Surprise! I am in India lecturing and vacationing.
Yesterday I lectured to the staff of an international NGO on challenges in sexual and reproductive health, a great experience.
Monday and Tuesday were my days to meet with the executives and staffs of various NGOs promoting sexual and reproductive health. The work they’re doing in both urban and rural settings is inspirational and instructive. They deal with challenges both similar to and beyond the ones I and other American professionals deal with.
These Indian programs are often tied to work in women’s rights; reducing domestic violence; HIV prevention; and promoting the rights of sex workers. One program was producing radio dramas for rural listeners, which were designed to promote discussion in “listening clubs.” Several were helping people who had recently moved from village to big city, with the accompanying psycho-social dislocation. This goes on both within India, and via immigration from Nepal into India.
I lectured about assumptions that sexual health care professionals make, assumptions that client populations make, and how one reinforces the other—making social change more difficult. I talked about the need to reinvent the wedding night ,which is a source of horrible tension for both men and women in arranged marriages. And I talked about the psychodynamics of ignorance—the emotional states that must be addressed in order to overcome people’s natural resistance to education and therefore to change. I also discussed the necessity to change India’s cultural narratives around sexual feelings and behavior, to provide a framework that people could relate to if they were interested in change.
The professionals with whom I spoke seemed genuinely grateful. They appreciated that I had studied Indian culture enough to generate ideas relevant to their work, and that I could frame my sociological perspective in ways that they could apply it to their unique situation.
My pleasure, folks.
And yet…I couldn’t escape the melancholy feeling that I was often failing in the U.S. where they were often succeeding in India (they would object to both if I said this to them!).
It was hard to stay cheerful when I observed first-hand how the U.S. government makes its family planing foreign aid conditional on following its archaic ideology that denies the way normal human beings actually feel and behave (an abhorrent policy about which I have written several times in Sexual Intelligence.
And I was frankly embarrassed that Indian sex education and HIV prevention programs could successfully challenge religious and political hierarchies in ways our American programs can’t. Of course that has a lot to do with the difference between Hinduism and Christianity—Hinduism is a religion of diversity whereas Christianity is one of dogma—but still, whereas American progressives are dealing with decades of conservative anti-sex or anti-woman prejudice, Indian programs are dealing with centuries or even millennia of it—and they’re making strides no smaller (and sometimes bigger) than ours.
My Indian colleagues were very curious about my work, which they asked about in great detail. Many had read my website, newsletter, articles, or blog. My latest book was news, though. When I told them the title, America’s War On Sex, they typically smiled and nodded. “Oh yes,” said one. “We have battles here, but you have a war over there. I hope your book is good ammunition.”