It is important to educate and disseminate information regarding sex and sexuality to children and young adults (Photo: Reuters)
| 6 min read

RainbowMan: Love, Sex Ed & Prejudice in the Age of Innocence

“Tch tch… What is this world coming to?” lamented an old man sitting next to me on the train to work. “14-year-old children are… are…”. He couldn’t even bring himself to complete the sentence. He was reacting to a newspaper report on how the average age of first sexual intercourse in India is 14 years.

Love starts brewing at a young age, so does the understanding of sex.

But instead of angrily dismissing it as “14-year-olds have no business having sex”, it is important to educate and disseminate information regarding sex and sexuality to children and young adults. Mainly because it is a wild perverted world out there and one needs to have good control over the mind and body during the growing up years.

Also, it is a myth that girls are more prone to sexual abuse than boys. Don’t believe me? Read all about it in this report “Study of Child Abuse : India 2007” published by the ministry of women and child development.

A young couple sits at the seafront in Mumbai (Photo: Reuters)
A young couple sits at the seafront in Mumbai (Photo: Reuters)

As per a recent survey, children as young as in their 9th or 10th grade are discovering their sexuality and experimenting. And it isn’t just the fear of teenage pregnancy; the risk of sexually transmitted diseases is also at an all-time high. We could find a thousand factors for the age of sexual intercourse to intersect with the age of innocence, but I can see just one solution - the importance of sex education needs to be emphasized. And it is best if parents do it.

Despite being the land of Vatsayana and Kamasutra, India shies from speaking out loud the three letter word – SEX. So how do modern Indian parents go about educating their children about birds and the bees.

Let’s take the case of my friend Revathi (name changed) a well-educated social worker whose first priority is to be a good and dependable parent to her human child. (I say human child as my two sons are feline. Not that I discriminate. I’m an equal opportunity parent. The species of my child doesn’t matter to me). Revathi wants to ensure that her boy has a safe, loving and educative childhood. She believes that growing children should be told about their psychological and physical changes so that they don’t grow up imagining that puberty is some sort of macho power that they are getting with every strand of baby beard and pubic hair. She wisely disseminates the information in little packets to ensure that curiosity is satiated with science, without compromising on the innate childish sense of wonder.

Archival picture of school girls looking at plastic models of a man and a woman at Antarang (inner view), India’s first ever sex museum, in Mumbai (Photo: Reuters)
Archival picture of school girls looking at plastic models of a man and a woman at Antarang (inner view), India’s first ever sex museum, in Mumbai (Photo: Reuters)

So, when her son pointed at the appendage in the joint of his legs, she said, “It is called penis”. When the boy asked if he came from her tummy, she explained the concept of a womb. When the boy attained puberty with involuntary nocturnal emissions, she said that’s called “sperm”. She didn’t ever cook up some fictitious story, or reprimand her son for asking her questions. Revathi provided appropriate answers to all questions they asked. She didn’t talk about sexual intercourse and responsible sex in those many words, but guess that’s on the agenda, when she deems fit.

All was hunky dory, until her son started interacting with other children in school who did not have such open minded parents. These other boys shared what they had learnt, with their folks, who were shell shocked! They complained to the school counselor about how their children were learning “obscene” things from one of Revathi’s boys. Revathi received a call from the counselor, who explained the ‘problem’ with him. A visibly shocked Revathi said “I have told him that it is called a penis”. She didn’t stop there. She educated the educated counselor and asked her if she could volunteer to conduct a workshop on sex and sexuality for the parents. She is yet to hear back from the school about her proposal.

Teachers display a card with an illustration depicting a girl going through a medical check-up by a doctor, as they describe preventive measures to avoid when sexual harassment occurs (Photo: Reuters)
Teachers display a card with an illustration depicting a girl going through a medical check-up by a doctor, as they describe preventive measures to avoid when sexual harassment occurs (Photo: Reuters)

A similar case of right upbringing is that of Kabir, my dear friend Sheetal’s son. I have been a frequent visitor at Sheetal’s house right from her pregnancy to now. Kabir fondly refers to me as Mama. So, when I was hosting a queer event with his mother, the four-year-old wanted to join us. When they arrived, I rushed to greet them. I was wearing dark red lipstick, exploring my feminine side. Sheetal instantly screamed at me, saying “OMG, the lipstick is awful!”. On listening to this, Kabir reprimanded his mother asking “Mama ko pasand hai toh aapko kya problem hai?” Sheetal couldn’t hold back tears of pride and joy listening to this young boy’s wisdom.

Sheetal, like Revathi, had informed her son that, “There are some boys, who love boys, there are some boys who love girls, there are some boys who love boys and girls. All of them love. We should not judge them.” Little did she know though that there would come a day when her unintended judgments will get her son to reprimand her, though she was very proud of it.

Participants take part in a gay pride parade in New Delhi (Photo: Reuters)
Participants take part in a gay pride parade in New Delhi (Photo: Reuters)

Finally, there is my wise niece, Paulomi, who was a toddler, just learning to speak when I introduced her to my then boyfriend, Ashwin (name changed). With twinkling eyes and a bright smile she asked me “Maami?” For her, Mama’s partner is Maami. That’s how she sees the world. For her the concept of gender didn’t exist.

Such are children, quick to grasp things from what they see with unadulterated innocence. Morality is much debated and overrated. The real problem lies with our closed-minded parenting. We still feel shy to speak about sex and sexuality with our children. As Mahabanoo Kotwal, the actor from Vagina Monologues rightly said in an event, “We have closed our minds, and opened our legs”.

We live in a nation where our chosen ministers watch porn in the parliament. And when they are not doing that, they are busy adding religious flavour and political colour to school textbooks. Till our schools don’t come of age, and parents tell children, “God put you on my tummy”, the age of the first sexual intercourse will remain at 14, and may probably even fall. Wouldn’t it be wiser to take a leaf out of Revathi or Sheetal’s book of responsible parenting?

I end this piece with a link to my TEDx talk on “What If We Had A Culture Of Speaking About Sex?”. Enjoy!

(Harish Iyer is an equal rights activist working for the rights of the LGBT community, women, children and animals. ‘RainbowMan’ is Harish’s regular blog for The Quint)