By Bushra Mollick
Where It All Began
I was headed home on the 4 train when it caught my eye: a bright, fuschia magazine hidden beneath the feet of an unsuspecting passenger. My friends and I huddled around our seats, talking about classes, boys, grades, and the impending doom surrounding the SATs we would take in the coming year, as juniors. Despite the crowd and the revving train, I couldn’t look away from that magazine.
“How could someone throw away a perfectly good mag?,” I thought to myself. I stepped toward the woman, sat down next to her and grabbed it. My very first Cosmopolitan.
On the cover was an image of Eva Longoria, smiling radiantly behind the large, black text that read, “99 Sex Facts You’ve Never Heard Before.”
As a Bangladeshi, Queens kid growing up in a moderately, conservative home, I’d barely heard of ANY “sex” facts. The few things I did know were, “Do not sit on your uncle’s lap” and most importantly, “Do not have a boyfriend.”
My gal pals and I feverishly consumed its contents. I was a 15-year-old nerd with glasses who’d never been kissed, didn’t know what a clitoris was, and never had an actual sex education class.
I started reflecting on why I didn’t know what felt like normal education. It suddenly clicked. I was in the fifth grade at P.S. 12 when it came time to learn about reproduction. The teachers handed out permission slips to make sure parents allowed their young’uns to sit through the class. One other Bangladeshi student and I were the only ones taken out of class when it was time to learn about the “birds and the bees.”
While I was denied the chance to learn about sex in elementary school, I found other ways of finding my information. Older kids at recess, true crime books at the library, and of course, my sacred Cosmos.
It wasn’t until I was older when I realized just how stunted my sexual knowledge was. When I finally lost my virginity, I shared my story with other Bangladeshi girlfriends, some who supported my decision and some who wished I waited longer. I felt confused, discouraged, and embarrassed at myself for not being more prepared.
As I shared stories with girlfriends, particularly Desi friends, we all shared similar values and questions. Waiting because we were told to wait, not understanding our bodies to the fullest, and feeling shame over potentially disappointing our ancestors.
With time, experience, doctor visits, and endless reading (content other than Cosmo, don’t worry), I began to learn more about my body, intimacy, and the sex education I wish I had known when I was younger.
Darkness in Desh
I read about the prolific case of Sohagi Jahan Tonu. Tonu was a 19-year-old woman who was raped and murdered in Comilla, Bangladesh. I began following Bangladeshi media as in Dhaka Tribune, Prothom Alo and The Daily Star. I saw headline after headline, “Woman Raped by Brother-in-law,” “Child Molested by Madrassa Teacher,” “Girl Molested by Rickshaw Driver.” I seethed with anger with every post, every story.
There were protests followed by every case. Women and men holding up signs as they marched for justice for the women or children raped, mutilated and often, left for dead. Many of the comments on these posts advocated for the death of rapists, but some also called for enforced sex education, with an emphasis on consent.
I began to do my own research and learned how minimal, if not completely nonexistent, sex education was back home. Sex was meant strictly for procreation, heterosexual relationships, and marriage. Anything beyond that is out of the question.
Then, why is it that a country, the size of the U.S. state of Georgia, with a population of almost 160 million, experiencing sex-related crimes? Why are they continuing to happen, without an emphasis on prevention based on mindset and not based on the erasure of women? And why is it that so many Bangladeshi men and women have similar sex education experiences – zero to none?
Bangladesh needs sex education.
Sex in the Desh
I had known for a long time that Bangladesh needed countrywide sex education, whether taught in schools or at home. I scoured for hours on YouTube and instead found Bangladeshi-made softporn. I asked my mom how she learned sex education and she scoffed. “Hmph! We were never taught these things.”
It wasn’t until the pandemic that I realized, life is uncertain and it is important to work on what you believe in.
So, I began to write. As part of the communications team at a City agency, I already knew how to create a website, what to include and how to edit one. I created an outline with basic questions and content. What is sex? What are STD’s? What is consent? I wrote 36 pages of content in English before translating it into Bangla.
It is important to me to offer this only in Bangla because I made this for our parents, our grandparents, our khalas and mamas, too afraid to ask questions. I made this for Bangladeshis back home, who are not privileged enough to simply pick up a magazine and learn “99 Sex Facts You’ve Never Heard of Before.”
I used Google translate as my first wave of translations before working with three different vendors to edit the content. I created graphics, bought the domain, and launched it. It took me a full year of editing, writing and, reviewing before launching bdsexeducation.com on December 1, 2021.
In the first week alone, I had a reach of more than 200,000 on Facebook, 170 likes on Instagram, and more than 300 private messages related to sex education. While some of the comments on the Facebook posts poke fun at the page, my full inbox encourages me to keep going.
This website is also far from its final version. I will continue to add to it and edit it. My goal is to learn how to read and write Bangla by this time in 2022 so I can edit my own website, without relying on friends and family.
I wonder what 15-year-old Bushra would say if she knew that one magazine would unfold a journey that would lead to creating a sex education website.
Stay encouraged, my friends.