Priyanka Sutaria speaks to parents who weigh in on why it is necessary to normalise The Conversation Around Sex
In India, we've talked a lot about sexual violence over the last few years. What hasn't become a full-fledged discourse, however, is sex-positive talk. Surprising, when all the logic in the world screams at you that in a country haunted by Victorian values of sexual suppression, understanding negative sexual behaviours can only happen when we normalise the idea of sex. Whether for reproduction or for enjoyment, sex is an important aspect in an individual’s life, and everything associated with it—if and when it happens, how it happens, who it happens with—impacts us deeply.
And yet, why don’t we talk about sex? What ghost of sexuality past prevents us from creating a discourse about sex that is both educational and positive, the kind that makes children safe and self-aware?
From gender norms to the introduction to arousal and all that follows; everything plays into how we view sex as adults. And parents have a huge role to play in this.
BD works a corporate job, and is the mother of a six-year-old girl. Sharmila Sutaria makes gourmet desserts on order, and is the mother of two daughters, aged 20 and 22. Smriti Lamech is a published writer, editor, journalist and social media consultant. She is the mother of a girl and a boy, ages 11 and 13 respectively.
All of these women—mothers—think it’s important to discuss the birds and the bees, and change the conversation for their children.
PS: Have you/will you talk to your kids about menstruation, bodily changes, sexuality, sex, and everything that falls under the umbrella of sex education?
BD: Of course. I'm already having conversations with her about bodily changes. The rest, I will introduce her to when she is older, maybe seven or eight . I'd rather she hear the right things from me than some other source. It also makes her aware about her 'private parts', like she would be of any other body part.
Sharmila: I have spoken to both my daughters about this, and I believe every parent must have this conversation with their children so that they do not grow up with misconstrued ideas of sex, sexuality, and so on, on the basis of what their peers discuss, or even just hearsay.
Smriti: I have spoken to my kids about all of this already. I speak to my son and daughter about everything. This is one among hundreds of conversations we have had about birth, death, abortions, miscarriages, and so on.
PS: Do you think sex education is an important building block in a child’s life? At what age do you believe children ought to learn about sex (and more)?
BD: Sex education is a must. Absolutely. But it shouldn't be given undue importance and focus. It should be treated as you would any other biological impulse, and the conversation should follow in that tone. Sex Ed starts when children are as young as one, when you start using correct words to describe body parts. By the age of three-four you start talking about good touch-bad touch, and by the age of five-six, bodily changes. You talk to them about where the baby is born from and how a baby cell is made (mamma and papa cells come together and form the baby cell). Finally, at the age of seven or eight, the actual act of how the mamma-papa cells come together can be discussed.
Sharmila: Sex ed is definitely important as it clears any doubts and queries children may have at an age when curiosity reigns. These conversations ought to start as soon as they are capable of understanding these issues—maybe close to puberty. My daughters were made aware of menstruation by the age of six, and of sex by the time they were eight or nine.
Smriti: We have had these conversations since they were born. The moment my son was old enough, I spoke to him about menstruation, but even prior to that, pads and menstrual products were never hidden in our home. We have books about where babies come from lying around the house, and my daughter's friends have even come to me to ask questions because they know I will answer them honestly.
PS: Did your parents discuss sex (and more) with you? If not, how did you learn about it?
BD: No, my parents did not speak to me about this. I learnt it from books.
Sharmila: My parents never discussed it because they did not find such conversations to be comfortable, even when it came to something as basic as menstruation. I learnt through reading.
Smriti: My situation is unusual, because my parents were working in remote jobs, so I was brought up by my grandparents. So I had these conversations with my grandmother, who was very open to them. I was 10 when my grandmother first gave me Sunday school books, which provided a very clinical understanding of sex. My liberal outlook towards parenthood is entirely the result of her upbringing.
PS: Do you believe girls and boys ought to be given sex education in different ways?
BD: I'm not sure about this. Logically it seems that they should be taught together, but girls and boys do need separate classes for sexual abuse and sexual politics.
Sharmila: Boys and girls should be taught together but emphasis on certain things needs to be gender-based. For example, boys need to be taught that the gender dynamic will entitle them to certain privileges which they need to recognise and fight. Girls will have to be taught that they too are entitled to things girls and women have been denied previously.
Smriti: Is this a trick question? Ha. I don’t think so. If you don’t teach them together, and tell them that they will be growing into this stuff together, then it will create a environment of shame right from the start. I was actually horrified when my daughter’s co-ed school took the girls to learn about puberty separately. It has to be a collaborative activity.
PS: If your child came to you with a question about sex (and more), how would/did you respond?
BD: I would answer the question as I would any other.
Sharmila: As openly as possible so that there is no ambiguity at all.
Smriti: If you start the conversation early enough, there will be no awkwardness. In our family, no conversation is taboo, and no question 'too much'. My children are aware that not all their peers have liberal parents, and they take advantage of the fact that they can learn about this stuff from me.
PS: What do you think of the concept of virginity? How much importance does it carry in your children’s lives?
BD: Virginity is an outdated concept.
Sharmila: I grew up with the thought that virginity was an all-important virtue, to be conserved till one is married. But today, I know (and I’ve learnt it from my daughters!) that pre-marital sex is not a taboo, so long as it is safe and consensual.
Smriti: My son has always told me he will have children so that I can have grandkids, but the other day he told me he didn’t want to get married, which would mean that his child wouldn’t be legitimate. So I told him these ideas are archaic, and that a child is legitimate whether or not it is borne of a marriage. Hopefully, by the time he is older, these ideas will have long disappeared!
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