Breaking the taboo: Sexual health educator Karishma Swarup on giving people the talk they never got
By NCVC Staff | Published on Oct 10, 2023
In a country as populous as India, discussions about sex are still considered taboo. However, there are brave voices that seek to break the silence and bring sexual health to the forefront. One such voice is that of Karishma Swarup, a sexual health educator who not only aims to educate people about sex but also aims to dismantle the taboos surrounding sexuality in India.
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Karishma’s journey as a sexual health educator began when she encountered a student sexual health educator during her college days in the US. This encounter left her astonished, as she realized how limited her own education had been in terms of discussing sexuality. Motivated by the desire to help young people, particularly women, find their voice and embrace their needs and desires without repression, Karishma decided to start an Instagram page called @talkyounevergot. Through this platform, she dispels myths, provides helpful information about sex, pleasure, intimacy, orgasm, menstruation, and everything related to sexual health.
In an exclusive conversation with Health Shots, Karishma Swarup shares her inspiring journey and how she navigates through the criticism that comes her way while educating people about sexual health.
What Led You to Become a Sexual Health Educator?
Karishma Swarup recalls her time studying at Brown University in the US as the starting point of her journey as a sexual health educator. It was during her first semester when she encountered a student who was teaching sex education to high school students. This experience left a deep impression on her, as she realized the stark difference between her conservative high school education and the comprehensive sexual health education being offered in the US. A year later, she found herself being captivated by the idea of educating others in the same way. She began working closely with Planned Parenthood, a prominent organization in the US, teaching sex education to high school students.
Understanding Sex Positivity
When discussing her work, Karishma Swarup emphasizes the importance of sex positivity. She explains that sex positivity is a cultural movement aimed at shedding the negativity surrounding sex. It encourages individuals to explore their own sexuality, whether it involves having sex, refraining from it, or even exploring masturbation. Sex positivity seeks to dispel the taboos that have seeped into our lives, hindering open and normal conversations about sexual health. It is a topic that many people think about and engage in, making it essential to learn and talk about it openly.
The Biggest Taboo About Sex
According to Karishma Swarup, one of the biggest taboos about sex that still persists is the notion that virginity must be protected and remain untouched. This concept is heavily influenced by gendered perspectives and has severe implications, particularly for young women. In Indian culture, the discomfort surrounding discussions about sex goes beyond acknowledging women’s desire for reasons other than procreation. When pleasure is brought into the conversation, it is accompanied by religious and cultural baggage, resulting in further taboos and restrictions.
Challenges Faced as a Sexual Health Educator
Karishma Swarup acknowledges that one of the significant challenges faced by sexual health educators is maintaining an online platform such as Instagram. While the pandemic allowed her to reach a wider audience online, it also exposed her to criticism and harassment in the form of inappropriate messages and images. Additionally, Instagram itself often flags sex education content as inappropriate, posing further challenges. The platform’s visual nature also places importance on aesthetics, adding further pressure. Despite these challenges, Karishma remains determined to consistently show up and advocate for sexual health.
Contrasting Conservative and Liberal Societies
When asked about the difference in audience between conservative societies like India and more liberal ones like the US, Karishma Swarup shares her observations. Surprisingly, she found that people in both societies consume similar content and hold similar misconceptions about sex. However, in the US, she had the freedom to enter classrooms, openly discuss sexual health, and provide resources like condoms without hesitation. In India, due to legal constraints and deep-rooted taboos, discussing sexual activity among young people is met with reluctance. This context shapes the way Karishma crafts her messages, focusing more on hypothetical scenarios.
Society’s Lack of Sexual Health Awareness
Karishma Swarup emphasizes that Indian society still lacks open and non-judgmental conversations about sexual health. Taboos surround every aspect of society, with few spaces where people can talk freely. Even medical professionals often assume that individuals are not sexually active unless they are married, which affects the care provided. This lack of sexual health awareness is prevalent even in urban elite society. In rural areas, sexual health is an even more neglected topic, with insufficient access to basic resources like menstrual hygiene products and clean bathrooms. Breaking the silence surrounding sexuality is crucial to addressing these issues.
Empowering Women in Business and Life
Karishma Swarup’s message to women aspiring to have successful businesses while managing various roles is to trust their own voices. She acknowledges the challenges faced in a patriarchal system that often dictates women’s choices and limits their potential. Women’s desires and needs should not be disregarded or suppressed. Karishma encourages women to raise their voices, express their frustrations, and assert their rights. By trusting themselves, women can pave their own paths to success and create a more inclusive society.
Karishma Swarup’s work as a sexual health educator is a testament to her dedication and determination in breaking the taboo surrounding sexual health conversations in India. Her efforts to provide accurate information, dispel myths, and empower individuals to embrace their sexuality are commendable.