Gotcha! That title sure had you confused! Well, we are not talking about sex but sex education 😊. And parents of kids of any age should be paying attention – because this conversation, across cultures is never easy to have!
With the first born almost a pre-teen and another extremely curious pre-schooler – this is a topic that is top of the mind for me these days! And what’s top of the mind, is what’s on the tip of my pen – or perhaps I should say, right on the keyboard! So, here I am sharing with you some of my own experiences and mishaps, combined with some tips and hopefully you will find this post useful.
What is S.E.X.?!
FLASHBACK. SCENE 1. Eight-year-old Arnav talking to an older friend – “Did you mean S. I. X. or S. E. X.??”. Kapil and I, sitting in the adjacent room, overhear the conversation and are horrified and shocked. “Whattt? ALREADY talking about sex at 8 years??!!
Later (after preparing ourselves to talk about THE topic), we asked him carefully, “what did you mean by S.E.X? Arnav, a little surprised by our serious and out of context question – “ S.E.X means girl/boy”!!!
(PHEEEWW..) Looks like we were the ones with sex on our minds and not him (Yet)!!!
Nevertheless, the incident did remind us that with multiple devices and communications channels at their disposal, kids are overloaded with information and Arnav was growing up fast. So, we started preparing for an opportune time to broach the topic with him 😊 Since he is a voracious reader we decided that books would be the best way to introduce him to the birds and the bees!
FLASHBACK. SCENE 2 . 11th birthday. Over eager parents, thinking this is the perfect time , gift Arnav books about growing up and you know what. Arnav practically gags on seeing the books, refuses to touch them and tells us pompously that he will read them when he turns 12!! And we are back to scratching our heads about how to talk about sex!
We need not have worried though – earlier this year, he and I came back to Almaty and went back to one of our favorite past times – watching TV. Since he was too old for the 7+ shows so we went ahead with shows rated 13+. Without realizing, those shows came to my aid. Invariably we would end up with a few scenes with naughty couples or in one case, a girl starting her periods etc. At first it was embarrassing for both of us – he would promptly turn his head away dutifully!! But then I realized that this was the open window I could use to get some conversation going. So, I sat him down and explained the mechanics and the biology of the whole thing! Thanks to those shows, the embarrassment had already been taken out and we could talk about it easily. Or at least, I could! He still refused to ask questions! But, anyway, he knows that we are open to discuss the topic whenever he feels like it and that there is nothing to get embarrassed about.
I also realize now that sex education is not just about sex. It is a much wider topic starting from a healthy body image to love, sex and relationships in the longer term (and more about it later). But given the generation where I am coming from – even this was a big leap.
Sex education a generation ago
Aaah! What shall I say about my own sex education – the ignorance and the embarrassment! Obviously, none of the information came from home! The ‘topic’ was taught in class 8 – we were around 13 at the time. Even though the biology book mentioned (and the teacher hurried through the topic) that the sperm from the male and the egg from the female make a baby, I didn’t really put two and two together to figure out how the two actually ‘meet’. I think it probably dawned on me only a year or two later. (ROFL!) I am sure I was one of the more ‘dense’ ones in the class (I would have been called a tubelight) and most others already knew, but my knowledge at that time was limited to menstruation and growing breasts, both equally mortifying topics themselves!
My ‘education’ actually happened through the thrillers I read! Around the time I was 14, I discovered Sydney Sheldon and I think the shift from Enid Blyton to Sydney Sheldon was quite sudden! To my horror (initial) and to the guilty pleasure (later), I finally understood how babies are made and much more! I still remember my initial revulsion and how I had a hard time believing that my grandparents had to resort to ‘this gross stuff’ to produce my parents and uncles and aunts.
But if I am leading you to believe that sex education is only for the adolescents or pre-teens, then that is not my intention.
Young kids are curious too
Take the case of my younger one Abeer. For an infant, who totally refused to feed from the breast, he developed quite an interest in them by the time he was 3-4!! (ROFL) From trying look down every woman’s neckline – grandmother to mother to nanny, to obsessively trying to touch me everywhere – he has come a long way! I have had varying responses – initially just telling him not to do so, sometimes snapping (!), to explaining that there are parts of the body that are private and cannot be touched by everyone.
He is also quite fascinated by the whole idea of a baby being inside a woman’s body. He knows that’s where he came from and often pretends to be pregnant himself – loves to put a ball inside his shirt and act pregnant! He was quite dismayed when I told him that only girls can give birth 😊
He also has his own theory of birthing (which has me in splits) – he believes that women eat the babies – and get them inside their stomachs – who then come out when the mommy poops!!! Aah well – I will give it a few years before correcting his misconceptions!
Just like him, all kids show their curiosity in different ways. They may ask questions, they may want to touch themselves or they may even want to touch or see other kids or adults. And it is extremely important for us to lay down the right foundation from the start.
Why is sex education important?
As I mentioned earlier, sex education is not just about telling a child about sex per se, it is really about their bodies, about sexuality, about consent, about the future choices they make – which is why it becomes important to start early.
I believe the first lesson a child gets is from the way her own parents behave with each other and with the child. For instance, whether or not they openly express their affection for each other. I know that many Indian parents are pretty stiff in front of their children, trying to appear as asexual as possible, though in reality, it is perfectly fine to express love in front of kids – exchanging hugs or kisses or walking arm in arm is natural. It not only reassures the kids, it also sets the stage for their own future relationships.
Similarly, the way parents treat their child has a profound impact on how they will grow up to treat other people and the kind of relationships they will form. When you treat a child with respect and when you take her consent for anything – you are teaching her the importance of respect and consent. In future, the child will be able to share any disagreement more openly and will also be more conscious of obtaining consent from his/her partner. A number of teenage relationship issues could perhaps be avoided if the concept of respect and consent is embedded in the teen’s mind.
Another important aspect is the body image. As children grow up, too much focus on how they look – ‘my little diva’ or my ‘handsome prince’ could ill prepare them for the future changes their bodies will go through. Instead, a focus on behavoiurs as well as on being healthy and hygienic will be a well learned lesson.
As children get into their adolescent years, body image becomes very important. By this age, children should be fully aware of what is happening to their bodies, how hormones are dictating a lot of what they feel or how they behave. Many children might feel ashamed at the sexual awakening their bodies and minds may be experiencing. It is important that they are made to feel comfortable about these changes. This is when the earlier relationship that you have established with your child will come in handy – they will feel free in sharing their feelings and asking their doubts.
Some DOs and DONT’s to keep in mind….
If you trawl the net you will find a number of detailed resources – and I will also share some resources at the end. Here I will share are some tips that I believe you will find useful in carrying on the conversation on sex and sexuality.
DO NOT shame them. Right from their earliest years, children are curious about their bodies and other’s bodies. You will find them touching themselves or trying to touch others. Shooing them away or shaming them, is never the solution – it will only create a negative body image, often some kind of shame associated with their bodies.
DO tell them it is okay to touch or explore. Use the opportunity to tell them about public and private (can explore in private but not in public); about ownership over body (can touch your own but not others); about private parts, good and bad touch and finally consent.
DO NOT avoid questions. Children are curious and they will ask – at appropriate or inappropriate moments. But by saying no or showing embarrassment, you will only make them more curious and they will find other ways to get their answers. Or even worse, they will have a negative association with the topic.
DO proactively share information. Start with the names of their body parts – to the extent you are comfortable. It is usually advised to use the correct anatomical words such as penis, vagina, vulva etc. – but if you are uncomfortable – just use the words you are comfortable with in the beginning. Children can catch on to discomfort very quickly.
Keep looking for teachable moments – example, I used the TV shows we were watching, to explain concepts to my child. You can talk about pregnancy and child birth if you or someone in the family is pregnant.
Keep all channels of conversation open. When a child asks something, explain – in as much detail as you can, in an age appropriate manner. Become the adult that they could turn to in case of any questions or when faced with a situation.
DO NOT pass on your preconceived notions. Yes, we all have certain opinions that are dependent on our upbringing and cultural context. By all means teach them your values but leave space for them to develop their own opinions as well. For instance the world view around gender identity and same sex relationships is much more different than it was a generation ago.
DO ask their opinions about relationships, consent etc. Discuss these issues with the children, debate with them, share your point of view and listen to theirs openly. This will make them confident and respectful in their own relationships going forward. Moreover, this way you will be encouraging diverse thought and bringing up a more inclusive child.
DO NOT be condescending towards their problems, do not brush off their fears or worries.
DO keep an eye on changes in behaviour, any increase in aggression or any social withdrawal.
By following these tips, I hope you and I can bring up children who are confident of themselves, able to assert their individuality and respect others’ boundaries; children who are able to adapt better to change and are able to make sexual decisions that are well thought through and develop more meaningful and consensual relationships.
Some resources for you:
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