What does a sexologist do, anyway?
She won’t fix your sexual orientation, for starters.
Like puris in a plate of gol gappas, hymens are fragile. It takes a gentle hand to tap through the crispy aata shell. It takes the skill of a maestro chaat walla to pull off all the steps without it disintegrating each time. Hymens are even trickier. You’d think baby girls would plop out of their mother’s vagina with a ‘Handle with Care’ sticker already in place, because dancing, horse riding, cycling, even climbing stairs — many activities can tear this thin membrane according to sexologist Dr Sharmila Majumdar. The importance people place on this unimportant piece of skin is something she encounters regularly in her practice.
Beyond Dr Mahinder Watsa’s quips in the Mumbai Mirror we know little about the practice of sexology. Majumdar is among a handful of women in the field, a fact she’s used to as the only woman in her class at med school. “During the first year, nobody would speak to me until I topped my university. Second-year onwards, all of my classmates would come and take my notes,” she laughs. “Even if you’re in a medical college, it doesn’t mean it’s become modern. We’re still a conservative society.”
When the time to choose a specialisation came, Majumdar had three possibilities – pediatric psychiatry, general psychiatry and sexual medicine. “Sexual medicine is a branch of psychiatry,” the much-lauded doctor explains. Over the past decade, she’s received accolades aplenty (seriously, you can see them on her website), now making her the only certified Indian woman in the field of sexology, with a PhD in cognitive behaviour as well that helps treat patients with mental and sexual health problems.
“Sexual medicine or anything to do with the three-letter word is a taboo in our country. We have women mostly specialising in gynaecology or paediatrics, anything else other than this,” she says. “First of all, it’s a very painstaking, complicated field of medical science, very remotely known and often misunderstood. The work of a sexologist is either a joke or obscenity, never a medical science.”
The work of a sexologist covers three primary areas: infections, idiopathic infertility and male and female sexual dysfunctions. In her practice, Majumdar frequently comes across myths related to menstruation and fertility. One of the most popular misconceptions is ‘safe’ period sex. “People think menstruation is a kind of contraception and that you can’t conceive.” You heard it, folks, period sex is not safe sex.
What affected me the most, and probably derailed our entire conversation, was that people come to her asking to change their children’s, and sometimes their own, sexual orientation. “They think that we’ll give them some medication or operate on their brain and make them heterosexual. So, I have to explain that this is it, you can’t change it. Some people write with their right hand and some write with left. They’re both absolutely fine. It’s normal and healthy. Sexual orientation is very, very private and personal,” she says with an exasperated sigh.
Majumdar’s hope is to someday live in a world where conversations and education regarding sex are normalised enough for people to seek help when they need it. So what sex education did the sexologist receive when she was growing up?
She laughs. “Do we even have sex education in our country?”
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