Possibly the most difficult conversation to have with your child, dubbed The Talk, is about sex. We understand; the taboos associated with this makes it an uncomfortable and easily avoidable conversation, however, something as natural as sex should not be prohibited to discuss. This conversation is a step in dismantling the taboo. Due to the daunting nature of the topic, we encourage creating an environment where it is comfortable to speak about before getting right to it. As parents, you will need to ensure that the minimal foundation is laid — this includes things like referring to genitalia with their names rather than a less-shameful version of them (such as penis or vagina instead of “private parts”), discussing how to maintain proper hygiene of genitalia, and above all, being open to questions. It is best that your child comes to you with these questions rather than looking for the answers themselves — though a certain amount of independence is encouraged — to prevent any sort of miseducation they may pick up from other sources. As an adult, you, too, need to be comfortable with talking about this topic with no shame. It is necessary that we break this cycle that promotes miseducation then repercussions, and having this Talk is a step in doing so.
The first, most associated aspect with sex: the physical process. Here is the associated explanation: an erect penis penetrates a vagina, and is stimulated by movement to release semen. The vagina lubricates its walls for ease of movement, and if released into the vagina, semen travels to the uterus where fertilisation occurs. This act is referred to as coitus, also referred to as intercourse, and can lead to pregnancy — it is notable to mention here that this is discussing only one type of sexual experience. Regardless of this, it is important to practice safe sex to prevent any unplanned pregnancies, as well as to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. There are multiple methods to facilitate safe sex, and we recommend that you explain each method that you are aware of to your child.
The act of intercourse does not have to be between a man and a woman, nor does it need to be for reproductive purposes. Sex can be for pleasure, and one way to satisfy the urge for pleasure is masturbation. Depending on the age of your child, masturbation can be a conversation for another time. It is broadly noticed that around three years after hitting puberty, children begin to feel the urge to masturbate. This is an activity for pleasure, and something only your child can do for themselves. Your child may be confused and scared due to the changes in what they are feeling, so it is important to address that they may feel the need to masturbate, and they should be able to, depending on their choices and comfort with themselves. Their pleasure is not, once again, a taboo. Even within intercourse, if it is pleasure they are seeking, reinforce that there is no shame in that.
Here is where we begin to talk about the emotional aspect of sex. Sex is not limited to physical attraction. While it does play a role, emotions do, too: the vulnerability, comfort, and trust that comes with sex is all a part of it. Before your child can feel comfortable with someone else, they must feel comfortable with themselves, with their body. The act of being vulnerable with someone, of trusting someone with their body is an act only your child will know when they are ready for. Feeling ready is also something only your child will know when they feel it, and feeling ready looks different for everyone. Do emphasise that there is no rush to having sex, and no shame in wanting to have sex. Additionally, before they can have sex themselves, they must also be comfortable with the idea of it, and be comfortable discussing it with their partner. Another requirement before sex is consent: anything without consent is no longer sex, nor intercourse. It is violence.
This conversation will not be easy to have, and you must create a comfortable atmosphere for it, where your child is okay with asking questions. You must be comfortable talking about the topic itself before you can talk to your child about it. It cannot be rushed through, and you can do it over multiple conversations, which may be ideal considering the weight of this matter.
The prejudices within sex itself, including but not limited to those based on sex, gender, or sexuality are all aspects of sex your child should be sensitive towards. It must be emphasised that what they might see as sex in any form of media (especially pornography) does not imitate what sex actually is — here is where the atmosphere is important. Your child should feel comfortable discussing any questions or concerns they may have, to prevent miseducation through media. We wish you best of luck on this conversation, and though it may take a few attempts, it will be beneficial for your child.
Until next week,
Samara from the REDefine Team.
Written with guidance from Dr. Shilpa Gupta, Parenting and Emotional Well-being Coach.
Featured artwork by Prathna Anand