By Zofeen Maqsood
Author, playwright, speaker and stand-up comedian Anju Kish wears many hats. But in all the roles that she straddles, there is a common thread that forms the core of her narratives — sex education for kids. The talk about the birds and bees has traditionally been a sensitive, even uncomfortable topic for parents to broach with their growing up kids, especially in India, where sex education in school still remains scarcely dwelled upon.
No stranger to the dilemma herself, Kish started her journey as a sexuality educator after she was confronted by the innocent queries of her growing son. Convinced that India lacked a platform to ease curious little minds while imparting them knowledge, Kish launched her company UnTaboo, which deals with imparting sexuality and safety education to kids and teens.
Recently Anju Kish also launched her book How I Got My Belly Button that talks about bringing important topics such as puberty, sex and how adolescence changes little bodies, into urgent conversations at home.
Express Parenting caught up with the author to talk about the right time to discuss the dreaded three-letter word and why topics such as puberty and growing up should be comfortable conversations at home.
Let’s talk about your book How I Got My Belly Button. Why do you think it was important to address this issue?
Sex education has been a much-neglected issue, which needs to be addressed urgently as we are seeing the impact that lack of structured and age appropriate sex education is causing.
Children’s exposure to adult content in their daily life is tremendous today and this leads to increased levels of curiosity. But there is silence at home and also in schools on these topics and the kids turn to the internet to satisfy their curiosity. The unfiltered and age inappropriate information they get there leads to distorted views about sex and related issues. According to experts, it also leads to developmental and behavioural issues. We have to un-taboo these talks and help our kids grow up with positive messages and a responsible attitude.
Age-appropriate sex education is something I strongly believe in. How I got my Belly Button is an effort in that direction, to ease the way for parents to start conversations on these topics.
Talking about puberty remains one of the trickiest conversations among parents. What are your tips on navigating it?
Puberty is one of the most easily navigated topics, because it does not involve a talk on sex. The puberty conversation revolves around the changes expected during puberty – physical, emotional, social and behavioural changes. That is it – it is as simple as that!
Here are some tips to help you start this conversation:
* First talk about the physical differences in the body of a boy and girl.
* Move to talking about physical differences in the body of a child and adult.
* Tell them that these are the changes which will happen to them too when they start puberty.
* Most of the changes during puberty are common between a girl and a boy, but some changes are gender specific – so explain those in detail. For example:
- Boys: Voice cracking, erections, wet dreams (don’t get scared by these – this can be explained without any sexual connotations!).
- Girls: Breast development and periods (this again can be explained without going into the sexual act and egg fertilisation route).
* Make sure you talk about the emotional changes – mood swings, crushes, etc.
* Be sure to do a lot of gender sensitisation while having these talks.
Talking about these topics gives you an opportunity to slip in your values along with factual information.
More importantly, how does one as a parent really know the right time to talk about sex?
There is actually never a ‘wrong time’ to have this talk. When a question is asked by a child, it is the right time to start talking. When an ad for a sanitary napkin is being shown on TV, it is the right time. When watching TV, a kissing scene comes on, it is the right time. When a bird makes a nest in your window and lays an egg, it is the right time. When you see a pregnant lady, it is the right time!
Don’t wait for that one opportune moment to start this conversation with your child. Every moment is a teachable one and you don’t have to tell them everything at one go. These small conversations which you build up over a period of time as they grow up are more impactful. This also sends out a strong message to them that it is okay to ask you things and that these things are normal. And never worry about giving out too much information, because a child retains only what he understands, while the rest is filtered out.
Also, don’t wait for a child to ask you a question before beginning this conversation, because not every child asks. In fact, most don’t and we end up believing that our child is still very naive and is not thinking about these things. That’s the biggest mistake we can make. If your child doesn’t ask, you initiate the conversation.
Do you feel fathers should also create a meaningful and safe space to discuss so-called taboo topics?
I strongly believe that conversations about puberty, sex, safety and growing up should not be gender based, i.e. dads will only talk to sons and moms to daughters. These conversations should be family conversations and initiated when kids are small, so that there is no awkwardness. It is beautiful when a daughter can go to her dad and ask for a hot water bag because she is having period cramps or a son can tell his mom that he is having wet dreams and needs help to change the sheets.
A daughter may need the physical presence of her mother more when she is experiencing changes in her body at puberty and needs help with getting a bra or learning how to wear a sanitary pad, but that should not stop a daughter and dad from bonding over these topics at a conversational level. Getting a male perspective also gives the child a complete picture.
I urge fathers to get over their hesitation and initiate these conversations with their daughters. Open and positive conversations at home can create such a beautiful bond between a parent and child.
Sex education has remained a taboo in Indian society. What should be the positive first step to begin a change towards that direction?
I personally feel that sex education sets alarm bells ringing and is more a taboo because of the presence of the word ‘sex’ in ‘sex education’. That automatically makes people think that it is a talk on sex with their kids and they thus reject it outright. I started using the platform of stand-up comedy a year ago to bust mindsets about sex education and make it more acceptable. I feel that comedy allows you to say the harsh truth under the garb of humour and make it more hard-hitting. My mind unblocking talks with adults which I do in schools and social clubs also help break away the walls of silence people have in their homes.
The key is to help decode ‘sex education’ and make people understand that sex education does not mean a talk on sex. In fact, the sexual act is not even spoken about till a certain age. It is very age appropriate and incremental learning, which includes in its orbit tons of topics like puberty, good touch-bad touch, safety, reproduction, gender sensitisation, behaviour, peer pressure besides others. In fact, at every age, there is a need for sex education and it is a lifelong process of garnering information and forming attitudes and beliefs.
The government making Sex Education compulsory and part of the school curriculum would be a huge positive step forward too, towards a safer and responsible nation. But each one of us opening the doors of communication and talking to our kids at home would be the first step forward towards the larger picture. So, let’s strive to un-taboo sex education and help raise a generation of responsible young adults.