- Never too early or late to start sexual health talk with child: Experts
- Have sex positive conversation with your child: Expert
- Teach your children about consent from an early age: Expert
New Delhi: Sexual health has been treated as a taboo in India for a long time but according to experts, this conversation needs to become a part of raising a child and that of the school curriculum and must continue till adulthood. They say that sex education and conversations about sexual health are crucial because most teenagers grow up without appropriate information about sex, leading them to assume facts or consult unreliable sources. Giving children a space to talk with comfort and ask questions can help them become better informed and have a more normalised overall outlook towards sex, say experts.
Dr Tanaya Narendra, physician and embryologist who is popularly known as Dr Cuterus on Instagram said,
There is no ‘right age’ for talking about sexual health with your child. It can start when your child is as young as two years or even when they are teenagers or even adults. It is never too early or too late. If you have toddlers, start with familiarising them with their body parts. And as they grow, discuss the age-appropriate topics with them depending on what they are asking and their maturity level. You can follow your child’s lead and give them the right amount of information based on their questions and interests. This will make it easier for the parents and children to talk with each other and the awkwardness will gradually phase out. Talking with children not just helps in breaking the taboo around sex but also help the young ones get facts from an early age and they don’t have to go to their peers or social media or pornography for information. Talking to the child about sex builds a positive and scientific foundation of the child’s future sexual response.
Dr Veena Aggarwal, Gynaecologist, Consultant Women’s Health, Medtalks.in emphasised that the basic facts about reproduction can be easily taught to children but what the parents and teachers must focus on is to put the information in the proper context and help them get the right perspective over time. She said,
Apart from the reproduction process, sex education covers series of topics ranging from menstruation, to gender identity, LGBTQIA+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, and all sexual and gender minority) issues of relationships, consent and respect.
Here Are Five Sex Education Topics That Should Be Discussed With Children
Their Body Parts
According to Dr Tanaya, a lot of children don’t know about their bodies. She said,
When we teach our children about their bodies, we easily tell them that about their ear, nose, hands but when it comes to their private parts, we tend to ignore those or just call them their “private part.” It is extremely important that children know the anatomically correct names for their genitals. It helps them understand their body and communicate health issues and injuries. Also, if these words are normalized early, it makes later discussion about sex easier.
While talking to the teenagers, it is also important to address their insecurity regarding their body, shape or size of the body parts, said Dr Aggarwal. She said,
We are surrounded by hypersexualised messages about human bodies, especially females. This increases insecurity among young people. It is important to assure them that all shapes, sizes and colours are normal and there is no need to feel ashamed. They must embrace and respect their bodies.
“Where Do Babies Come From?”: The Birds And The Bees Talk
Dr Tanaya said that talking about the birds and the bees or ‘the facts of life’ can be intimidating for many parents and added that they should remember that it does not matter how perfect the talk was, what matters is you had the talk. She added,
The teenage phase is a sensitive one, where being educated about reproduction and reproductive health can help them be more aware and careful. Remember that giving a child facts about reproduction, does not rob them of their innocence as is generally believed. The idea of safety and precautions can be talked about at this very stage.
Consent And Communication
It is crucial to make children feel confident and safe by making them aware about the rights and wrongs, said Dr Aggarwal. She said,
Tell your children that consent and communication are vital in a relationship. A person can and should be able to set boundaries and should never be subjected to coercion. Teenagers should be made aware that boundaries are to be respected.
Dr Tanaya said that consent can be introduced early. She said,
If your child doesn’t want to receive a hug or kiss from someone including a family member, don’t make them. Do not tell them that they will get the toy they want if they hug or kiss their aunt or grandpa.
Gender identity is another topic that needs to be explained to children from the very beginning, said Dr Tanaya. She added that parents and teachers must teach children that gender is not binary- male and female. They should be taught about inclusiveness, body positivity and celebrating diversity, she added. Dr Tanaya said,
Conversations about gender identity and sexuality can be overwhelming due to the large spectrum, but it is important to tell children that it is okay to feel differently from the sex assigned to them at birth and that feeling a certain way for any gender is normal.
The stigma around menstruation is still very much there, according to Dr Tanaya. She said that many teenagers remain unaware about periods when they get it or when for the first time, they see blood spots on their friend’s dress. She said,
Make your child familiar with menstruation. Many teenagers hesitate to voice their doubts about it. It is important that they feel free to ask questions. Apart from teaching them about the menstrual cycle, tell them that it is important to see a doctor in case the young girls experience abnormally painful periods or have irregular periods.
Pave The Path To More Openness And Change: Experts
According to both the experts, it is important for the parents and school to create an environment of openness where the adolescents can ask questions without fearing any judgement from their reliable elders. While sharing tips for parents to have sexual health conversations with their children comfortably, Dr Tanaya suggested to watch out for opportunities that can help start those conversations which might include something on the TV or in the news. She further said,
Listen to you children and show trust and respect. Have positive conversations about sex with your child. If you will only focus on the negative consequences of sex, it will not be helpful. So, it is important to give your children the facts. Tell them how infections can be transmitted sexually, how to prevent those infections, how people become pregnant and how to prevent unplanned pregnancies.
While talking about sex education imparted at schools, she said that usually in class 4, good and bad touch appear in the textbooks but information about bodies, genitals, sexual and reproductive health only begins by class 8 and that too through medicalised way excluding the gender identities other than man and woman.
A majority of students have already reached puberty by then. In the absence of reliable information and support, in the early years, both girls and boys continue to remain confused and exposed to risks and abuse. It is important to arm the adolescents with the right information to protect their sexual health as well as their mental well-being and help them make safer choices, she said.
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene.