Breaking the silence on a hush-hush topics – Lifestyle News

Prerna Kathuri (name changed on request), a Moradabad-based homemaker, is fighting a silent battle. Her husband suffers from a range of sexual health-related issues like low libido, erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation. In a country, where even a mention of the word ‘sex’ is considered a taboo, Kathuri has never been able to discuss her problems with a gynaecologist even after a decade-long marriage. Neither is she aware that there are experts who are trained to talk about and find solutions to such issues.

Kathuri isn’t the only one. As per a report released by Bengaluru-based women’s healthcare startup Elda Health in October last year, up to 24% of women suffer from sexual health concerns, but only 6% seek help. Similarly, while 40% of women in their menopausal age experience hot flashes, a startling 70% report mental health issues like mood swings, anger and sadness. However, only 2% of those suffering from mental health issues seek professional help.

According to Dr Prateek Makwana, consultant embryologist and director at Vasundhara Hospital, Jodhpur, infertility is a very sensitive topic and most people are finally seeing it as a medical condition. However, sexual dysfunction is still a taboo, and a common condition among men and women in India. Most people hold back an open discussion on such issues in India, as opposed to those in other countries like the US and the UK who have established sexology as a profession much better.

“There is more awareness in Europe and America, and their acceptance of these issues, along with the research on improving the situation, has been visible to all. We are still in the process of making a safer place for people to talk about sexual health or well-being,” says Makwana, who is also the director of Vasundhara IVF (Jaipur, Bikaner and Lucknow).

Sex education is key

In the medical world, topics like reproduction, gynaecology and andrology often get covered in talks about sexual health but one should know that there are other wide-ranging issues like sexual behaviours, feelings and interactions, sexual orientation and gender identity, sexual expression, relationships, and even pleasure.

It is in such a context that sex education becomes important. Unfortunately, sex education is not featured in many mainstream medical curricula globally. In India too, sexual medicine is yet to be recognised as a specialisation unlike its counterparts like gynaecology and urology, among others. “This does not change the fact that India is dealing with sexual health concerns at the same incidence as any other country with a similar population. Additionally sex education has been kept away from school and college teaching curricula —and states like Karnataka, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh have even gone to the extent of banning it,” says Artika Singh, a sex educator.

Singh’s Allo Health, a health-tech startup specialising in sexual health and wellness concerns, has facilitated over 30,000 consultations related to sexual health concerns and issues with a team of over 35 doctors and psychologists offering treatment online and through clinics in Bengaluru, Delhi, Gurugram and Mysore.

In a welcome change, many doctors at an individual level have started to pick up the responsibility of talking about topics that typically fall under sex education in their line of work and community engagement activities. “I come across doctors who deal with specific topics like contraception, safer sex, STIs and others that doctors are now talking about using their existing networks and platforms. However, sex education includes a plethora of different topics including consent, relationships, mitigation of abuse, enhancing pleasure that need not require any medical intervention at all. To be able to teach these topics sensibly you need to build an approach that is inclusive of genders and age groups, whether or not you hold a degree in medicine,” adds Singh.

According to Allo Health’s sex education survey conducted among 8,625 participants in India last year, a significant 72.41% of individuals did not receive any form of sex education during their time in school or college. With the absence of structured sexual education in India, people have turned to alternative means to gain knowledge about sex and sexuality. A concerning 57.32% of respondents admitted to using pornography (both videos and literature) as a source of sexual education.

Getting intimate

Sex therapy is a fairly new profession, and an industry in the making, but is making its mark in the country. “People are more open to coaches as they need help specific to their issues and don’t want to consult a doctor. The value proposition for the industry is appealing—pleasure and sex are good for you, they make you relax. When you relax, you stay healthy and can be more productive,” says intimacy coach Aili Seghetti, who is also the founder of The Intimacy Curator, an organisation promoting self-discovery through emotional and sexual well-being.

As per Seghetti, sex therapists address cases of sexual trauma and conditions such as erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation and vaginismus, and work with urologists, skin doctors, gynaecologists and pelvic floor specialists to rule out any physiological causes. “However, lifestyle and intimacy coaches in India do not work with touch and the body unless they are physicians, like pelvic floor specialists and urologists. They use more talk-based coaching,” she adds.

Pallavi Barnwal, another intimacy coach and founder of sexual wellness startup Get Intimacy, also feels that in India, sexual wellness, being a multifaceted and diverse discipline, is not acknowledged, unlike in the West. “In the West, there are practising sex educators, counsellors and sex therapists.

Sex education, sexuality counselling and sex therapy are three separate disciplines and areas of expertise. An educator primarily conducts workshops, teaches sex ed, and organises and facilitates seminars. A counsellor works in a clinical or medical setting, and gives specific suggestions and advice. A therapist works with couples, singles and individuals on various sex-related issues. “Each of these disciplines requires its own set of skills and knowledge,” adds Barnwal. In India, sexology is largely reproductive and physiology, centred around the genitals and reproductive organs.

Over the years, especially during the pandemic, many counsellors have gained popularity on social media. One such is sex counsellor Neha Mehta, who has over 449,000 followers on Instagram. “Many of us started coming forward on social media to talk about it because it’s required. During Covid, when inclination to online presence started, our consultations went online and the need to come online and speak became essential. As caregivers to couples who don’t talk about it openly, even fearing about going to a doctor, coaches do certification courses whereas psychologists do diploma or minimum 6 months of internship or fellowship under psychiatrist to practise it,” she adds.

There is a huge demand for sex counselling and education-related services, especially with the rise of double-income households, Instagram-savvy generation and individuation, feels Barnwal, who has 239,000 followers on Instagram. The consultation fees of sex counsellors can come in the range of `4,000-`21,000 and varies according to the number of sessions.

Recommended For You