Our son is 11 and I am keen to have a frank chat with him on sex education. My queries are: 1) What is the right age to do this? 2) Is there a right way to do this—any book, etc.? 3) We got “educated” by default and this has worked fine for us—my parents never had any chat with me on this. Would having a formal chat increase curiosity unnecessarily, i.e., are we creating too much of a fuss about this? Is it better that he learns on his own? He already seems to know quite a lot. 4) How do we cover controversial subjects like gays, porn on the Net, etc.? 5) Instead of parents doing this session, will children be more comfortable if it is done by an independent agency?
There are many different ages and stages at which you talk to your children about sex. There is no single “birds-and-bees talk” which one can have and “get it over with”. As you say, by this age children today already have some ideas on the subject. However, those are often sketchy, out-and-out wrong, or surrounded by much speculation, giggling and a kind of lurid interest. What you can do at various stages of your child’s growing up is to provide age-appropriate information on sex—both the physical aspects and the emotional ones. The parents’ role in this matter, most importantly, is to provide healthy, non-awkward information and debunk the wrong notions, guilt and the kind of “ikky fascination” children have with the subject.
I don’t believe that being educated by default is a good idea. Sure, some people grew up stumbling upon information and dealing with their own sexual desires and encounters in whatever way they could. However, why avoid and side-step an issue and risk your child getting warped ideas and being drawn into experimentation, porn, etc., without having armed him in any way with any knowledge or emotional preparedness on the subject?
Let’s talk about sex: While doing so, it’s important to be at ease with your child. Thinkstock
It’s important for a parent to be at ease with the subject, and also know how much he/she would like to discuss. There are many books in the market, especially if you want to show your child diagrams and functions of sexual and reproductory organs. However, the emotional and social implications of sex and sexual behaviour must come from you. I suggest parents avoid bringing in religion, God, punishment, permission, and keep the conversation about sex as an extension of a respectful, joyous and loving relationship with a partner.
As for porn, it exists out there and what you can hope to do is restrict access on the Internet. Avoid labelling it too heavily as “evil” and “disgusting”. Perhaps you can, over time, stress that sex is a one-to-one interaction that can be healthy and fulfilling.
You could definitely ask your child’s school to introduce sex education at various levels. There are many excellent sex educators who could conduct sessions in schools. In such sessions, children are also encouraged to write anonymous questions, which are read out and adequately answered. Of course, this does not mean that parents should avoid talking about sex with their children. It just means that, in addition to parents, other responsible adults can provide information and help children deal with their emerging sexuality.
Gouri Dange is the author of ABCs of Parenting.
Write to Gouri at email@example.com