Recently, my child’s 10-year-old god-sister (godmother’s daughter) asked her mom, “When two gay men have sex, does one of them turn into a woman?”
A childhood friend’s 10-year-old son asked, “Why do you have to be naked to have sex?”
Alarm bells for both moms. It’s time for that talk. And they are struggling to do it the right away.
We live in an age in which sex is all around us—on our smartphone screens, easily surfable and easily buyable. Yet sex is never fully explained to children. Most Indian schools don’t have sex education in their curricula. In Lounge’s Independence Day issue this year, we reported that the Adolescence Education Programme (AEP) launched by the government in 2005 ran into trouble with state governments and didn’t quite take off. Three years ago, in a vision document for education in Delhi schools that the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Harsh Vardhan prepared in the run-up to assembly elections, he said that “so-called ‘sex education’ (is) to be banned”. We spoke to Anju Kishinchandani, who conducts sex education workshops in Mumbai schools and neighbourhoods through her company Out of the Box. “We take for granted that the child would know things. But (puberty) is completely new for them. It can cause so much worry,” says Kishinchandani,” she told us.
On 23 October, The Telegraph reported that the Ministry of Human Resources and Development forced an expert panel to condense its recommendations on sex education because the word “sex” could offend people. The draft suggested adolescents should be provided with “age-appropriate context intervention focused on reproductive and sexual health concerns, including HIV/AIDS and drug and substance abuse”. This was condensed to a one-line sentence: “The Adolescent Education Programme and National Population Education Programme need to be extended to all schools as early as possible.”
Sex is taboo in most Indian families. It is not mentioned, forget discussed. Our parents never explained what the big deal was. When I was around 12, the Baptist Missionary convent I went to screened a sex education documentary for the class—separately for boys and girls. Most of it had science diagrams, and the fundamental question was answered: How are babies born? How do male and female reproductive organs work? It had no mention of contraception, and homosexuality or any other kinds of sexualities. We left the screening with giggles and many unanswered questions.
Millennial parents have a tough job in their hands. With so much of sexual stimulation on the screens we or our adolescent children have to navigate to get by, the difference between sexual abuse and sexual pleasure, the means for safe sex are necessary to understand.
In an essay in The Guardian last week, Philippe Brenot , author of The Story of Sex writes, “Humans always make love away from the group. This is one of the great problems with sexuality: on the one hand it requires education; on the other, culture and religion collude to suppress sexual education.”
In the third millennium, it’s time to make love with the group. Let’s talk about sex together.