From the Kamasutra to Scientia Sexualis: A History of Sexology and Sex Education in Twentieth Century India
Arnav Bhattacharya

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



University of Pennsylvania

Primary Discipline

Arnav's dissertation entitled From the Kama Sutra to Scientia Sexualis: A History of Sexology and Sex Education in Twentieth Century India explores the role of sexual science and medicine in initiating a public discourse of sex education across various cross-sections of society in twentieth-century India. He aims to understand the educational significance of sexology in India. His goal is to analyze how the intersection of science and medicine with sexuality prioritized and legitimated a prophylactic approach to sex education centered around disease prevention and population control. His dissertation reveals that the association of sex with science and medicine legitimized a public discourse on sex education and resulted in the refashioning of the Kama Sutra as the urtext of sex education. However, he argues that such an approach also obscured the space for a comprehensive sex education curriculum, the impact of which is visible in contemporary India. While revealing the existence of a rich and layered history of sex instruction, his project demonstrates that sex education in India was envisaged as a means to an end and often aligned with other issues such as eugenics, birth control, and family planning. His dissertation will show how most sex education in India has occurred beyond the precincts of the formal classroom.
About Arnav Bhattacharya
Arnav Bhattacharya (he/him) is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of History and Sociology of Science in the University of Pennsylvania. His dissertation tentatively titled From the Kama Sutra to Scientia Sexualis: A History of Sex Education and Sexology in Twentieth Century India explores the emergence of a discourse of sex education resulting from the production, consolidation, and dissemination of medical and scientific knowledge on sex and sexuality in colonial and post-colonial India. His project interrogates how the history of Indian sexology through the course of the 20th century came to be increasingly intertwined with myriad issues such as sex education, medico-legal jurisprudence, social and sexual hygiene, and public health. He situates his scholarship among larger global histories of sexology and sex education. He argues that factors like racism, Orientalism and colonialism were instrumental in the history of sex education and sexological knowledge production in India. His research has been funded by various research bodies and institutions within the University of Pennsylvania, as well as the American Institute of India Studies (AIIS), Huntington Library, California, and the Science History Institute, Philadelphia. His writings have been published in journals such as Porn Studies and Journal of the History of Sexuality (forthcoming).

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