Condoms on Bananas & Toxic Attitudes
I still remember sex education class vividly. Condoms on bananas, cheesy videos, and the odd inappropriate comment from one or the other of my classmates. I was in an all-boys school in Perth, Australia, and being about 14, we all stood somewhere along the spectrum of sexual discovery. Nonetheless, what that class taught us would be the voice of reason which would whisper into our ears every time we had a future sexual encounter.
Consent was the first and foremost lesson. We learnt to pick-up cues, whether they be physical cues (your partner being inebriated or non-resistant) or emotional ones (your partner being coerced, or you or your partner basing sexual encounters on destructive emotions, such as anger or revenge). We were told our moral compass is always present; we need to have self-awareness, and to practice it in our time of need.
Once consent was established, we were taught about contraception—the various types, how it is administered, and the importance of its mindful usage. We all remember snickering over applying condoms on all sorts of things, and least of all blowing one up as a balloon. We would thank our sex education class teacher in the years to come for that experience. Our condom application pilot projects, would mean we wouldn’t be shown witless when needing to reach for a durex on short notice.
Finally, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) were shown to us as occurrences which should be avoided at all cost. Consent and safety would shield us from these, and so we had to make smart and educated decisions.
The overarching theme however, which I was truly grateful for, was the non-demonization of sex. We were told it was a natural and intimate act, and therefore a feeling of guilt and shame should never loom in the air. Being non-sexually active was not frowned upon in any way, but sex was shown to be something to be cherished, within a framework of common ethics.
Australia, on a global scale, has a very progressive approach towards sexual education. My country of birth, Pakistan, isn’t as such, and my recent time here has made me realize how a weak, or not non-existent emphasis on sexual education plays into the greater norms of gender, power, and ethics.
Even in the best Pakistani private schools, sexual education is whisked over, with both the schools and parents kicking the ball into the long grass and not taking the lead on having these key discussions. This has resulted in sexual norms being undefined, and stakeholders, such as the media, riding the hypersexualized media bandwagon, present worldwide.
This has resulted in a romanticized notion of sexuality. Pornography being banned, a swathe of the Pakistani youth turns to illegal pornography, and they use that as a benchmark against which they measure their sexual experience. This leads to the linkage of sexuality with ‘desire, conquest, and domination,’ all very toxic and detrimental emotions, towards such an intimate act.
Against this seemingly negative backdrop, some positive steps have been taken to re-chart the path of the Pakistani youth’s notion of sexuality. Sexual and reproductive health organizations including Marie Stopes Society and Greenstar Social Marketing have started providing widespread sexual and reproductive health services, such as access to male and female contraceptives, family planning and safe motherhood advice, treatment for post abortion care, and STD counselling and treatment.
In terms of education, the in-country stakeholders still create barriers for mainstream Pakistani society having an honest and open conversation about sexual education. However, educational institutions are touching on these issues through classes on ‘life skills.’ Topics such as consent are now common within schools, albeit in relation to sexual predators, but the conversation will have ripple effects on other aspects of the lives of the youth.
Furthermore, there are strong advocacy campaigns being led by public health institutions, conducting mass sensitization across many spectrums of society (public sector, private sector, media, religious institutions, etc.) This is helping reshape the narrative on sexuality and the importance on the right content being taught, with the right intentions.
This is all a drop in the Pakistani ocean, but it seems like a paradigm shift, which has long been coming. Having seen how sex is approached in different ways in my two different cultures, I can only feel that with the right intent behind the way we approach sex globally, we can break the taboos, and perhaps one day, sex can mean the same thing, to everyone, in every culture.