So, We Talked About Sex (Education)
On Friday, The Swaddle hosted its first community event with a panel discussion on sex education in Indian schools. With five amazing panelists and moderator Tara Sharma, the discussion ranged from hilarious to sincere as our experts articulated their arguments and drew on real-life experiences.
The panel was united on the need for sex education in Indian schools, but consensus also identified parents’ attitudes as the biggest stumbling block. Widespread misunderstanding around what sexual education entails prompted Tara to kick off the discussion by asking panelists, what, exactly, is sex education?
Radhika Sharma, of the NGO Arpan: “Sex education is something that can be fun, accurate, age-appropriate, and very, very needed.”
Educator Prriety Gosalia: “Education (in general) is supposed to prepare children for later life and sexual relationships are part of later life.”
FirstPost.com former sex columnist Rukun Kaul: “Sex education is building a platform for kids, for people to build relationships with themselves and their partners. Puberty—that needs to be discussed. Menstruation—that needs to be discussed. Consent—that needs to be discussed.”
Family psychologist Sonali Gupta added that sex education should include sensitivity to homosexuality and the right to say no.
(We at The Swaddle would add that sex education means providing kids with the biological, psychological and social information required to understand and respect their own and others’ bodies.)
Missed the event? You can still be part of the conversation! Listen to a recording of the discussion here and leave your thoughts in the comments.
Panelists all had the same answer to the next question: at what age should children receive sex education? It varies, they said. All recommended children be introduced to certain concepts from very early ages at home, though stressed that it should be done in an age-appropriate manner.
“Keep the child curious, but don’t overwhelm them with information,” advised Radhika. “It need not be a compartmentalized conversation; it can be a part of many conversations with your child.”
Sonali gave an example of home-based, age-appropriate sex education with a tale of her own young daughter, who recently asked if every Disney princess had to have a prince. “It’s as simple as saying, ‘Not every princess needs a prince. Some princesses like other princesses.'”
Prriety shed light on current practices in many Indian schools, which often send parental consent forms for sex education of children age 12. (Forms that often come back with consent denied, she said.) But she admits that’s probably a late age, and children could be educated earlier.
“It’s very subjective; whenever a (sex-related) question comes in a child’s mind, we need to answer it,” she said. “Kids are going to learn through experimenting if we don’t give them the answers.”
Nilima advocated starting structured sex education at age 10, which is the youngest target age of her company’s educational videos.
“Parents have a fear of what they think sex ed is; they think it’s malicious.” But, she went on to explain, when they see videos’ content, see that the information is conveyed through kid-friendly cartoons and likens a sperm fertilizing an egg to mixing a cake, they are more comfortable.
All panelists agreed that for sex education to become a part of school curricula, parents needed to be involved.
“You (parents) are going to be the backbone of a program,” Radhika explained. “We all have to take responsibility for this.”
Prriety agreed. While sometimes state governments get in the way of sex ed curricula, schools and parents working together are a powerful force for change.
“We need to stand, make a voice, and do it,” she challenged.
Prriety admitted it will be a process with two hurdles: The first, establishing the need for sex education in schools, and the second, effectively and accurately implementing a curriculum.
Until sex education is included in schools, all panelists agreed parents must take responsibility for explaining this key aspect of life.
“It’s a child’s right,” Radhika said. “Once we view it like that, it becomes easier to say, ‘It is my child’s right, so how do I be involved?'”
Ultimately, Nilima said, whether in schools or at home, adults need to take responsibility to clear the shame and embarrassment that tinges so many of these discussions.
“Decide not to feel or show it,” she advised. “Because when you don’t, kids don’t feel it either.”
A final tip from Dr Mahindra Watsa, the Mumbai Mirror’s resident sexpert, who joined the other panelists on stage to field audience questions after the discussion: “Start with hygiene.” Sex education only succeeds, he said, if it includes helping people understand how their bodies work.
A big thanks to everyone who helped make this event a success, especially moderator Tara Sharma, our panelists and Dr Watsa. And last but not least – thank you, readers! It was wonderful to meet many of you face-to-face and to see your interest in this important topic. Visit our Facebook page for more photos of this event!
See you at the next Swaddle event!