In an interview with G20, Dr Niveditha Manokaran, a dermatologist and venereologist, talks about the taboos related to mental and sexual health, and how eradicating the taboos and the denial can lower the risks of the spread of venereal diseases. Excerpts:
Q. Would you tell our readers about your journey and endeavours, and how you tackled all the taboos and hindrances that came your way?
A. I grew up in an era where I did not even speak about sex at my house, and my parents were surgeons, and still, I did not receive any sex education. Most of it was from girl talks. And the irony is I got trained in Dermatology and Venereology and still did not talk about sex. I was taught to diagnose STIs and treat them well, but as I mentioned earlier there is so much more to sexual health that that. We I moved to Sydney I started working in sexual health, because I did not get a job in dermatology that year. I was taken aback and fascinated by the amount of care, respect and identity this as a very delicate yet essential area was give, and providing confidential service to youngsters without any judgment, counselling and care swept my feet away. Here I am 11 years into this field absolutely loving what I do.
I was ashamed for not giving back this kind of care to the country I grew up in. It needs this and that is what led to me starting my Instagram handle dr_nive_untaboos. What other best way to reach people than social media!
Q. As a sexual health physician, you are using social media tools to spread awareness about myriad issues. How do you go about curating educational content on sexual wellness and awareness?
A. I love the job I do, and that is purely my inspiration. When you do what you love, you don’t have to curate, things flow in your mind and you have so much to share. And in a country like ours, everything and anything about sex are informative. We have been so silent and in denial for so long that we are lagging in knowledge and sexual wellness and awareness is the need of the moment.
Q. How are you able to normalise the discussions about sexual and reproductive health?
A. That’s easy. You accept and you be the change. I am sick of how we are in so much denial of something that is happening so commonly in this world, and being in denial has only increased our risks of acquiring more STIs, infertility, increase in sexual abuse and illegal abortions, and death. If one can accept it as a normal physiological need, then talking about everything becomes easier!
Q. In today’s market-driven world where empathy, compassion, and kindness are hard to find, how do you bridge and overcome the issues with those who are vulnerable and compromised simply because of gender inequality?
A. It’s really sad that we have even reached a point of acceptance that sympathy and kindness are rare things in today’s world. It’s hard for me to believe why it is so hard to be kind when it is actually the easiest thing to do. It hurts no one!
There is gender inequality, but fortunately, I was not raised as one, who gives that as an excuse to do what I want and choose to! I am a fighter and a rebel, as some may say, but you need to put your foot down and do what you have to, as far as you know that you are doing the right thing. Your conscience is the only thing you are answerable to.
Q. How does mental health relate to contraceptives and procedures of family planning in vast and developing nations like India?
A. Sexual and reproductive health play a very vital role for several reasons. First of all, it is a tabooed topic and help is not openly discussed, and this increases stress levels and depression among those who have concerns. Questions about your sexual wellbeing and suppressing it also affects one’s self-esteem, which once again contributes to depression with low self-esteem.
Some hormonal contraceptives can bring about hormonal changes which can affect one’s mood, however, this cannot be labelled as something that will affect everyone on it.
Gender awareness, gender identity, sexuality, and sexual orientation are all stress-causing and are still stigmatising issues in a country like India. This is due to the lack of knowledge and denial that people are in. A lot of the times, it is also a disappointment, fear of being in the minority and the unknown. This is where education, reassurance, and normalizing play a role.