Shhh! Sex

  • Ishaan Dass
  • Kalyani Tupkary
  • Rucha Joshi
  • Srayana Sanyal
Shhh! Sex is an intensive ten-week long system design project which includes a number of individual campaigns, each containing numerous ideas, methods and solutions to make the sex education more approachable in India. The project is documented on a Wordpress blog with 36 posts from September to December 2015, each accompanied by rich visual content, designed by the team after extensive research and real-life interactions with people.
system design campaign design

India’s inhibitions about discussing sex get surfaced when a condom ad appears on TV and everyone in the family pretends not to notice anything. Sex is an awkward topic, even for the most educated people in our country and that is not okay.

As a result of this reticence, kids don’t learn about sex from their parents but from porn, which creates an unhealthy, unrealistic impression of sex in their minds. This makes them more vulnerable to sexual misconduct, unwanted pregnancy, shyness and shame in this crucial stage of growing up as an adult.

Shhh! Sex is a project by four students from National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad which is notable because of its novelty and execution. The project consists of several sub-campaigns that are executed in phases, learnings from each phase applied to execute the subsequent one.

Make It Normal Campaign

The highlight of the project is the Make It Normal Campaign. It aims at increasing discussion about sex and sexuality and shedding light on the dimly lit scenario of sexuality education.

After extensive ideation and research which includes interviewing their colleagues to talk about sex to see where the embarrassment lies, the team decided to apply their learnings to children. They devised a workshop for school students of class 8 and 11 separately, with the objective of starting a conversation about sex and sexuality.

Kalyani writes about the experience

We had a lot of fun interacting with the students, finding out what all they know about sex and sexuality and see them slowly come out of their shells. There was stark difference in the students’ behaviour between the start of the workshop and its end. From shying away from even saying the word ‘sex’ out loud to asking questions about it without inhibition in a matter of one and a half hours told us that they were eager to know more; that they believed in the benefits of sex and sexuality education. The most satisfying bit for us, was sensing that the students had started trusting us.

Shhh! Sex workshop

Shhh! Sex workshop

Post the workshop, the team evaluated the feedback they received and devised a number of games for catalysing sex education in schools and other teaching scenarios.

Workshop tool

Workshop tool

Based on this framework, the team made five research visits which included a psychiatry institute, a school, a community centre, the railway station and the shopping mall – covering a wide spectrum of social diversity. Additionally, they did secondary research online. All of this information was then condensed to tools that aid facilitating sex education.


Can you tell us the story behind your projects? How did you decide that you wanted to do a project like Shhh Sex? The Wordpress blog covers your ideation and research very extensively, but can you shed some light on how the initial inspiration emerged?

Shhh!Sex was a part of our System Design course at NID. In the first week of the course, we did a range of exercises, right from playing a game on the fields to mapping the wicked problems affecting out society today. This helped us orient ourselves. We had a bunch of interesting topics. However, this was the one topic that we all found fascinating. Though we all come from highly educated families that encouraged open conversations, we felt that it still lacked something. This personal connect to the topic and the dissatisfaction about the current system pushed us towards this topic.

How is the process of doing a project like this generally like? Do you plan initially that it would be extensively researched and carefully chalk out the timeline or do you start first and then organically let the project take its course? What works best?

This was a classroom project and hence it came with its own timeline. We did have a loose timeline planned with important landmarks that included different kinds of research, a set period for analyzing the data to draw insights, another span for explorations and usability testing. This topic was so vast that no amount of research and explorations would ever justify it. Hence, it was important to divide the process into chunks and follow the guidelines.

Though we started with a plan, the journey did it takes own turn, throwing interesting yet unanticipated questions at us. At times, it was important to break away from the structure and explore something just because it was interesting.

How long did it take to master your style? What are the other experiences you had that led you to do accomplish a vast project like Shhh! Sex?

Shhh!Sex was a mixed bag if styles. Each one of brought different skill sets, aesthetics and processes to the table. There was a captivating energy in the studio. Our batch-mates were were working on some pretty daunting challenges as well. Mid week project reviews and late night working sessions exposed to a wide variety of projects and insights. There was a lot of co-learning that prompted us to try a variety of areas for exploration.

We did get lost quite often. And whenever we did an arbitrary conversion with Praveen Nahar our mentor did give us some direction.

What would your advice to young learners be who want to do projects like you? How does one get started - should they learn skills first or should they work on looking for a field that they are passionate about before learning the skills?

Primary Research is the centre of everything. Our richest insights were drawn after talking to people. No amount of secondary research would be able to compete with that. Secondary research is important too, it does help one gain an over-all understanding about the topic.

The team on a visit to the Kishori Shakti Yojana Centre

The team on a visit to the Kishori Shakti Yojana Centre

While one would need a basic set of skill set for venturing into an area like this, it should in no way limit the explorer. A topic that would get you all excited will quietly nudge you to pick up all the relevant skills required for the job.

What are the projects you would want to see happen in India? What is your vision about the country - how do we use our creativity efficiently?

This would require a really long answer. :)

But there is a lot of interesting work happening in India today. Design has popped up in some of the most interesting places. Some of the examples relevant to our project include bio degradable cloth pads, a low-cost sanitary pads developed by social innovators like Arunachalam Muruganantham along with some really engaging campaigns. Social innovation and design activism have now become almost necessary driving entrepreneurs to include them in all their future endeavours.

Take Away

Shhh! Sex is a story about how four students, all by themselves can make a difference in the world by fusing pure unbridled passion fuelled with their strong design skills.

The project showcases ways in which design can spark conversations around topics which we would otherwise hush about. It also is a rich compendium of applied tools and methods to conduct a social impact campaign. It is essential that we appreciate and support these grassroots initiatives because they are doing the essential task of bridging the gaps in our social fabric. The educated and privileged youth of the country has immense potential to alter our country’s narrative and it is the time that we started.