The onset of adolescence is often accompanied by the realisation that “wetting your bed” doesn’t exactly mean what you always thought it did. This ‘coming of age’ period is when the sexual forces clattering about in your system find themselves at the forefront of the movement to liberate your orgasm, even if your own fingers are the foot soldiers. But, all that hormonal tension might leave you feeling anxious, weird and just plain horny, especially if you don’t fully comprehend this swaying emotional balance or have an outlet for it yet. This is where sex education is meant to step in. But in a country that shies away from the subject, yet relies on porn as a form of sexual discourse, gaping holes arise in a young adult’s understanding of sexual arousal. An upcoming zine titled BEDx Talks by illustrator Priyanka Paul and motion designer Rushil Bhatnagar is trying to change that.
When Paul, a 20-year-old communications student at St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai, delivered a TEDx Talk, and Bhatnagar’s professor at MIT Institute of Design, Pune, asked the 21-year-old graphic designer to side-step his comfort zone, the duo merged their abilities to create ‘Bedx Talks’. A witty and visually constructed millennial-friendly manual for sex education in India, the zine targets urban young adults, especially men in the age group of 16-24, standing in for the lack of customised desi dialogues to understand sex and all that comes with it.
Talking about the inspiration behind the initiative, Paul says, “It’s shocking because there’s so many things about sex education I should know that I don’t, despite coming from a super-privileged background.” An active advocate for social causes and consistently trying to shatter the status quo, Paul’s identity-exploring works—from the Goddesses series to those that take on menstruation, gender fluidity and patriarchy—are immediately identifiable and relatable. “Some men say things like ‘My dick is too big for you’ and may even engage in stealthing [the act of non-consensually removing a condom during sex], which is so problematic. There’s so much curiosity around penises, but it is only discussed in close-knit groups. We are trying to open up the dialogue with a male perspective. Even in #MeToo accounts, the intensity of sexual harassment or assault was divided for men and women, but even the most minuscule comments should matter and make a difference.”
The narrative for this work also incorporates elements of gay sex and basic sex education for the LGBTQIA community, something the creators believe straight men are far removed from. “Just the stigma of exploring your sexual identity comes with so much shame attached to sex, sexual experiences and how you view your own body,” she says. “But it has to be normalised because if you think someone is so different, and are ridiculing them without knowing anything about them, it’s so difficult to create a sense of empathy.”
Employing a mixed media format that is boldly vibrant and peppered with Bollywood references, BEDx Talks serves up sex-ed with slang, puns and pop culture imagery to keep it fresh and relevant for the youth, including quips like “Condoms aren’t necessarily God’s latex halos” and “None of us want kids right now. Not in this economy!”
“It’s an attempt to break the barriers between your peers and normalise all the talks you need to have,” explains collaborator Bhatnagar, who has previously motion designed for music videos like “Barso” by Ritviz. “What started as a funny Facebook status saying ‘UNESCO has officially declared cuddling as BEDx Talks’ has evolved into something open and inclusive for everyone.” The idea behind using Bollywood posters with their pointers is to juxtapose the views on sex and consent that these films wrongly propagate, with its appropriate alternative. “No media besides Bollywood stands out for men specifically on a large scale, so it’s come to define a lot of what they learn about sex and look up to,” says Bhatnagar. “Not only does it add visual value, but by giving examples of movies like Mastizaade or Grand Masti, which have overly sexual portrayals of women, we are also hoping to help people unlearn such problematic behaviour and change their ways.”