Sex education in India is one topic that even today attracts a few disapproving glances from grown-ups.
But gone are the days when children had zero knowledge or interest in the sexual intimacy between men and women and gone is the time when parents were able to restrict their kids from questioning anything they thought was inappropriate.
Children these days are as inquisitive as one can be especially in the matters of sex.
“There are still many people in India who don’t realise the importance of sex education. They don’t understand that even if you don’t talk about something as normal as sex, kids will have questions in their minds as they grow up. Especially now when they are flooded with so much sexual content on the internet where they spend maximum time,” says Dr. Anita Sabherwal, Gynecologist and Obstetrician at Sitaram Bhartia Hospital.
Why is sex education in India important for teenagers?
There is a common thought process that sex education means only talking about sexual intercourse between two people. But that is not the case.
Sex education is a comprehensive process of providing information and helping young individuals form attitudes and beliefs about sexual intimacy, relationships and one’s sexual identity.
It also helps develop an understanding in children about consent and the importance of making informed choices and being confident about them.
Dr. Anita says, “sex education makes kids aware of the changes taking place in their bodies (puberty) and also teaches them how to make safe, healthy choices as they grow up because healthy relationships and healthy sexual life are the keys to a happy adult life.
This would help them manage sexual advances, encourage them to speak up if they are abused sexually and also spreads social awareness by telling them about the right age to have kids, the importance of using protection while having sexual intercourse and the consequences of having children before or outside marriage.
Speaking to Your Kids about Sex
But how do you as parents or guardians actually speak to your children about sex?
“Many parents feel that giving sex education is just a one-time discussion which they can get over with quickly by just telling them how the sexual act takes place and how they go through puberty. But it is much more than that.”
It becomes easier and more efficient when parents treat it as an ongoing process and use everyday moments to discuss the different aspects of sex education.
“For instance, if there is a commercial for female hygiene products coming up on television while your child is watching TV, you can take that opportunity to introduce the topic of puberty and menstruation to her or him,” suggests Dr. Anita.
Be honest with your child
Be open and honest to your child about every topic you talk about. If you feel uncomfortable in sharing sexual information, you can share that with them too. If you don’t know the answer to any particular question they ask, tell them that and help them find the answer. But make them understand how important it is to talk it out.
Try to understand your child
Adolescence is a period which is like a roller coaster ride for your child. They are undergoing many changes physically and emotionally which they have no idea how to deal with.
You, as a parent, need to understand your child’s feelings regarding puberty and comfort them. Don’t lecture them about how talking about these things is bad and uncultured. This way you will only discourage them from talking about such topics which will force them to look for answers in unreliable sources instead.
Encourage your children to come to you when in doubt
Children nowadays are under immense pressure from peers and face many challenges during the adolescent period. The least you can do to help is make them feel you are there for them. Motivate them to come to you without hesitation and share their concerns with you. This way you can guide them better.
Understand your child’s perspective regarding sex
Sex education is not just about explaining children how babies are born and what periods are. It is meant to instil the right attitude in them regarding sexual intimacy.
“I encourage parents to ask their teenage kids about how they feel about sex and having intimate relationships with people. It is important to tell them about the emotions, feelings and values behind having sexual intercourse.”
Address sensitive topics with care
One of the main roles sex education in India plays is to develop sensitivity in today’s children and make sure they grow up to be broad-minded individuals with respect for everybody. Therefore parents should deal with topics like homosexuality and sexual abuse with care.
Also, avoid giving negative responses to your child’s doubts because that might reinforce the fact that you aren’t supposed to discuss these things or these things are bad.
Importance of sex education in schools
Early onset of puberty in boys and girls and increasing exposure to sexual content via television and the internet makes it necessary to introduce sex education to students at a reasonably early age.
Many schools nowadays prefer to address sexual abuse and its prevention in classes II and III so that young children have the basic knowledge to identify if they are being sexually exploited and can seek help at the right time.
Comprehensive sex education courses can be introduced from 7th to 9th grade onwards when most children have entered puberty.
Sex education in India may still be a less-talked-about topic but its importance can never be undermined. Proper sexual knowledge not only empowers young minds but also ensures that they always make the right choices in life.
This article has been written with Dr. Anita Sabherwal Anand, Consultant, Obstetrician-Gynecologist at Sitaram Bhartia Hospital in South Delhi. Dr. Anita is a highly qualified gynecologist with 20+ years of experience who is trusted by low-risk and high-risk mothers alike for her guidance on having a healthy pregnancy and delivery.
MBBS, Lady Hardinge Medical College, University of Delhi (1992); MD (Obstetrics & Gynaecology), Lady Hardinge Medical College, University of Delhi (1997); DNB Secondary (Obstetrics & Gynaecology), National Board of Medical Education, New Delhi (1999)
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