No more birds and bees

Break the silence and disseminate right information on sex education in schools, say experts

Updated - July 02, 2014 04:05 pm IST

Published - July 01, 2014 07:21 pm IST

Participants at a workshop tie their hands in a knot to depict confusion about sexuality in the society. Photo: Nagara Gopal

Participants at a workshop tie their hands in a knot to depict confusion about sexuality in the society. Photo: Nagara Gopal

No wonder Dr Harsh Vardhan is an ENT surgeon. He never got a chance to study body parts below them’ .

This is one of the many Twitter jokes as a reaction to Union health minister’s Dr. Harsh Vardhan’s comments on sex education programme in schools. (The minister later clarified his statement). The remarks have once again brought the focus back on a subject considered a taboo in society. As the academic year begins, city schools chart a time table for different subjects. Besides topics like general knowledge and moral science, sex education too finds a slot in some schools which give the subject its priority. While in some schools, a gynaecologist shares her wisdom, in others, the biology teacher takes the class but is the information disseminated in the right way?

When and how?! That’s the predicament most parents face while talking to their children about education in responsible sexuality. Instead of parents and teachers waiting for students to mature and understand sexuality at their own pace, sex education has to start early, states Dr. Shaibya Saldanha. Besides being a gynaecologist, she is at the forefront as a co-founder of Enfold providing value-based curriculum on responsible sexuality, life skills and personal safety in schools and colleges. From June to August, she is occupied with her workshops and sessions at different cities across the country. “Our thrust is to create a social environment where relationships are based on mutual respect, each gender is equally valued and every child is safe,” she says.

At her ongoing-workshop organised by Break the Silence at Goethe Zentrum, the first session traces the evolution of sexuality. “What happens when you stop talking about sex?” she asks, and adds, “Take a look at the bad and swear words. Sexual taboo has created words that are negative to the female.”

Counsellors have a bigger role to play as they establish a rapport with students and help them face their anxieties and fears. “Parents have to start early and talk often with their children. They have to open the channel of communication or else children seek information from wrong channels,” says Juhi, a counsellor working with Meridian school. Youngsters are vociferous in supporting sex education in schools. Teenagers Dhishna and Laasya believe informative classes will go a long way in making a safe society. “Half of the sexual crimes by youngsters happen because they are not guided in the right way,” says Dhishna. Adds Laasya, “Classes taken by a qualified individual will make a lot of difference. One should know how to put it across to the children.”

It is important to ensure that a child has the correct support system, says Frane, a teacher with Future Kids. “Curious children in our generation would ask questions. But today’s generation will not ask, they just Google. Getting information from a wrong source will misguide them about something which is actually beautiful.” she says and recalls how her friend in college thought kissing would make one pregnant! “While studying in a convent school at Jamshedpur, we would regularly have sex education classes by a nun. We would be even shown videos on contraception and child birth process. ” she says.

An engineering student Rukmini talks about the paradoxical views prevalent in society. “It is an irony that we don’t want to talk about sex. But as soon as one gets married, one is expected to have a baby.”

Right kind of sex education should be imparted at a young age to make children aware and safe from abuse, says Dr. Shaibya. “One should regularly talk to children. Just like we teach them about eating food, washing hands regularly or social etiquette, we should slowly introduce them to sexual education. You should help them understand about body space, maintaining boundaries in relationships and in society. Parents are primary care givers and they should talk about it instead of brushing it off as an embarrassment. Parents should start talking about body parts and their function when their baby is 2 1/2 years old. Their body language should be such that the child is encouraged to talk about abuse if it takes place. We should break the silence and empower the child,” she says.

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