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No sex please, we’re Indian

Exactly a week ago, we carried an article headlined ‘25% young girls sexually active: Survey’ on our front page. In it, we summarised a few findings of a recent national survey on sexuality among young women, the most important of which the headline encapsulated.

india Updated: Aug 28, 2009 19:34 IST
Sumana Ramanan

Sumana Ramanan
Senior Editor

Exactly a week ago, we carried an article headlined ‘25% young girls sexually active: Survey’ on our front page. In it, we summarised a few findings of a recent national survey on sexuality among young women, the most important of which the headline encapsulated.

The survey further found that only 16 per cent of those surveyed had used contraception, a quarter said that their mothers had given them no information about sex and 40 per cent said their only source of information had been the media.

Here’s what one reader, Kavi Arya, had to say about the article: “I felt that it was unnecessary for HT to elevate the teenage sexuality article to front page. 15 years to 25 years is hardly a range in which to segment our female population. “One would believe that up to the age of consent would bemore appropriate. This kind of sensationalism and non-news does HT no credit. Months back, an article on incest was frontpage news. One would expect this on the front-page of a local newspaper, not in a national daily.”

For many readers, the front page is a near-sacred space. So I understand why the article might have offended some of them. Yet I do not see why we should a priori prohibit articles about sex from appearing on the front page.

First, it’s not that HTMumbai has a habit of carrying articles about sex on its front page.

This was a survey that caught an important social trend, and these are the kind of stories that people have more time for on Sundays.

Second, even when we do write about sex, we do not aim to titillate but to inform readers. If there is a huge rise in cases of incest, I think we do need to highlight it, however ugly the fact may be.

In other words, I have no problem with this article having been published on the front page. But let’s hear what Senior Associate Editor, Vaibhav Purandare, who was the front-page editor that night, had to say about his decision to use it where he did.

“The survey reflected the sexual attitudes and habits of young girls,” he said. “Even if we as a society may often be in denial about sex, the fact is that people can be sexually active — yes, even young, unmarried girls.

“We wrote about the survey’s findings, but in no way did we endorse any kind of behaviour that the law does not permit. The findings, we felt, were important because they, in fact, revealed what making a subject taboo can do.

“With attempts to introduce sex education in schools and colleges routinely blocked, and communication on the part of elders inadequate, the media is the only source of information on the subject for many young women, as the survey itself proves.”

I agree almost entirely with this. We are a repressed society that needs more (intelligent) public discourse about sexuality, especially among young people, not less.

Having said that, I do have a quibble with the display. The article was what newsrooms call a “flier”, a report that goes across the front page on top. Perhaps the article did not merit being used this way.

It is true that fliers, traditionally used only for truly sensational incidents such as an assassination, have lost their earlier significance over the years as newspapers began using them more wantonly. Yet they have not entirely lost their power.

It might have been more appropriate to use the sex survey report as a two-column article on the right side on top of the page. That’s all it warranted.

I suspect some of the readers who were offended might have been less so by this more restrained placement.