This start-up is ensuring accessibility for sex education to all. Check it out

Sex education has come a long way from being a hush-hush session on the 'birds and the bees'. Here's a young sexuality educator who aims to deliver Comprehensive Sexuality Education in the vernacular
I have said no to schools who wanted to do one-off sessions just to mark special days. Sex-Ed needs to be a sustainable, long-term effort,' says Shivli Shrivatsava | Pic: Shivtensity
I have said no to schools who wanted to do one-off sessions just to mark special days. Sex-Ed needs to be a sustainable, long-term effort,' says Shivli Shrivatsava | Pic: Shivtensity

Having an open conversation about gender, sexuality, sex and all things that fall under the umbrella of Comprehensive Sex Education is hard enough to imagine in a formal setting. Imagine having the same conversation in your mother tongue with a group of people of ages older and younger than you. Makes you feel queasy for some reason, doesn't it?

Shivli Shrivastava is a 25-year-old PhD scholar from Kalinga University, Raipur, who dons many hats. She is a counselling psychologist, who turned entrepreneur to establish Shivtensity, a platform that works to create conversations and awareness around mental and sexual health, with a focus on the small towns of India. The start-up, co-founded with her mother, Simi Shrivastava, who is a rehabilitation psychologist, and partner Abhilash Shrivastava, started operations in June 2020, trying to educate people on Instagram via posts and Insta Live Stories about issues spanning mental and sexual health such as consent, toxic and healthy relationships, puberty (right down to caring for pubic hair) and so on. In May this year, they launched the Heal with Shivtensity programme that works as a consultancy, connecting people with their on-board psychologists across the country for mental and sexual health interventions.

Shivli has been working in the field as a counselling psychologist and sexuality educator ever since pursuing her Bachelor's in Psychology (Honours) from Christ University, Bengaluru. She started out as a peer educator, speaking with parents, students and schools on issues such as mental health and adolescent well-being. She then branched out to working with the police and NGOs in Bengaluru who were providing mental health intervention to children embroiled in drug abuse and survivors of child abuse. While she completed her Master's in Psychology from Montfort College in Bengaluru, she also worked with UNICEF with survivors of child sexual abuse. During this time, she decided to chronicle her experiences on a blog titled Shivtensity. It was only when she graduated and moved to Chhattisgarh after the lockdown in 2020 that Shivli decided that the city lacked sensible discourse around sexual health. "I spoke with a doctor, a gynaecologist, who said, 'You are too young to be discussing all of this. Talk about sexuality only after you've had a baby'," Shivli shares.

Breaking the Ice: Shivli speaks to students about issues such as body, forgiveness and consent. These are lighter topics and they engage the students instead of making them awkward

In Chhattisgarh, she worked with girls from tribal communities who had been shifted to cities such as Delhi and Mumbai and exploited. "Around that time, I also collaborated with the Chhattisgarh government to conduct sessions and workshops on mental and sexual health in government schools," says Shivli. While in the midst of these efforts, she understood the gap in communication that prevailed in the Sex Ed space. "Even doctors and psychologists here don't speak about sex, sexuality, gender, mental and sexual health in a way that is not judgemental. I have come across clients sharing horrific experiences of doctors trying conversion therapy," says Shivli.

 World Sexual Health Day is observed on September 4

Touching upon the language barrier, the psychologist says that it was a huge challenge for her to speak on Sex Ed in Hindi. "We are starting a series of videos on sexuality-related topics such as infertility, premature ejaculation and masturbation in local languages. Currently, there is hardly any constructive material on these issues in the vernacular tongues. And we won't just restrict it to Hindi. We want to incorporate as many regional languages as we can," Shivli shares. These videos are in the works and will come out soon, Shivli says, adding that it will be sort of an interactive Udemy course for mental and sexual health.

UNPFA (United Nations Population Fund) defines Comprehensive Sexuality Education and says it "enables young people to protect their health, well-being and dignity"

However, the challenge for Shivtensity's goal to get the masses talking about sexual health doesn't just come from the lack of awareness in small towns. It comes from platforms such as Instagram as well. "Instagram has been banning our ads and posts because of the nature of our content. They have shadowbanned us in the past too. Incredibly, they banned ads for a workshop we were conducting on gentle parenting. We had to cancel it eventually because we couldn't market it at all," claims Shivli. She says that the Shivtensity team contacted the social media platform for clarification and received none.

Screenshot of page shows Instagram restricting Shivtensity from advertising | Pic: Shivtensity

Shivli isn't looking to deal with any of it in anger, however. She is in it for the long haul. "I honestly don't believe we will see mainstream, comfortable conversation in small towns on these issues even until the time that my generation becomes grandparents. There are many in my generation who still hold a hetero-patriarchal mindset and that will take some time to evolve," says the young entrepreneur.

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