As part of the institutional partnership between Ashoka University and Wellesley College (Boston), the CSGS and the Wellesley Centers for Women have initiated efforts to create spaces for exchange between the two centers. In November 2017, the two centers jointly organized “Sex/Ed”, an international conference at Bikaner House in New Delhi. This was the first conference in India to explicitly bring together issues of sex in relation to matters of education. Since the ideas of sex and education cut across several boundaries, the conference featured speakers who were academics, activists, artists, and performers, from India and abroad. Through a variety of panel sessions and performances, the conference addressed some of the complex issues and questions related to sex and education as well as the relationship between the two. The highlights of the conference included panels that explored relations between Sex, Education and History, Sex and Work, Sex and Popular Culture, as well as the provocative performances that bookended both days of the conference.



Chair: Madhavi Menon (Professor of English; Director, CSGS, Ashoka University)
Speakers: Harleen Singh (Associate Professor, Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program, Brandeis University); Shohini Ghosh (Professor, AJK MCRC, Jamia Millia Islamia); Dr. Syeda Saiyidain Hameed (Social and Women’s Rights Activist and Writer).

This panel will lay out the relationship among sex, education, history, art and law that frames our contemporary responses to sexuality. Such a framing will take on board examples from mythology, literature, temple architecture in India, as well as a discussion on the historical relationship of sex to laws regulating desire in educational institutions as well as public spaces.

Can Sex be Educated in a Culture of Fear, Victimhood, and Trauma?

Can sex be educated_

Chair: Shiv Datt Sharma (Centre for Studies in Gender and Sexuality, Ashoka University)
Keynote Address: Steven Angelides (La Trobe University, Australia)

Educating young people on matters of sex, whether in schools or through media, social norms, institutional policies and laws, is rarely uncontroversial business. This paper is situated against the backdrop of a rise in the last four decades in the Anglophone west of a new wave of “sex panicsˮ or scandals that are dramatically reshaping relations between sex and education in the contemporary moment. Panics and scandals are inseparable from what sociologists have been describing as a growing trend in a number of countries towards politics of fear, suffering, and injury and modes of punitive governance, especially in relation to accusations and judgements of sexual misconduct. The paper considers a recent example in education: secondary school teacher-student sexual relationships. Proposing that the politics of emotion informing this scandal has pedagogical aims of redefining moral, ethical, and legal norms of sex, sexual citizenship and generational relations, two broad observations are unpacked. 

Firstly, there has been a paradigm shift in how Anglophone societies view power relations and agency in sex/education, and this is having far-reaching consequences for perceptions of harm, forms of redress, and notions of gendered and sexual subjectivity. Secondly, not only are ideas of childhood sexual innocence and vulnerability being renovated for the 21st century, but they are also being extended into adult university life.

These seismic historical shifts, the paper argues, are problematic developments that are often obstructive of efforts at sex education in and out of the classroom, just as they are obstructive of efforts to promote capacities for robust sexual agency and prepare young people and adults for responsible and fulfilling sexual relationships and lives. The paper concludes with a brief discussion of the influence of the politics of sexual power on recent university policies surrounding faculty-student relationships and the introduction of working with children police checks.​



Chair: Nan Stein (Senior Research Scientist, Wellesley Centers for Women)
Speakers: Oishik Sircar (Assistant Professor, Jindal Global Law School), Ayesha Mago (Specialist – Law, Gender and Discrimination)

This panel will be dedicated to the issue of sexual harassment, particularly in the context of university spaces, and the need for encouraging sex-positive conversations on pleasure, fantasies and consent. The discussion will be preceded by the launch of a set of short training films on sexual harassment that were developed by the CSGS last year in an effort to provide a creative, new resource developed in the Indian context with which to discuss the issue of sexual harassment.



Chair: Bina Paul (Documentary Filmmaker)
Speakers: Emmy Howe (Co-Director, SEED Project, Wellesley Centers for Women, Wellesley College), Nan Stein (Senior Research Scientist, Wellesley Centers for Women, Wellesley College).

This session will feature research and action based presentations that will illuminate how adults and children together navigate the ambiguities of sex, gender, and sexual identities in the developmental space of the classroom. These conversations will emerge in relation to following two perspectives: First, from the perspective of elementary school studentsʼ understandings about LGBTQ identities and families; Second, from the perspective of reducing sexual harassment and sexual violence in middle and high schools.

“It’s More than Black and White, and Right or Wrong”: A Reproductive Justice Approach to Understanding Power’s Influence on Black Women’s Sexual Education

It_s more than black and white

Chair: Layli Maparyan (Executive Director, Wellesley Centers for Women, Wellesley College)
Keynote Address: Dionne P. Stephens (Florida International University)

Black women in the United States are disproportionately affected by multiple sexual health conditions compared with women of other races/ethnicities in the United States. Research suggests that social determinants of health, including racism, sexism, poverty, unemployment, and limited education, contribute to health disparities. However, it is important to address the ways in which power, as shaped by these intersectional experiences influence their sexual education opportunities, and in turn, health outcomes. This presentation will use the Reproductive Justice Approach to frame how the unique contextual experiences intertwined with the daily lived experiences of Black women are potentially linked to barriers to comprehensive and appropriate sexual health education.

A framework that emerged from the advocacy work of American women of colorʼs grassroots health organizations, the Reproductive Justice approach provides an inclusive vision of how to empower women and girls within their specific cultural contexts. Considerations will address the provision of opportunities to promote health equity by reducing the effects of power inequity for increased sexual health agency among Black women.



Chair: Layli Maparyan (Executive Director, Wellesley Centers for Women, Wellesley College)
Speakers: Bittu (Associate Professor of Psychology and Biology, Ashoka University), Grace Banu (Dalit and Transgender Rights Activist), Meena Saraswathi Seshu (General Secretary, SANGRAM), Sangita Ramu Manoji (Outreach Worker, VAMP), Octavio R. Gonzalez (Assistant Professor of English, Wellesley College)

This panel will put the issues of sex and sexuality in conjunction with work and human rights discourse. The sex and gender of a person have determined the nature of the work they are allowed or expected to do. At the same time, sex is supposed to be separate from work, and sex-work is considered to be taboo, with no constitutional safeguards in place to protect the rights of sex-workers. How do we understand sex-work within a human rights framework? The discussion on this panel will focus also on the issues faced by transgender people at workplaces.

Sex/Ed/Popular Culture

Sex_Ed_Popular culture

Amruta Patil (Writer, Painter, Graphic Novelist) in conversation with Habiba Insaf (Museum and Heritage Educator, Flow India)
Onir (Filmmaker) in conversation with Nandita Dutta (Centre for Studies in Gender and Sexuality, Ashoka University)

This panel will be an invitation to thinking about the vexed existence of sex in popular culture. Sexuality is often censored in films and other popular media because of its ability to push the boundaries of what is considered acceptable. But the sexuality in popular culture is often phobic about queer desire, feminism, and pornography. How does popular culture represent questions of sexuality, and how might it affect the education of desire? Does popular education educate desire in the sense of tame it? Or does it educate people about desire by showing it?



Manovilaasam: Appropriate/Inappropriate, Trust/Mistrust (Performers: Justin McCarthy, Sreya Muthukumar, Anirudh Saigal, Abhinaya Penneswaran, Prithvi Iyer)
Queer Poetry: Aditi Angiras, Akhil Katyal, Octavio R. Gonzalez, Ira Sen, Payal Nagpal, Saranya Subramanian