Stepping Into a New Age of Sexual Health & Well-Being
As conversations surrounding sexual well-being have catapulted to mainstream media in the past few decades, India has witnessed the inception of several sexual health organisations aimed at raising awareness and guiding young people through concerns surrounding sexual and menstrual well-being. These organisations have proven to be an invaluable resource for young people exploring their sexuality and sexual preferences for the first time, acting as an authentic and safe source of information and assistance. This article looks at three such organisations- Hidden Pockets, TARSHI (Talking About Reproductive and Sexual Health Issues), and Vitamin Stree.
Hidden Pockets is a platform that connects young people with trusted professionals working in the fields of sexual and reproductive health with the aim of creating an India free of sexual shame. They provide solutions for questions about sexuality, posing as the one-stop solution for all doubts regarding periods, pregnancy, condoms, pills, abortion or simply pleasure.
They also operate a social enterprise called Hidden Pockets Collective which conducts research on sexual and reproductive health in cities. The collective creates conversations around sexual and reproductive health in cities on platforms focussing on young people. Importantly, it ensures that people from marginalised communities are able to access good service as well.
An active part of their webpage is their reader-friendly blog. The blog consists of extensive information spanning several subjects such as methods of male and female contraception (condoms and vasectomy; oral pills, spermicide, IUDs, and tubectomy), the difference between emergency contraceptives and abortion pills, types of menstrual syndromes and applications for tracking cycles, surgical and medical abortions, things to know before taking pregnancy tests, and people’s personal accounts from using various menstrual products and contraceptive methods. The platform also provides information on pleasure, and how to continue remaining safe while exploring new forms of pleasure.
Yet perhaps the most valuable service Hidden Pockets offers is a free online care counsellor that one can reach through WhatsApp, providing a sensitive human-interface for all concerns regarding sexual well-being, from how to deal with unwanted pregnancies, to what contraceptive method one should use, navigating pleasure and even lists of non-judgmental doctors one can to go for addressing similar concerns.
TARSHI (Talking About Reproductive and Sexual Health Issues) is an NGO based in New Delhi founded in 1996, set up with the intention of expanding sexual and reproductive choices in people’s lives to enable them to enjoy freedom from fear, infection and sexual health problems. Their work on sexuality is from an affirmative and rights-based perspective, shifting from earlier perspectives that restricted sexuality to disease prevention, violence against women, or a sexual minorities framework.
As a part of their organisational mandate, TARSHI conducts training for national and overseas professionals aimed at developing linkages between sexuality, gender, health, and rights; in turn reaching out to policymakers, community workers, and service providers. Through training, they have engaged with participants from all over South and Southeast Asia. Their training is often tailor-made to suit the needs of the organisation they work with and they encourage participants to incorporate concepts of sexuality and rights in their day-to-day life.
Moreover, TARSHI also trains practitioners working on gender and sexuality in counselling skills which is aimed at enhancing their capacities and helping them engage with people in a non-judgemental and approachable manner.
Further, as a method of engendering sexual health education in India, TARSHI conducts workshops on basic concepts related to gender and sexuality, with an emphasis on Comprehensive Sexuality Education. Such workshops and training help teachers, educators, and counselors in schools to assimilate accurate knowledge and develop the skills to impart the same to children and parents.
Lastly, they also have a list of publications on sexual well-being. As per TARSHI, since the majority of material available on sexuality is often too clinical or sensational, it makes obtaining the desired information difficult. To address this gap, TARSHI has produced a number of publications that are easy to understand and use. They are addressed to a diverse audience that includes young people, parents, concerned adults and professionals working in the fields of health, education, gender, sexuality, and sexual and reproductive health and rights. They also release weekly news from the Global South, covering advancements in sexual well-being in different countries and the changes in laws surrounding these issues.
Vitamin Stree is a women-centric content platform focused on reshaping the narrative for young women in India. They run a YouTube Channel and a fortnightly blog where they cover topics associated with women’s lives and issues. Their YouTube channel in particular hosts a number of basic explanatory videos for an audience of laypeople, based on issues such as representation, women and employment, and a series on sexual well-being exploring female pleasure, vaginal health, menstruation, and period poverty.
These three organisations represent a select few among a large number of established as well as upcoming organisations working in the field of sexual and reproductive health. A subject once rife with misinformation and reserved for closed-doors is now witnessing a sea change in attitudes. While we certainly cannot say that non-judgemental and quality sexual health information and services are available to all today, the very presence of such organisations indicates that we’re moving in the right direction.