A rubber penis that health workers use as part of a family planning kit to demonstrate how to put on a condom has sparked anger in rural India, where sex remains a taboo subject.
Some members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) demanded that the kits be removed and that health workers be apologized. A BJP state legislator, Chitra Kishor Wagh, said the Maharashtra government, which introduced the kit, “has lost its mind”. His colleague, Akash Bhundkar, wanted the government to apologize to health workers for the “embarrassment” he had caused them.
One of the roles of rural health workers is to educate villagers about family planning and contraception. To facilitate the explanation of the mechanics, 25,000 new kits were distributed in Maharashtra containing a rubber penis and a womb, replacing the previous booklets.
The uterus elicited no reaction, but the penis became a lightning rod for criticism, where such overt symbols shock rural Indians.
Dr Archana Patil, director of Maharashtra’s public health department, told local media that the aid was important for health workers to get the message out.
However, the health workers themselves are from the same rural background and may feel extremely uncomfortable using the accessory, leading some family planning experts to wonder if the effort could backfire. against them.
Poonam Muttreja, director of the Population Foundation of India, said the reaction to the phallus would simply strengthen the voice of traditionalists who oppose sex education in villages and schools.
“It’s very culturally insensitive and inappropriate. This puts health workers in a very delicate position. This happened two decades ago when an international agency produced very explicit material for sex education. There’s a lot of culturally appropriate material being used that’s more effective,” she said.
India’s top sex therapist, Dr Mahinder Watsa, who died in 2020, used to say that many of his patients were couples who sought his help due to their inability to conceive. A brief conversation revealed that ignorance of human anatomy meant they weren’t doing it the right way.