Sex can be a tricky subject to navigate when you’re a parent trying to educate your kids. On the one hand, the glaring lack of sex and sexuality education in Indian curriculums across the board has made it necessary for the topic to be broached at home with some degree of consciousness; but on the other hand, the deep-rooted stigma surrounding conversations about sex that exist in Indian society hamper healthy discussions on the subject. Hence, as a parent, it’s important to educate your adolescent or pre-adolescent children about sex, to tell them that it’s a valid activity, and that there needs to be certain safety considerations involved for the benefit of both parties, and that there’s nothing wrong with talking about it.
So, when exactly, should one start talking to their child about sex? Truth is, there’s no definitive age for it. Hence, it’s important to encourage your kids to talk about and ask questions about sex and sexuality throughout. Even when a kid is say, 8 or 9, a parent can use metaphors to illustrate how sexual attraction works, or for girls, what it means to get one’s period. As the child gets older, start spelling out more of the anatomy-specific details – what goes on during menstruation, how conception or pregnancy works, and so on. Of course, one can’t unleash all of the information at once, so remember to account for the child’s age. If it’s someone much younger, then you can make your explanations more illustrative (or like story-telling), but if it’s someone in their early or mid-teens, then treat them with more maturity, and give them more accurate information. The more one encourages conversations about sexuality in the home, the more the child becomes accepting of their sexuality and begins to see it as something natural. For both girls and boys, these conversations should be inclusive, should comprise education about the gender spectrum and alternate sexualities.
India is mired in regressive homophobic beliefs, what with 377 already in place. But, through an early introduction to sex ed through parental guidance, these taboos can be easily broken. From an early age, it’s important to maintain that gender is a spectrum, and subsequently, not impose certain gender roles on your child. If a young boy wants to play with dolls, let them; if a young girl wants to take part in sport, let them. Consequently, encourage boys to express emotion, rather than telling them that it’s “emasculating” to do so. It’s through these little things that kids begin to unlearn gender, that they begin to question gender stereotypes.
This, in turn, becomes the building block for discussions of queerness. Using the dismantling of gender roles as an entry points, parents can easily launch into discussions of same-sex desire, telling them that queer attraction is valid because neither sex nor romantic love functions in rigid heteronormative binaries. Make your household a safe space to come out by making it queer-friendly – by encouraging discussions about queerness, by exposing your child to forms of popular culture that show queer characters in a positive light.
Now, popular culture has the potential to complicate sex-talk. So much of our mainstream media in India is blatantly misogynistic and homophobic, and either sexually objectifies women, perpetuates rape culture, or furthers horrible stereotypes about gay people. To make sure that your child isn’t learning the wrong lessons from such forms of media, it’s necessary for parents to sit down with their children and dissect it – to encourage the kids to be critical of such portrayals, and to realize the problems with it. Popular culture is an immensely influential medium, so it’s essential to make sure that kids are not internalising the harmful depictions of sexuality that it sometimes projects.
Some Tips For Answering Your Child’s Questions
Always come down to your kid’s level when you answer their questions, keeping the answers short and simple. Explain new words that your kid might not have heard before.
After giving an answer, keep the conversation open. You can say: “Do you have any more questions about this?” or “Is there anything in particular that made you ask these questions?”
Always check their understanding after you have answered a question. Ask them whether they’ve understood something once or twice.
If you’re unsure about answering a question on your own, you can turn it into an activity and look it up together. This would make the lesson more interactive and help you understand your child’s needs better.
It is perfectly fine to feel awkward while answering questions, because your kid might get embarrassed too. Try to find common ground between the two of you, try to find references your kid might understand to get the message across. (For example, you can use examples from a cartoon your kid likes to illustrate a particular aspect of sex)
More than anything, it’s important to make your child understand that there is absolutely nothing wrong with having sex unless you’re having at the right time, with complete consent, and with the right amount of protection. An abstinence-only form of sex education does more harm than good, hampering the child’s natural hormonal urges. Besides, knowing about what good, healthy sex is, will also help your child assess situations that are the opposite of that; and will help them understand when they’re in a sexually threatening environment (this goes for women, especially). So, to teach your children about sex is to ensure that they’re safer, healthier, and happier.