Sex education in India: a dad's take

by Shubhankar Roy

Panic and a cold sweat.

Isn’t that a universal feeling for most parents in India when they think of discussing anything related to sex with their children?

The unsaid rule about sex education is “children will figure it out”. Most parents think like this and avoid a conversation about sex.

As a father, I am also learning about navigating this part of my child's growing up.

Dear parents, why so uncomfortable?

My generation never discussed sex education. We never spoke about it with our parents. That's probably why we are confused about how to talk to our children and where to start.

Many of us equate the subject of sex education to just the act of sex. But sex education is so much more than that. It includes talking about parts of our body, how the male and female body is different, about appropriate and inappropriate touches. Before we can talk about the act of sex, talking about these things is essential. Without this context, talking about sex would be like talking about how to cook a dish without talking about the ingredients required for it.

For some parents “the talk” might mean a single sit down discourse or lecture that you give your children. More often than not, this is impractical and might leave the child with more questions than answers.

What it should be is a two way discussion. Children are naturally curious. They ask a lot of questions, and they will eventually ask things that you might not be ready for. Rather than avoiding, give them an answer that is age appropriate. And if you don't know, tell them you'll get back to them.

This does two things, it satiates their curiosity and they also realise that it's a safe topic to discuss with their parents.

The earlier you embrace it, the easier it becomes down the line.

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Sex education in India and around the world 

In 2007 India's Ministry of Human Resource Development introduced the sex education curriculum. It was scrapped because of protests, not only from political circles but also teachers.

Although in the recent NEP there’s no mention of sexual education, the Ayushman Bharat Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana touches some important areas (Improving Sexual & Reproductive Health, Puberty, STI, Early marriage) and has the right overarching intention. It also mentions roles, responsibilities and stakeholders to add accountability.

Around the world the example of the Dutch approach to sex education is cited as an ideal one.

Children are introduced to the concept of relationships and to the idea of appropriate and inappropriate touch at the age of 4. By the time they are 11, they are comfortable discussing safe sex, sexual abuse and reproduction.

Netherlands boasts of one of the lowest rates of teen pregnancy, HIV and STI’s, which can be attributed to the way sex education is embraced from early years of learning.

In India, being a progressive parent is hard. You and your child don't live in a bubble. It's natural for children to talk about sex with their cousins or friends. And this might upset some of your friends or family who still consider talking about sex inappropriate.

My generation of parents has witnessed a lot of change. There was a time when things like public display of affection and homosexuality was taboo. That has changed today. And I'm sure that sex education can also go through a rebranding.

What might work and why sex education is important

Like many of you reading this, this is new to me and I realize I am every bit likely to mess up at times. But I’ve started approaching this like an adventure, where I’m learning as I go.

The good thing is there have been some welcome changes in the Indian schooling system around sex education. Children are introduced to the concept of good touch and bad touch in their early school years.

But sadly there’s no discussion around the subject until the chapter “human reproductive system”. 

This is where parents need to fill the gap. We need to give our children an environment that's safe to discuss uncomfortable topics. Sometimes it will mean saying that you don’t know how to explain and that you’ll get back to them, rather than avoiding it.

It might feel uncomfortable at the beginning, but believe me, it gets better for both the parent and the child. My hope is that if I can have natural conversations about sexuality and sexual choices & consent with my child, it is much less likely for him to have distorted ideas. I also think it will help him stand up for himself.

Today children are easily influenced - they watch movies, reality shows on Netflix and are constantly on social media. You can’t blame them if they are influenced by these and start creating a contorted picture in their mind about sex, gender and sexuality.

If we as parents want to give our children a chance of a future where people of any sexual orientation have their rights and there’s no sexual violence & crimes - then we have to start talking to our kids.

The author works at Openhouse and has a son who is approaching the teenage years.