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India: Outsourcing the sex talk

– The first time you have sex you cannot get pregnant.

– If you have sex standing up you won’t make a baby.

– AIDS happens only in Africa.

These are just some of the myths that teens constantly bring up at Anju Kishinchan dani’s sex education workshops in Mumbai. Most of these misconceptions stem from how teens get their information. “They listen in on older kids talking on the school bus, or swap stories with friends,” Kishinchandani says. And then there is the dubious nature of information found on the world wide web.

Keen to educate their precocious kids about the facts of life but unsure of how to go about it, many parents are outsourcing “the talk”. Kishinchandani, a former journalist who was inspired to start the `Out of the Box’ workshops three years ago after having the talk with her own son, says that while new-age parents realize it’s important to l communicate with their kids about sex, they are often clueless about how to initiate the discussion. Even those who share a close rapport with their children and are willing to take on the topic are unsure about what is age-appropriate and how much the children need to know.

“Many parents fear they may be taking away their children’s innocence,” says Kishinchandani, revealing that the discomfort also stems from the fact that most probably never received the talk as kids. “The hesitation has been ingrained in most of us,” she says.

Manisha Choudhury of Bangalore-based Enfold Proactive Health Trust, which conducts workshops across India for groups of 20, believes sex educators are also helping parents cross an invisible line with their children. “Parents will teach children table manners or how to cross the road, etc but they feel so awkward talking about sex with their kids,” she says.

Most of these educators use slide shows, animated films, interactive sessions and games to demystify sex in sessions which can be priced from Rs 50 to 2,000 upwards per child. “The goal is to build nor malcy around sex,” says Sushant Kalra of the Parwarish Institute of Parenting in Delhi. Sex education programmes conducted in schools focus on physical changes brought on by puberty, but these workshops go beyond biology. Those with children aged 8-12 focus on physical and emotional changes brought on by puberty, including topics like menstruation, trainer bras, erections, genital hygiene and safety (“good touch, bad touch”), the teen classes for those aged 13-15 tackle the sex act, wet dreams, STDs and pregnancies, date drugs and the dangers of social media.

The popularity of these workshops also stems from parental concerns about sexual abuse. But Ketaki Chowkhani, a Tata Institute of Social Sciences student who is researching sex education in urban India, says a child learning about his/her body in this context can also be cause for concern. “Children need to know about their bodies without any sense of shame or fear. They need to be told about consent, pleasure and choice.”

To rid sexual acts of their shameful associations, some workshops take on topics like pornography and masturbation head on. Kishinchandani, who claims the average age for viewing porn in India today is 11, says when she brings up the topic, most kids admit to watching it. “I understand the curios ity but I tell teens it’s important they realize that what is shown — well-endowed women and men, hours of stamina — is not the norm,” she says.

Chandra Mansukhani, who heads the adolescent clinic at Delhi’s Gangaram Hospital and addresses small gatherings where sex-related problems are discussed, says parents aren’t the only ones shying away from the topic. “The girls prefer this information coming from a doctor or a professional who they can look up and listen to,” she says. Rakhee Gupta, a Mumbai parent who sent her 13-year-old son to Kishinchandani’s workshop, admits that while she shares an open relationship with her boy, talking about adult topics with her became easier after the session. “He was so embarrassed if I brought it up earlier. But after an authority figure shared the information with him and his friends, he has become more open. The other day, he even asked us what Viagra is,” says Gupta.

But Kalra is of the opinion that it’s a lesson best delivered by parents. “If a child has a problem, whether it’s a `bad touch’ or the need to explore his/her sexuality, parents hope the kid will come to them. If they want that, they have to open this door,” he says. Last year, Kalra added a second component to his `Body Science’ session for parents.

Children were brought in for the talk initiated by parents, with Kalra and his associates stepping in when required. “It can be awkward,” says Kalra. “The first questions kids have after the sex talk for parents is — you did this too?” Sex educators worry that health minister Harsh Vardhan’s recent declaration of a ban on sex education in schools is a setback to the work they’re doing. “The reach I have is limited.

Schools have a wider audience,” says Kishinchandani, while Kalra concludes, “While the ban may not affect our functioning, the shame associated with it will. It will kill what we are trying to achieve.”

Source: Times of India

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