In India, learning about the birds and the bees can be a conflicting experience. On one hand, there’s the uncomfortable coughing and red-faced stammering when one confronts elders and authorities. On the other, the prevalent attitudes towards sex are shaped by sexual morality and conservatism. This is further fuelled by either the absence of sex education, or making them available to only same-sex groups in schools.
Ideas around sex in this country are very limited and almost always starts with porn. In that too, porn restricts the way an individual encounters sex—a survey found that almost all porn websites in India are heterosexual, with only about 5-15 percent of online porn being homosexual (and available mostly in niche or gay-specific websites).
Which leads us to the burning question: If the hetero folks are pretty much learning most of the nuances of sex mostly through porn, where do the queer community find safe spaces to explore their sexuality? This, at a time when homophobia is rampant in our schools and colleges, and there is a massive dearth of LGBTQ+ affirmative sex ed.
As we inch closer towards marking one year of the landmark reading down of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code—which decriminalised gay sex and expressions of love—VICE looks at one of the many conversations that needs to pick up: Are there safe spaces for the LGBTQ+ community to learn about sex in India?
We reached out to a few members from the community to find out.
"My school taught me that sexual desire is ‘rasna time'"
I went to a deeply Christian school in Mumbai and we had only one day of "sex education". The boys and girls were separated and we were specifically told that any form of sexual desire was “rasna time”, and that sometimes it gets “cross-wired”. The elaborate metaphor meant that they were just hormonal secretions, and it helps us develop adulthood. And also that there is some malfunctioning that causes same-sex desires. What gay sex looked like, or how does one prepare for anal sex, etc, was absolutely alien to me. The internet was just about becoming a thing then but there were all kinds of quacks who recommended that coconut oil was the best form of lube. But over the last five years, there has been a big movement to have sex-ed videos targeted at millennials, mostly funded by AIDS prevention organisations. Those queer-friendly videos educated me about safe sex. —Rohit*, 25
"Sidney Sheldon and Jackie Collins helped me climax in school"
The [sex] curriculum in India ignores the existence of LGBT+ people and non-heterosexual behaviours completely. So, you can imagine my plight when I started to explore my sexuality in my first year of college. I did not know whom to turn to because I was still coming into my own. Sidney Sheldon (don't judge me) and Jackie Collins helped me climax in school. I started watching porn from the ninth grade. But nothing could prepare me for my first anal encounter; it left me with a bad taste in my mouth (no pun intended). However, some of my best teachers have been my gay friends who had been around the block before me. They initiated me into the very tedious process of preparing for sex. So in all, books, pornography and a few wise men have helped me understand the male body better. —Barry Nathaniel Rodgers, 30
"Info about sex involving two people with vaginas is heavily sexualised"
I got most, if not all, of my sex education from the internet. I feel like the amount of information available about sex involving two people with vaginas is comparatively less, unless it's heavily sexualised, and most often for male pleasure. I've been asked, "So, what is lesbian sex?" more by straight men than any other demographic. I didn't know any out lesbians so I couldn't reach out to anyone personally, which is why I had to resort to the internet—websites like autostraddle, afterellen, and everyoneisgay exposed me to a lot of LGBTQ+ popular culture. I also feel like a lot of what I know about sex is from trial and error. —FMJ*, 22
"Our priest told us virginity is a gift we should give our husbands on the wedding night"
My first encounter with sex was when I was about four, and a few kids in my mother’s village were playing 'house-house’ and 'mummy-papa-doing-stuff’ games. I wasn't allowed to play with them because apparently, those from the town can’t play with those from villages. Then in fourth grade, a hyper-adult classmate told us we shouldn't have sex with boys because we'll get pregnant, or let them touch our boobs for they will get bigger. She also said that we will get pregnant if we sit on the same seat a man has sat on. At 12, when my periods started, my grandmother told me I will get pregnant if a boy even touches my arms. In class 12, we had a two-day sex ed workshop in our Catholic school, in which we were told by a priest-in-training that virginity is a gift we should give our husbands on the wedding night, following it up with graphic abortion videos! Thankfully, our class teacher was very 'modern' and explained that virginity does not define a woman. But at the same time, a nun at school told me that homosexuals will go to hell, no matter how much good they do in life. —Prashansa Gurung, 31
"As an asexual, I thought gender and sex was a formality while filling out forms"
It started with a lack of gender sensitisation since I grew up in Agra and we didn’t even have separate toilets for girls and boys in school. Until the age of 18, I wasn’t aware of the difference between gender and sex; for me, it was a formality for filling out forms, taught by my parents. When I turned 18, I realised I don't have sexual attraction towards any gender or sex. In 2009, I came to know about the word ‘queer’ (sexual minorities) when the Delhi High Court decriminalised homosexuality. After that, I started asking myself whether my lack of sexual attraction also matters in the queer spectrum. Facebook was my initiation into homosexual love, but I had horrible encounters with men who were only interested in sex. One day, I read the full form of LGBTQIA+ and I came to know about asexuality. I can't express how I felt the moment I identified with that. So, for a sex-repulsed asexual, there is definitely still a lack of awareness not just outside the community but within the community too. —Raj Saxena, 25
"Until my late 20s, I thought sex is something we discuss only after marriage"
Schools and colleges are not well equipped to teach about sex and different kinds of sexualities. I, in fact, came to know about sex when I was in my late 20s, not when I was growing up because it was such a taboo. I came to know about not just sex but safety measures too, from my friends and peers in the community. Until then, I assumed I was straight, and thought sex is something we discuss only after marriage. When I came out, in order to learn more about myself and human sexuality, I reached out to the LGBTQ+ community. I wanted to know the truth about human sexuality, which is really something that needs to be taught to kids in schools and colleges. —Alex Mathew/Maya the Drag Queen, 30
*Names changed to protect identity
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This article originally appeared on VICE IN.