We often assume conversations around consent, sex and sexuality to be reserved for adults. But, when it comes to imparting sex education to children, parents usually have many questions, such as, “How do I start? What do I say? When do I say it?”
Toddlers in our country are growing up in a world where circumstances are quite different from those of their parents or grandparents vis-a-vis the benefits and risks in life.
In the day and age of the Internet, social media and unlimited access to information, how do we know for sure that children are getting the right information about everything, including sexual health, choice, consent and safety?
Don’t Let Internet Be The Teacher
“A 12-year-old kid told me that, ‘Ma’am do you know that girls like to be hit while having sex.’ This happened probably because porn was the child’s sex educator,” says Anju Kish, a Mumbai-based sexuality educator, who believes that parents should become the source of information to their children rather than the Internet.
Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) has been identified as a serious public health concern in current times. The World Health Organization defines CSA as a coercive act with a child who is unable to comprehend or provide consent, leading to serious physical or psychological damage.
Thus, kids need proper support than ever before not only to navigate the biological, social and cognitive transitions of their life but also to prevent cases of sexual harassment and abuse which are now increasing at an alarming rate.
Sex Education Starts At Home
But where do you begin? One simply can’t impart sex education with a big one-off talk. Today, it is about lots of small, frequent, repetitive conversations with a child. “Sex education begins with non-sexual situations at home,” says Swati Jagdish, a sex education expert and a lactation counsellor.
Parul Ohri, Co-Founder of Momspresso, on the other hand, says that it is never too early to start talking about body parts to the children. “If a parent can say fingers and toes, they can very well say penis and vagina,” she adds.
Ohri believes that calling nicknames of the body parts or hushing a child when he/she asks about products like condoms can create a sense of shame and secrecy in the mind of a child. “Tell them how everybody is wearing a mask to prevent infection, in the same way couples use condoms when they do not want to have a baby,” explains Kish.
Fathers Need To Catch Up
The young parents mostly struggle to talk to their children about the concepts of sex education because they never had such conversations with their own parents before. But if they do, it’s mostly the mothers who explain the concepts to their child.
Sex education experts have observed that mostly the sex education workshops are attended by mothers rather than fathers. Jagdish explains this is because “the young fathers of today have not had their fathers getting involved in anything”. Hence, if someone has not experienced something, it’s difficult to emulate it or model it.
However, there seems to be a shift in the trend as both parents are now getting equally involved in imparting sex education. “Today, around 30-40% of my audience are couples,” says Jagdish.
In parts of the world where sex education is beset with taboos, it is still a common practice to separate genders for formal sex education. Often schools group students by gender so that they feel more comfortable asking sensitive questions. But sex education experts believe that gender segregation is not the way forward.
Equip Children With Information
People who sexually abuse children rely on privacy and secrecy to make sure their abuse isn’t discovered and reported. But, even when a child hasn’t said anything, there can be physical or behavioural signs that a child is being abused. Experts urge parents to equip the young minds against uncomfortable situations in order to safeguard themselves.
Jagdish feels if a child knows about body autonomy, he/she is empowered to handle any situation outside. “Research says that children are confident, open and can name their body parts are safer from child sexual abuse,” she adds.
Kish believes that a parent should give situational problems to their children and ask them how they will react at that time. She explains by giving an example of a music teacher who has come home to teach music lessons to a kid. “Ask your child that If the teacher starts touching you on your private parts, what will you do?” According to Kish, a child can go and hide in the washroom, take the phone and call their parents or get out of the house and tell the neighbours.
As a society, there is a need to move beyond taboos and acknowledge the importance of sex education to ensure a safer future for the younger ones. Thus, the huge benefit of talking to kids from an early age is that parents will forge a relationship with them in which they know their child can talk to them about anything.