I wondered if this article warranted a disclaimer, for it talks about a topic considered a taboo even today - S.E.X. Now that we know, how many of you will still continue reading this article without checking if your child is around?
During our ParentCircle-IMRB* Nationwide Survey, 2015, we reached out to thousands of parents and children in the age-group of 10-18 years, to see if things are changing. The results, unfortunately, further exposed the grim reality - vulnerability of our generation towards the basic subject of sex and the need for education around it.
- Why are we, as parents, so hesitant to talk about sex to our teens?
- Why do we dodge it each time our tween pops a sex-related question?
- Why, even in this progressive era, do we speak about it in mumbled tones?
The three-lettered terror
Isn’t the dynamics of sex as old as time itself, or at the very least, as old as Adam and Eve? Then, what makes sex such a taboo? “Yes, sex is a universal concept. But our culture doesn’t appreciate open conversations about it. It is considered to be a private act and, therefore, should be discussed in a similar fashion. Our ancestors might have been liberated on that front, but that mentality hasn’t trickled down to our generation. So, we need to be discreet. Our children will eventually find out about it anyway, then what’s the hurry? Why should we dump them with unnecessary information before it’s their time to know,” says Nancy Devtha, teacher and parent to two teenagers.
Let’s talk numbers
Echoing similar sentiments as Ms Devtha, 52 per cent of Indian parents who took part in our ParentCircle-IMRB Nationwide Survey, 2015, said that they would be extremely uncomfortable having the ‘birds and the bees’ (a polished urban phrase for sex) talk with their children. What’s even more worrying is that one-third of children surveyed said they would be extremely uncomfortable and can never discuss puberty and sex education with their parents. What startles us further is the fact that this trend is more evident in fast-moving metros. While children from a small town like Gwalior indicated readiness for ‘the talk’, those in Bengaluru and Mumbai completely shied away from it.
Why should we have ‘the talk?’
According to the latest census projected by UNICEF India, our country has the largest population of adolescents in the world. The headcount of children in the age-group of 10 to 18 is a whopping 243 million, which means each child in this age bracket is likely going through a phase of puberty. As science has it, puberty means a whole heap of hormonal upheaval, which in turn causes plenty of bodily changes. So, during this time of confusion, we, as parents, need to play the role of our children’s trusted confidantes by stepping in and in the right manner. “Majority of India’s population is in a very vulnerable stage of their life, which is their teen years. So, keeping this in mind, it is essential for parents to address the issue of sex, before children get swayed away by the wrong source. And it is essential to talk not just about sex and puberty, but also about contraception, consent, peer-pressure, rape, sexual abuse, different sexual orientations, harassment and body-image,” says Magdalene Jeyarathnam, Founder, Center of Counselling, Chennai.
How to have ‘the talk’
“Never lie. Don’t manipulate. For the truth is not going to be hidden from them forever. As parents, all you can do is to make sure your child learns about sex from you, rather than a random misleading source,” says Dr Prerna Hiradhar, child psychologist and educator, Delhi. Given our cultural ideologies, talking about sex can get very uncomfortable and tricky for both the parent and the child. So, having the talk in instalments is the wisest thing to do. Aparna Balasundaram, psychotherapist and a parent & child expert believes the following measures should be taken while having ‘the talk’:
- Do not download 100 per cent of information in one go.
- Break it down, and approach the topic step-by-step.
- If your teen is uncomfortable, stop the conversation and bring it up some other time.
- Do not make the conversation formal.
- Do not jump straight to the topic.
- Talk about body changes first and then slowly proceed to other topics.
- Address issues of body hygiene and sexually transmitted diseases as well.
How teachers can help
As parents, we should first come to terms with the fact that sex is more than just a physical indulgence. And that’s the message we should translate to our children. “Sex education should never be about the anatomical aspect of the act alone; moral education should play a very big part in it. Take help, involve a counsellor and talk to the teacher and peer parent. Remember that shaming in the name of culture can do more harm than good. So, steer your children in the right direction, with the right information in tow,” adds Dr Hiradhar.
‘The talk’ in totality
Sex education, as a part of the curriculum, has been hotly debated for nearly two decades now. Political compulsions have refrained parties from going aggressive on the subject. Having said that, some schools have embraced the subject and that certainly is a welcome move. “Sex education should be done not just by parents, but teachers too. Schools as a unit should take the responsibility and openly teach sex in its entirety,” adds Magdalene Jeyarathnam.
At the end of the day, like we always say, each child is different and so is each parent. Your child will always be your baby and talking about such sensitive issues may not be an easy exercise. Therefore, take it easy and make sure you do your bit of homework before getting started on the topic. Lots of love is all that your teen needs right now. So, forge ahead and do your bit in raising sexually confident, aware and responsible citizens. Start with your teen, and make a difference!