India is lauded worldwide as the land of the Kama Sutra and the temples of Khajuraho are a testimony to this. We have the second largest population in the world which is increasing at a staggering rate of 33.4%. If we consider these facts and figures, it’s indeed a bizarre irony that we intentionally shy away from talking about sexuality and put our children and teens through so much agony and confusion!
Need to start sex education at home
Sex education begins at home and children learn much more from observing their parents and the surroundings, than by reading preachy moral stories. “It’s healthy for children to see parents express affection through touch but not sexually explicit behavior in order to help them understand touch as a means to express affection and respect,” says Aarti C Rajaratnam, child and adolescent psychologist and co-author of Parenting: Innocence to InnerSense.
As we celebrate World Menstrual Hygiene Day on 28 May this year, let’s take a closer look at some of the most common sex education related questions that pop up in the brains of every pre-teen and young adolescent.
“I’ve seen some blood in the toilet when I went to pee. What is it? Am I sick?”
In India, menstruation is still a taboo often associated with feelings of shame, fear, seclusion and guilt. When a girl attains puberty, it’s essential for her mother to sensibly explain to her not just the facts about hygiene and sanitation, but also the science behind menstruation, and bust the common myths associated with it. As a girl grows into a woman, nature prepares her body to make it capable to hold the baby when it arrives. It’s essential to tell your daughter that the monthly phase of bleeding is normal and there’s nothing to feel shy and dirty or too worried about. This animated video created by Mythri and the Menstrupedia comic could help impart education on menstruation and hygiene while enlightening girls about the anatomy of a woman’s body and the biology behind this often ignored aspect of menstruation.
Moreover, embarrassing as this might sound, boys too should be made aware about menstruation. This helps them understand the discomfort a girl experiences during her period while avoiding misconceptions and ideas about menstruation being dirty and ‘impure’.
“My toddler son used to bring me ‘mommy diapers’ when I had periods and was stuck in the wrong bathroom. He won’t grow up clueless about periods. My friend is stressing about this as her daughter, a 10 year old, knows absolutely nothing about periods or puberty, as the mom kept periods hidden as a part of their caste practice,” says Purnima, a mum to two adorable young children.
“Will I get pregnant if I touch a boy or sit with one in class?”
Robie. H. Harris, author of books like IT’S PERFECTLY NORMAL, Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health feels that it is necessary and important for an adult to debunk these types of misinformation and give kids the correct information to help them stay healthy. So, tell her that she will not get pregnant if a boy sits next to her, gives her a pat on the back, a hug or even a kiss. Encourage children to develop healthy friendships with peers of the opposite sex, so that they have a balanced perspective and grow up into sensible adults who respect each other. Teachers and parents can share books on these aspects with kids and give them accurate and responsible information they may need now or when they are older.
“What is sex? Why do people do ‘it’?
Chandrika. R. Krishnan who’s a mother of two and has more than twenty years of experience teaching students from all age groups, prefers to use the phrase ‘making love’ rather than the stark ‘sex’. When two people respect each other, the physical intimacy is called making love. “I would explain that all living things need this intimacy at different levels for future progeny and for the betterment of the world and society. Unlike other bodily functions, this goes beyond the physiology and has emotional, mental and spiritual connect and is more sacrosanct,” she says.
Sometimes, a simple one sentence answer would go a long way in imparting education on these aspects. Explaining too much or showing embarrassment and skirting the issue can make a child feel awkward to express freely to a parent or teacher and she is likely to pick up wrong information from peers or the media. “When you explore the answers together patiently over time, the child gets a healthy sense of belonging, feels accepted even when the questions are not what many parents find easy to answer, creates a healthy two way communication channel and sets a stage for you to know what your child is struggling with and understand if there are problems that need to be addressed,” Aarti C Rajaratnam says.
“Sometimes, I feel like touching myself when I’m alone; and then feel guilty about it. Why does this happen? Is this wrong or sinful?
Although masturbation or ‘solo sex’ is entirely normal, and a natural part of growing up; it could be embarrassing to ‘catch’ your child indulging in it. Most teenagers could feel too shy or guilty to talk about it and some parents might not even be able to accept or understand the situation.
“If you accidentally walk in on your child, simply excuse yourself and walk out. Most kids do not want to have a prolonged conversation about this, but depending upon the family dynamics say (at a different time) that masturbation is normal and harmless but should be confined to the privacy of his room,” says Dr Cara Natterson, pediatrician and best-selling author of The Care and Keeping of You series. Parents should preferably allow their children to have a room of their own, and also keep in mind that though normal, masturbation in kids should not be excessive, leading to physical injury or distraction from daily activities.
“Uncle kissed and hugged me very tightly yesterday, and I felt very uncomfortable. Why did he behave like this?”
The recent spate of horrific rapes and incidents of child sexual abuse have made it clear that we must teach our kids that no one has a right to touch their bodies, without their consent. This is an excerpt from Robie. H. Harris’s book: “Every family’s job is to love, take care of, and keep their babies and children safe. One very important thing about staying safe is that your body belongs to you.” The author goes on to say that children should be taught to say STOP! or DON’T! even if the person is a relative and is older or stronger than him or her. Tell your child to report any kind of inappropriate touches, even if he is threatened or asked by the person to keep it a secret. However, it’s essential to teach them that we all need the usual everyday hugs and kisses and good touches from people who genuinely love us.
“What is a transgender? My friend was making fun of that strange woman with weird looks. What makes her look so strange?”
Dr Pepper Schwartz, PhD, Professor of Sociology at University of Washington at Seattle and author of Ten Talks Parents Must Have With Their Children About Sex and Character feels that most preteens have seen a transgender or have at least heard of one. Transgender people and the entire LGBTQ community have been denied basic human rights for ages, ridiculed, made fun of and are often discriminated against in several cultures. In some countries like the United States, same sex marriages are legal whereas in some they’re not legally or socially accepted yet.
“In this huge, diverse world of ours, sometimes two men fall in love or two women fall in love, which is opposite to the usual norm of a man falling in love with a woman,” Dr Pepper explains. Children should be clearly told that this is just another form of diversity in nature, and these people should not be looked down upon merely on the basis of their sexual orientation. This goes by the same principle that we should treat people equally, irrespective of their looks or choices, colour, creed, gender or ethnicity. “Tell your kid that these people need understanding and support because some people are prejudiced against same-sex couples and people who love someone of the same sex,” Dr Pepper adds.