(That Sex Education Never Could)
There are twelve girls sitting on the floor. One of them is miming something with unusual objects- a hair clip, a bottle of glue, a tube of lotion. Everyone is roaring with laughter. This was a scene from my hostel days in high school. The girl doing the silly mime was my senior, Neeharika, who was ‘educating’ the juniors about sex using anecdotes, jokes, silly performances, and her own questions and disbelief. It was a quirky rite of passage. “Trust me, I learnt all about sex after coming to the hostel,” She said at one point. The other seniors agreed through tears of laughter. “Yup, she didn’t know anything! She thought that people just kissed and went to sleep,” another senior chimed in. Everyone was amused, curious and on the floor with laughter.
This scene sticks out in my memory. It was the first time that talking about sex felt silly, light and human, instead of dirty and heavy. And there was something disarmingly awkward, honest and curious about the whole thing. One by one, each girl in the room asked unfiltered questions. “Oh my god, do people do it on their periods too?” “Wait, what if it tastes bad during oral, ew!” “Oooh, but I saw this crazy thing in porn, can people actually do it?” Neeharika didn’t have the answers to everything, the whole thing was only for entertainment. But what I treasured about that conversation was not how accurate or informative it was. It is memorable simply because it felt real. It contained the humour, questions and curiosity of teenagers who were away from the constraints of family for the first time. After only having been exposed to clinical school-level sex education, and textbook definitions of sex, the hostel atmosphere came as a refreshing change.
As a child, I never strayed too far to learn about things that I thought were taboo. But in this new atmosphere, alive with teen girl curiosity, topics like sex, masturbation and relationships came up naturally. And it made me more curious. It wasn’t just Neeharika’s humorous enactment of how she thought sex works. It was everything else, everyday. It was in the hostel that we stayed up late at night, whispering endlessly about our crushes. It was there that I made close friends who told me all their secret kisses after sports class. Sometimes I saw my friends teary-eyed, fresh after a break up. I watched people go giddy with love, lust and fantasy, and my own frenzied teenage desires began to feel more normal and everyday.
This feeling of mutually going through teenage angst and lust together was bound to happen. We were around 12 girls living, eating, sleeping and existing with our changing bodies together. The air was almost always thick with hormones and the possibility of a new crush or heartbreak. And we shared this air with each other as easy as breathing. There was a gentle sense of sisterhood that formed between all of us, no matter how confusing life, family, sex and boyfriends could be.
The school we studied in wasn’t particularly open minded when it came to sex. We had a hostel warden who routinely body-shamed us, called us ‘dirty girls’ and questioned us for talking to boys. Many teachers in school were heavy handed when it came to relationships between students. But amongst all this, we managed to form a sort of oasis for ourselves, were we could talk about all the things that school, family and morality looked down upon. And this was what girls hostel taught me. The importance of having a safe space to talk and learn about everything, including the complexities of sex and intimacy.
I might not be able to control or change the vast society around me, but I can be more conscious and deliberate about the people I choose to share my inner self with. Inspired by the atmosphere in the hostel, I always look out for people who are open-minded, and who seek to undo the sexual shame that we all inherited. I continue to get close to people who I can learn from and grow with, so we can together normalise our sexual selves. So this way, no matter how conservative the larger society may be, I always have a safe space, tinged with humour, love, healthy questions and joy. Wherever I go, I try to recreate that hostel sisterhood, nourish it with honest discussion. And that has made all the difference.