Sex education: to be or not to be.
People are generally ignorant of sex and prejudiced about sexual education. Hence, a survey of the knowledge of and the attitudes towards sex was conducted among college students in Bombay. Although the principals of the colleges initially objected to this survey, they could be persuaded to give permission for it.
The survey covered 1070 second year students of various faculties from thirteen colleges in Bombay. Each faculty was represented by one (in some cases two) colleges. The colleges were selected in such a way as to cover equally (a) urban Bombay and its suburbs and (b) the north and the south regions of Bombay, to compensate socio-economic and cultural differences in various groups.
Second year college students were given the proforma and asked to fill it within one hour. No names or roll numbers were required to be filled so as to conceal the identity of the students in order to get honest and true information. Most of the students finished filling the proforma in about 45 minutes. They were quite enthusiastic about it as was seen from the number of questions they asked as the end. The proforma consisted of two parts:
Part A was a multiple choice questionnaire to assess the knowledge about sex, and comprised questions on anatomy and physiology of reproduction and on venereal diseases. The knowledge of respondent was grouped (on the basis of the marks they obtained) into good (41-100 marks) and poor (0-40 marks).
Part B assessed attitudes to sex on a "Permissiveness Scale" 0-15. It consisted of four questions. Each question had five possible answers and the respondent had to tick the one he thought appropriate. The students who scored 0-10 in this part were considered "Conservative" (not permissive) and those who scored 11-15 were considered "Liberal" (permissive). Three per cent of the students were used to taking alcohol (10% of them used to take it frequently) and 9% were used to take other drugs addictives.
All the 1070 students responded to part A of the questionnaire whereas only 1018 responded to part B. Statistical analysis of the data revealed no significant correlation between sex knowledge and caste, religion, economic and social background as well as student's attitude towards religion. It appears that in a cosmopolitan and crowded city of Bombay, these factors fail to affect the knowledge of sex.
Only 30.7% of students studied had good knowledge of sex; the rest 69.3% had poor knowledge. A higher proportion of the medical students had good knowledge of sex than students from other faculties; but even amongst medical students, 33% could be classified as having poor knowledge [Table 1].
When asked about the reasons for increase in promiscuity, the majority replied that it was because of (1) blind imitation of western culture, (2) the parents were too busy to give attention to and understand their children, and (3) women's lib and general emancipation.
It is surprising to note that 91% of the students had no knowledge of venereal diseases and their symptomatology; 33% said that there was no need of a doctor to be consulted at all. Some even believed that venereal disease was hereditary.
The survey revealed that out of 73% who claimed that they had sex education, 64% actually did not possess adequate knowledge.
On further questioning as to the source of their education, majority said that they had it in hotels, red light areas, at Khajuraho, blue films, etc. Only 2% stated that they had sex education from priests, nuns and doctors, when at school.
The data on the assessment of attitudes revealed 55.9% of students as conservative and only 44.1% as liberal or permissive. Out of these 44.1% who were permissive, 14% were overseas students who had travelled abroad.
Only 18% felt that there was nothing wrong in having premarital sex. The others strongly condemned it. This is in contrast to what is observed in the affluent western nations and may be related to the cultural background of the population studied.
From among the various colleges, the School of Arts had significantly higher number of permissive students.
Only 23% of women were classified as liberals as against 45% of men. Thus, men were significantly more liberal than females, and the College of Women seemed to have 80.5% conservatives.
In general, there was no significant correlation between their being permissive and their attitude towards the religion.
Our survey shows that an overwhelming number of students (95.3%) feel that sex education should form a part of their curriculum.
As the source of sex and education, parents scored a poor, last ranking. In fact, a few students felt that their parents also needed sex education. This shows the communication gap between parents and their children on this issue. The traditional birds and bees lecture is not any longer appreciated assuming that at least that is attempted. Instead, they would rather have a free and frank discussion on this issue with a suitable teacher, preferably a medical person.
This survey shows the appalling state of knowledge about sex in our younger generation. Their ignorance about the causes and consequent venereal diseases is frightening. In today's world, the close and free association of men and women, boys and girls must be accepted as a fact of life. The only saving grace would be better knowledge and not ignorance of sex. It is better that this knowledge is acquired from an authoritative source such as parents, teacher or doctor than from such illicit sources as pornographic books or prostitutes. The former, as this survey shows, is more likely to lead to a conservative attitude to sex than the latter. How this better and wider sex education of our youngsters is to be achieved is a challenge to the society and we must live up to it.
Our thanks are due to the Dean, Seth G.S. Medical College and K.E.M. Hospital, Bombay for granting us all the possible help.
Our thanks are also due to the Principals and Professors of various colleges from Bombay and to Smt. Kamal Lotlikar, Statistician for statistical help.