Most of you have probably heard the song 'Let's talk about sex' and, probably, also changed channels when it came on TV. Why do we treat sex as taboo? Why can't we talk freely about an essential human need which is the basis of all procreation and sustenance of life?
Like most people I know, I treat sex as something deeply intimate and personal. I refrain from ever talking about my own sexual experiences out of respect for myself and my partner. But I really feel that by treating sex as taboo, we encourage youngsters to engage in sexually dangerous behaviour. So it is time that we started discussing sex in a matter of fact way. Fact is that children as young as fourteen are becoming sexually active and if we don't educate them in time, we might be putting them at risk. I'm not saying that your child is 'doing it', but he/she is definitely curious, if not active. And it is better that he/she sees you as a friend and learns about it from you rather than by indulging in 'exciting' unsafe behaviour. I'm definitely not condoning early sexual activity, I only want you to be aware that times are changing and we must accept and tackle the issue instead of denying it.
Here are a few things I believe parents and guardians should be doing in order to ensure that their children are aware and make the right choices.
1. Talk to them about the birds and the bees
Calmly, and without laughing, sit down with your child and tell him or her about the whole process. If you're too uncomfortable doing it, you can take the help of a science book. But make it matter of fact. Please don't start giving a lecture on virtue and sanskar or your child may feel intimidated.
Calmly, and without laughing, sit down with your child and tell him or her about the whole process.
2. Tell them that just having sex doesn't make them cool or a grown up
It is a popular belief, especially among men that having sex makes a man out of a boy. Or a man's coolness is measured by how hot his girlfriend is or how many women he has had sex with. Please tell your child that that's not the case. That it's perfectly fine to wait to be with someone who they really like. That to be really cool, one must be doing cool stuff like getting somewhere in life. That it's cool to love your art and your books. Just having sex doesn't make one a grown up, but taking responsibility does.
3. Talk to them about consent
No one and it means no one, can have sex with them without their consent. Nor can they do it without someone else's. Neither their live in partner, nor their spouse, nor their good friend, no one is allowed to make them feel violated or abused. Teach them the difference between a good touch and a bad touch and that it's okay to raise an alarm if they feel that someone touched them inappropriately.
4. Tell them about the risks of being sexually active, not just the pleasure
Tell your kids about the importance of using protection. That despite being in a monogamous relationship, their partner might be a carrier from a previous experience, and they must use protection at all costs. Tell them about the risk of unplanned pregnancies and the effects of birth control pills. That those pills won't protect them against infections, and why it is a bad idea to have casual sex with strangers. Also that not all genital infections are dangerous STD's and can be treated with the right medical care.
Teach them the difference between a good touch and a bad touch and that it's okay to raise an alarm if they feel that someone touched them inappropriately.
5. Don't make vulgar jokes in front of your children
Most adults end up talking in innuendo or making sexually explicit jokes among themselves. Please don't do that in front of your kids. They should be able to respect their own sexual choices and those made by others.
6. Tell them that it isn't cheap or dirty if they feel the desire for it
Sexual experience is one of the most pleasurable experiences known to mankind. And when it happens with someone we love, it is also a greatly emotional and soulful one. Why must someone be made to feel dirty about having the desire to experience it? You can't stop your children from trying some stuff. But you can do your part by making them comfortable talking to you about it. If they are having issues, they should know that they can safely confide in you. The same goes for masturbation, menstruation and hygiene products. But do tell them that there's a time for everything. And it would be better for them if they focus on building a career when they are younger instead of spending too much energy in sexual pursuit.
7. Talk to them about gender identities and sexual orientation
Our country may have regressed and made homosexuality illegal, but it is an identity one can't deny. People are born queer. They are not perverts. Even Hindu mythology accepts it with the likes of Shikhandi. And believe it or not, but your own child could be queer. Teach your children to accept their own gender identity and sexual orientation, and of those who they feel are different. Each one of us is entitled to live a dignified and respectful life. Teach them about respecting each human being as a human being irrespective of their sexual choices.
Believe it or not, but your own child could be queer. Teach your children to accept their own gender identity and sexual orientation, and of those who they feel are different.
8. What happens in someone's bedroom is strictly his or her business.
Unless you suspect someone of being a paedophile or a rapist, what happens in someone's bedroom is strictly their own business. A person's sexual fetishes and behaviour are his or her own secret, and we are no one to pry, mock, condemn or ridicule it.
9. Cheating may be common, but it's not acceptable
I grew up in an idealistic world where I thought adultery was a shameful sin. Now I know that it is common behaviour among both men and women. That still doesn't make it okay. Unless you are happy being in an open or a polygamous relationship, a cheating partner will take a huge toll on you emotionally and even physically, if he or she passes some strange infection to you. No matter how much you may love someone, you cannot take this kind of insecurity and callousness. It is a form of emotional abuse no one needs to take. And your children need to know that.
10. Tell them that they will get hurt
The day we decide to get intimate with someone, we are investing a lot of us emotionally. We open ourselves up to getting hurt. Even if you are the best couple ever, there will be times when you will get hurt. And if your partner is not right for you, you will get hurt a lot more. Tell them that if they feel more hurt than happy, then it is okay to move on. No one needs to be stuck in an unfulfilling relationship that only drains their reserves. There will also be people who will want to be with them only for the sex, and have nothing meaningful to add to their lives. You must caution them against such people. And that it's perfectly acceptable to walk out if they feel that way.
Accept that they will be curious, that they will want to experiment, that they will go out with people you don't like and that they will get hurt. They will also need their privacy from you just like you need from them.
11. Accept that your child is growing up
As parents, it will be very difficult for you to believe that your baby has grown up. But you will have to accept it. Accept that they will be curious, that they will want to experiment, that they will go out with people you don't like and that they will get hurt. They will also need their privacy from you just like you need from them. You can only guide them in the right manner and love them unconditionally. You can't live their lives or make their mistakes. In order to learn, they must make mistakes of their own.
The more comfortable we are about discussing this topic with our youngsters, the more confident they will feel in trusting us with their intimate secrets. They will be able to come to us in case they are troubled and seek the right kind of guidance and support. They will also be more responsible than reckless. And hopefully, they will respect sexual choices of all around them and not use it as a criterion to judge or ridicule others. So that a country with more than a billion people can accept how so many of them came into being.
This is an edited version of a post that first appeared here.