In India, there are many topics which are considered a taboo – relationships, money, drugs, sex. These subjects are never discussed at home, especially with children. Even the educated parents refrain from having such conversations with their children. Right from a girl who has just hit puberty and is confused with the physical changes in her body to a worried boy who has night falls, teenagers have a lot of questions that need responsible answers. With the intergenerational awkwardness that has taken credence in most families, it is difficult for a confused teenager to get the right information from a trusted source – their parents.
The unfortunate result of being unable to talk about sex, sexuality or reproduction with a trusted adult is the inquisitive teenagers looking at uncited and unreliable online articles. For answers, watching porn and getting exaggerated or wrong ideas about what sex is, speaking to peers who are as uninformed as them. Not only are these sources of misinformation unhelpful, they can also lead the teenager to form unrealistic and unhealthy notions about love, relationships, physical attraction, reproduction and sex.
This is why the role of parents in sex education becomes crucial.
The truth is that even for the most well-meaning parent, having a conversation with their child around sex is akin to climbing Mt. Everest. Let’s take a look at why these blocks occur and then move on to how a parent can actually start a healthy conversation around sex with their child.
For a parent who has been a survivor of sexual abuse may view sex in a negative way, see it as shameful or dirty. Or, when a parent themselves have formed a negative association about talking with their parents and sex, then it may lead to them being uncertain about starting such a conversation with their own child in a positive way. This may prevent them from having a constructive dialogue around it altogether.
Some parents also misbelieve that simply talking to their child about sex may ‘put ideas in their head’. Or they consider sex as a topic for only ‘grown-ups’. Both these misconceptions only lead to added confusion and make the child view sex which is completely natural, as an enigmatic and shameful phenomenon.
So, how can a parent resolve these perceptions and attitudes that they hold?
Firstly, the parent needs to battle their own demons. Going for therapy, talking to their partner about their experiences and beliefs go a long way in resolving the negative emotions they experience regarding sex and their own sexual experiences. To empower another, empowering yourself is essential.
Conversations around sex needn’t be big, eventful, or require a sit-down. Keep it casual but real, make it regular. This takes the mystery away and helps the child regard it as natural and completely acceptable part of living.
You can start small- talk about the physical changes that come with puberty. Make sure you inform them about the changes in both sexes- male and female- regardless of the sex of your child. This will reduce the anxiety or curiosity they may have about the changes in the physicality of those around them. You can graduate to talking about physical attraction, emotions, safe sex as and when you feel it is the right time.
Keep the conversation two-way. Ask them if they have any questions, what do they think about what you just told them. Tell them it is absolutely natural to feel curious about their body and emotions.
For an emotionally and physically healthier and more equal society, it is essential that sex education for teenagers start young, start in families, and start responsibly.