Sex is a topic that many are afraid to talk about, whether it’s with friends, families, your partner or even your gynaecologist. Intimacy is often hushed out of conversations and seems to only belong in the safety of our bedrooms. And while in most cases, films played a key role in talking about tabboo topics, back in the days, Indian films would show suggestive imagery to depict intimacy.. From the bedroom door shutting in slow-motion and a couple holding hands behind a tree and to flowers brushing against each other, we’ve come a long way. Sure, intimate scenes are a common sight in movies and television shows today, but talking about sex and sexual health is still a very tricky subject.
How to Talk about Sexual Health without Feeling Embarrassed
To understand the stigma around intimacy better, we got in touch with Dr Tanaya Narendra a.k.a Dr Cuterus who teaches us how to have a comfortable conversation around sex without feeling embarrassed.
What are the most common concerns you hear regarding sexual health?
Dr Cuterus: “Most of the concerns for many people centre around body image. Do I look okay? Are my breasts big enough or is my penis big enough? Is masturbation a bad thing? How do I last longer in bed? How do I not get pregnant? So it’s a lot of body image concerns, protecting yourself from pregnancy, trying to get pregnant, and post-pregnancy concerns.”
Why do you think people shy away from talking to their doctor?
Dr Cuterus: “I have to admit that doctors don’t do a very good job at talking about sex themselves. We often tend to create a hostile environment, which leads to patients not wanting to talk about it. People are also not able to talk about it because it’s a societal thing—we never really had a conversation about sex openly.”
If someone is having sex for the first time and they want to talk to their doctor, how’s the best way to go about it?
Dr Cuterus: “The first step would be to find somebody who will hold space for that conversation, so do look for a sex-positive person. Going to a regressive person, expecting them to handle the conversation well is not going to happen. So, when you do find a doctor that is non-judgemental and comfortable talking about sex, one of the ways to approach the topic is to be completely frank. Be open about everything that is happening because that’s the best way they can give you the right advice.”
How essential is it in today’s day and age to introduce the importance of sexual health to teens and young adults?
Dr Cuterus: “I didn’t have ‘the talk’ in my school life, just like a lot of other school kids. When the subject of human reproduction came, we were often told to study it at home. But having this conversation, especially in an academic context is very important and we have evidence that educating children about sexual wellbeing has been really helpful in protecting them from unwanted pregnancies and even sexual assault, like the ‘Dutch model’. In the Netherlands, the education system follows the ‘Dutch model’, a shame-free method of introducing the concepts of intimacy to children as early as the age of four. They don’t start right off the bat and talk about sex, they start off by introducing the concept of intimacy, relationships, love and then gradually have the conversation about sex from there. This helps create a judgment-free space for young people to approach the right person to have their questions answered. We have also seen that countries like the Netherlands that do follow the ‘Dutch model’ have some of the lowest rates of teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. So it’s always better to have this conversation earlier and talk about it.”
What do you think about the homegrown sexual wellness and pleasure brands that are coming up in India?
Dr Cuterus: “Yeah, we have a big market that is very keen on learning more about sex and exploring intimacy. Back when I was growing up, there was a film called Raja Hindustani where Aamir Khan kisses Karisma Kapoor under a tree at the end of the film. The shot zooms out, so you can barely see them kiss. Today, films like Gehraiyaan are a lot more open with intimate scenes. Now, with the rise of dating apps like Bumble and Tinder, a lot of people are engaging in casual relationships, and even if it’s not a relationship, people are keen to explore their sexuality and needs. The growth of such companies is a huge testament to the fact that we have a huge market for these things.”
Do you feel like there is a drastic change in how things were before and how things are now in terms of being comfortable with talking about intimacy?
Dr Cuterus: “When I was growing up, we used to watch the Titanic on TV a lot. Every time the scene where Leonardo DiCaprio paints a naked Kate Winslet came on screen, everyone at home wanted to leave the room, go drink water or make small talk. But that’s not the case anymore. Now, the word ‘porn’ can be thrown around in conversation without shocked reactions. You know, I feel like the conversation really has moved forward but, with that said, we also have a very long way to go.”