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When must you educate your kid about sex?

October 30, 2019 09:42 IST

Sex education is way too critical as a life skill to be ignored or postponed, says Tanuja Sodhi.

*IMAGE: School girls look at plastic models of a man and a woman at Antarang, India's first sex musuem, in Mumbai, February 3, 2003. Children from various schools in the city were being taken in turn to the musuem for sex education. Photograph: Arko Datta/Reuters

Proper sex education reiterated at different stages of a child's growing years, is extremely important for their physical and emotional well-being, and can have lasting effects on their adult life.

As children grow up, sex education becomes more complex, and should cover topics like individual sexuality, intimate relationships, reproduction, sexual diseases, delayed sexual gratification and the dangers of unprotected sex.

It's just too easy in today's world for a child to glean information on sex.

Whether you like it or not, a child's exposure in this field begins much earlier than you would want it to start.

They learn about sex from their friends at school and at sleepovers, from surfing the Internet and by watching TV.

The worrisome part is that what they learn from these external sources could be half-baked and misleading.

The information from some of these sources can portray sex in a very superficial, sensational, reckless or frivolous way.

And, this can be really degrading and unwholesome for a child's psyche.

So, by being her first source of information on everything to do with sex, you're ensuring that she gets the essential inputs in the right perspective.

Through these conversations where there would be many questions from her side, and proper (and age appropriate) responses from your side, the child will get the feeling of comfort that she can talk to you about anything related to this topic, even if she is in a distressing predicament someday.

You need to keep these sessions frequent and repetitive, with more information added at every physical growth milestone.

IMAGE: A volunteer wears a paper mask during an AIDS awareness programme in Chandigarh, January 1, 2008. Photograph: Ajay Verma/Reuters

What is the right time to start?

We were a completely clueless set of parents in the initial parenting years, and hadn't given much thought to when and how to commence imparting sex education to our son.

His first such question came as a bolt from the blue, leaving me totally off balance!

I clearly remember the day when I was getting the evening snack ready for my 6-year-old, and he suddenly asked me, 'Mama, what is a condom?'

To say that I was embarrassed would be an understatement.

I was mortified! And I goofed-up! I muttered that there was no such word and he must have confused it for 'condemn' which meant 'criticise'.

And he believed me, if only for a day, and then he felt betrayed for being lied to by his own parent.

The rest, as they say, is history.

That was a sign for me and my husband to strategise on when and how to educate our child proactively from time to time.

And we did manage it fairly well.

IMAGE: Men look at an exhibit at a sexual health information gallery in Mumbai, January 29, 2007. Photograph: Prashanth Vishwanathan/Reuters

I remember using conversation starters, such as sighting a pregnant woman and seizing the opportunity to teach him about how babies are born.

We always tried to answer his uncomfortable questions as honestly as possible in age-appropriate ways.

If the query was too overwhelming for either of us, we would tell him that we weren't very sure of the answer and would find out soon and revert.

While I botched up in the beginning and got my act together a wee bit late, you could avoid such sticky situations by starting proactively when your child is a preschooler.

IMAGE: School girls giggle as they look at exhibits at Antarang, India's first sex museum, February 3, 2003. Photograph: Arko Datta/Reuters

You could start the education by teaching your child the name of all the parts of the body, including private parts, in a matter-of-fact manner.

You also need to make your child understand that their body is absolutely private and out of bounds for outsiders to see or touch.

Teach them the distinction between 'good touch' and 'bad touch', preferably through teachable moments or conversation starters to make the conversation a lot less awkward and abrupt.

Teaching moments can show up in the form of a pregnant woman, a couple kissing on TV or an advertisement about sanitary pads, and so on.

Pre-empt sex-related queries by practising responses to many such questions in order to be adequately prepared.

If you're not sure of how to answer a question, there is no harm in saying that you're not too sure and that you will find out and answer.

By the time your child reaches puberty age, talk about the bodily changes that puberty brings.

To your adolescent or teen, you could talk about the perils of early pregnancy, pornography and cybercrimes of a sexual nature.

It is also very important to talk to them about how to manage peer pressure to indulge in sexual activities, and about sex in relation to emotions and relationships.

It's very important that you speak to your teen proactively from time to time, to encourage them to trust you and talk to you in times of any sexual dilemma and difficulty.

Although most schools have sex education in the curriculum these days, it is prudent to personally ensure that your child gets the right perspective on this topic and you are their go-to person for any such queries.

Excerpted from Raising A True Winner: Ignite The Best In Your Child by Tanuja Sodhi, with the kind permission of the publishers, Rupa Publications India.