binaries.  

  1. Conservative Resistance and Contemporary Progress 

Our subscription to conservative ideology is manifested in many approaches when it comes to sex education. There is abstinence-only education, morality-based sex education and household approach witnessed in many Indian homesthrough the Storks and Fairies approach. Likewise, Victorian Puritanism limits puberty education to menstruation. Abstinence Education discourse urges students to abstain sex until marriage, which ultimately results in shaming of person who indulges in sexual behaviour without being married. However, we have progressed towards a contemporary feminist approach to sex education.  

In early 2000s, Elizabeth Atkinson argued that the education system, by not being inclusive and non-discriminatory is failing to meet the social change that is occurring. To provide momentum the feminist educators and sociologists started strongly criticizing the books where sex education is imparted through a perspective of biological reproduction because it leaves little to no room for understanding sexual diversity and propagated risk and danger of reckless sexual intimacy for pleasure. Also, in doing so, the opportunity to discuss negation of sexual advances and consent is side-lined. The idea of liberal sex education is the base that has helped formulate the new comprehensive and inclusive sex education that comprises of- the idea of consent, sexual rights and freedom, concepts defying gender roles and gender binaries and exclusive discussion on sexual health and breaking stereotypes.  

  1. Contemporary Perspectives 

In recent years, sex education has witnessed dynamic developments globally. Governments and institutions increasingly embrace inclusive and comprehensive approaches. Notably, the gradual expansion of LGBTQ+ inclusive content and discussions around consent signify a departure from traditional norms. While significant strides have been made in sex education, there still remains substantial work ahead to address gaps, ensure inclusivity, and promote comprehensive, evidence-based learning for all young adults.  


The journey of sex education, from historical taboos to a contemporary global discourse, reflects a transformative narrative. Today’s sex education transcends moral euphemisms, embracing open, comprehensive approaches endorsed by UNESCO. The historical trajectory, diverse regional perspectives, and contemporary feminist challenges have shaped its evolution. Acknowledging limitations in historical accounts, the inclusivity and technological advancements in recent years underscore the importance of dynamic, up-to-date sex education in addressing modern challenges and fostering a nuanced understanding of human sexuality. 

-By Adv. Deeksha Rai

Comments are closed.