5. Sex Education that Informs
I THINK one of the worst things that parents do when children touch themselves is to say ‘shame, shame’. That’s where it starts. I’m not saying one should encourage children to masturbate all the time. But it’s normal and you must tell them about it,” says dancer Mallika Sarabhai, one of India’s most strident voices on women’s empowerment. She represents the small and enlightened section of parents who don’t obfuscate sexuality in bringing up kids.
“My five-year-old son saw a tampon and wanted to know what it was. So, I didn’t say it was an earplug. I told him that women have eggs. And some of these eggs can become a child and you came out of my egg. But when the egg doesn’t become a child, the inside of a woman needs to clean itself. So everything goes out as blood. And that blood spills everywhere. In order for it not to spill, this is what we use. I’m sure it made no sense to him then. But my kids never came back to me to say, ‘You lied.’ Of course, they never felt ashamed of their bodies,” she says.
Tarshi, an NGO that has worked on educating India about sex for 20 years now, has a yellow book that parents can buy and an orange one for teachers that explains how to talk about sex to a child. How even in naming the parts of the body, if parents and teachers omit the genitals, they are creating taboos around sex. Tarshi is frequently called upon to hold workshops with parents and teachers to train them in how to have conversations on sex. It has also tried to impress upon government bodies to mainstream these lessons. While a few more progressive officers readily agree, the overall takeaway has still been a big NO.
The most common misgiving Tarshi encounters among parents and teachers is, “Will sex education endorse having sex with each other for my adolescent kid?” Tarshi explains that there has so far been no link to show that adolescents are encouraged to start having sex because they are told about it any more than they try making bombs after their chemistry class. However, the absence of knowledge of their bodies is actually harmful. Girls grow up frightened of their bodies, especially of menstruation. Boys grow up thinking that wet dreams are abnormal. Warped notions on sexuality are the first steps in creating conditions for warped ideas about sex and violence.
Tarshi has also started a campaign for asking for sexual education in India to be revamped. Its critique of the existing lessons makes a compelling and urgent case for taking sex education out of the dark ages, where it is still described to students and even to teachers in their training manuals as “a sperm fusing with an ova”, which, as far as students are concerned, could be an activity happening in outer space.
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