Separating Your Societal Ideals from Your Personal Beliefs

As the puberty series comes to an end, we hope that we’ve been able to provide some comfort to you and your child during this confusing phase. Before concluding, there is one more topic that needs to be addressed. As your child begins their journey through puberty, they will be bombarded with a colossal amount of information from various external sources. We believe it is important for them to know how to ignore erroneous information. 

First and foremost, let’s discuss the definition of societal ideals and personal beliefs. Societal ideals are the expectations that society and/or our communities enforce on us. On the other hand, our personal beliefs include, but are not limited to, our morals and cultural practices. The purpose of this article is to help you integrate the idea that personal beliefs take precedence over the norms of society into your talk.

Our society influences the way people think about menstruation and puberty. In India, people who menstruate are compelled to be ashamed of their cycle and all which is associated with it. We scarcely find people talking about this topic in public, and during the rare occasion that it is discussed, it is riddled with taboos and stigma. Menstruation is still used, by our society, as an opportunity to isolate those who menstruate. For instance, in India, 23,000,000 people leave school when they start their period. This can be due to the lack of access to sanitary products, or discouragement from family members. Which, in turn, prevents them from completing their education, hence hindering their ability to get good jobs in the future. Although this is more evident in rural India, it certainly isn’t absent in urban areas. Most shops still pack sanitary pads in black bags so that they can remain “hidden.” Similarly, most of us have experienced the embarrassment of taking a pad out in class. The reason that this is included in the series is to prevent your child from incorporating inaccurate information. Help them understand that menstruating isn’t a limitation and they shouldn’t give into information that says otherwise. 

However, it isn’t just society that dictates our outlook on puberty and menstruation. Adolescents are exposed to a variety of other sources of information. The most obvious and arguably the most influential is social media. Although I agree that social media is a great platform to spread awareness, it is also a breeding ground for false information. Social media encourages the creation of unrealistic standards. I remember watching a video where a person discussed how productive and positive they are during their period. It made me feel guilty for sometimes being tired, moody, and unproductive on my period. I couldn’t watch that person’s videos without feeling this way and it made me feel even more guilty because I knew that my ambivalence and lethargy is completely normal. Moreover, adolescents tend to get a vast amount of information from magazines like Cosmopolitan. Although these magazines are great for entertainment, they shouldn’t be your child’s primary source of information. It is because these magazines often publish articles like “How to keep your Boyfriends Happy in a Relationship,” which may encourage harmful ideas about relationships and sex.

To prevent your child from internalising misleading ideas, it is vital to prepare them to filter information. In a day and age like today, it is impossible (and impractical) to completely isolate your child from the internet. A more practical approach is for you to encourage your child to speak to you during a period of crisis (which I assure you will happen often enough), or inform them of more accurate sources like Healthline or books like Just for Girls/ Just for Boys if they are younger. 

Before we end the series, I would like to remind you that every child is different. Each one will handle these complicated situations the best way they know how to. Give them time to adjust to these changes and their new perspective on life.

We hope you enjoy reading the articles as much as we loved writing them!

Signing off,

Tihara from the REDefine Team

Featured artwork by Sanvee Jatia

Vaginal Hygiene

With sex and its subsequent concepts out of the way, there is still a topic of importance to be addressed when it comes to puberty: hygiene. In people who menstruate, periods are a messy and unpredictable time, but a compromise should never be made in maintaining cleanliness. Since—  and especially because — ill-hygiene can lead to ill-health, it is necessary to discuss vaginal hygiene.

Vaginitis is a broad term used to describe the numerous illnesses that can cause infection or inflammation of the vagina. Common symptoms include a change in vaginal discharge, itching in and around the vagina, and burning sensations during urination. It is crucial that these discussions are not made taboo, so that your children may confide in you if they may  face such symptoms. Some symptoms may overlap with those of other illnesses or could present as a combination of one disorder and another. It is best not to try and diagnose these illnesses by yourself and consult a medical professional if they arise.

Vaginal discharge is a normal and observed occurrence. Each individual’s discharge differs, and it can change consistency and colour depending on the day of the menstrual cycle. Discharge changes around ovulation and before the period starts — during ovulation it may present as stickier than usual, and during the end of the cycle as creamier than usual. These changes are absolutely normal, as is the absence of vaginal discharge. Sometimes, discharge may change or differ due to tight clothes or a particular food eaten. Though it may seem trivial to discuss, it is a new and scary concept for your child. For their own comfort, even these small things should be discussed. After all, vaginal discharge begins before periods do.

There are a few types of vaginal discharge that can indicate different disorders. One that is fairly common is an odourless, thick, white discharge, described to have the consistency of “cottage cheese,” which is an indication of a yeast infection. There is a naturally present fungus in the vagina which may have been upset due to an imbalance in the environment of the vagina, causing overgrowth and subsequent infection. This is accompanied by possible burning and itching sensations. Yeast infections can occur for many reasons, such as a disturbance in pH levels (possibly a result of trying new soaps or body products) or a hormonal imbalance. Yeast infections are treatable with medicine.

Another common abnormal discharge is one that is foul-smelling (referred to as a “fishy” odour) and thin, and milky in consistency. It is an indication of bacterial vaginosis, a condition where an upsetting of pH levels in the environment of the vagina causes the overgrowth of naturally present bacteria. There can be many factors interfering with the pH levels, so do be mindful of changes in soaps, and avoid douching the vagina.

The vagina is a self-cleaning organ, and discharge is a method by which the vagina rids itself of harmful bacteria. Special soaps need not be used to clean the vagina nor douching, unless medically prescribed. Ensure that your child is informed of this, and do not feel insecure of any changes that they may observe in their bodies.

During menstruation, the requirement for vaginal hygiene cannot be disregarded. We have a set of tips that are helpful to follow during this time. No other special measures need to be taken apart from them unless your child has a pre-existing condition that may require them. (This image in an aide we use during our talks!)

Another situation when vaginal hygiene needs to be maintained is before, during, and after sexual intercourse. This is, understandably, difficult to bring up, albeit necessary. Your child should know that it is important to practice safe sex, and know the contraceptives that they can use. In case they feel discomfort or pain during or after sexual intercourse, it is possible that they have an illness that needs to be examined. Do not hesitate to inform them of such instances, for leaving this in the dark may only make it worse. It lies on your shoulders to create an environment where such discussions can be held without shame.

Until next time,

Yuvana from the REDefine Team

Featured Artwork by Prathna Anand

References:

Cleveland Clinic. “Vaginitis: Causes, Symptoms, Treatments & Prevention.” Cleveland Clinic, my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9131-vaginitis. Accessed 11 July 2021.

Mayo Clinic Staff. “Bacterial Vaginosis – Symptoms and Causes.” Mayo Clinic, 1998–2021 Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER), 1 May 2019, http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/bacterial-vaginosis/symptoms-causes/syc-20352279.

Shkodzik, Kate, MD. “All Types of Vaginal Discharge: What Do They Really Indicate?” Flo, 2021 Flo Health, 24 May 2021, flo.health/menstrual-cycle/health/vaginal-discharge/all-types-of-vaginal-discharge-what-do-they-really-indicate.

Wahlgren, Kara, and Carolyn Twersky. “Everything You Need to Know About Vaginal Discharge.” Seventeen, 2021 Hearst Magazine Media, Inc., 3 Dec. 2018, http://www.seventeen.com/health/sex-health/a46186/there-are-9-types-of-vaginal-discharge-heres-what-they-mean.

Introduction to Sex III: Consent as a Right

Sex is a rollercoaster of emotions and feels different for everyone. As parents, you should create a safe space for discussion with your children and enable them to learn about the emotional and social side of sex, not just the mechanical part. Everyone approaches sex differently — for some, it is about having children, for some, it is for pleasure.. There is no single approach to sex— there is a wide variety of emotions associated with sex, which are not often understood by everyone. There should be an understanding between consenting individuals when engaging in sex. In these situations, we often hear the word “consent”, but do we understand what it entails?

A formal definition of consent is“permission for something to happen or agreement to do something.” To break down this information for your children, here is an easy analogy: consent is like driving a car. Firstly, you don’t drive a car until you reach a mature enough age. Like so, children are unable to give informed consent until they’re young adults. It’s you, their guardians, who have the power to consent for your children until they, themselves, can do so. It is crucial that you understand consent as well.

Next, when driving a car, there is only one driver. They are in charge of controlling the car and are allowed to make decisions that will keep their car and other cars on the road safe, even if the decision is impromptu. They can change lanes, step up the accelerator, and even brake when appropriate without having to explain why they’re doing so to the passengers in the car. We can say that every individual is driving their own car, and their partner is the passenger. We navigate through our lives ourselves and make decisions we feel ready for, even if they’re instantaneous. We don’t have to explain this to our partners as long as we keep our car (i.e. us and our partner) and people around us safe. Just the same way backseat driving can lead to accidents, our partners controlling our lives can harm us in the long run, both mentally and physically.

Additionally, consent is not a one-time thing. A driver needs to be alert at all times while driving, and actively make different decisions in the process. Consent can often vary in different situations. For example, an individual may choose to give consent to sex one day but maybe not the next. They may even change their mind within minutes of giving consent. Consent is not set in stone — an individual has the choice to change their decision any time they like. For better understanding (and the many follow up questions your children may have), I’m attaching two more analogies here and here

Consent may seem subjective, but  it really is one of the few concepts that is truly black or white. Every day, we see stories of people who were harassed while drunk, unconscious, or even asleep. Victims are often blamed, saying that the clothes they wore or their outgoing nature meant they “asked” for sex. Non-verbal “cues” like these and body language aren’t consent. Maybe, hmm, and I don’t know do not count as consent. Uncertainty is not consent. 

Only yes, an explicit statement, is consent.

Until next week,

Siya (from the REDefine team)

Featured artwork by Prathna Anand

Consent definition taken from Oxford Languages

An Introduction to Sex II: The Nitty-Gritties

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

An Introduction to Sex I: What is “Genitalia?”

Approaching topics of sex are some of the most harrowing conversations for children, and we’re sure they’re equally harrowing for our parents. Not only lacking in our society, sex education and discussions around sex are taboo in themselves. So, how do you address this necessary but challenging topic?

Well, there’s no easy way to say this, but you will need to be as direct as possible.  The embarrassment and the stuttering is worth it, we promise. There have likely been times where your child has approached you with questions on what a word means, or what their friend meant when they said this or what a TV show character meant when they said that. It’s ideal to start with the basics of sexual education: our bodies.

Genitalia refers to our external reproductive organs. In females what is broadly referred to as the vagina, and in males the penis and testicles. By the time you’re having this conversation, it’s possible that your child has seen the clinical diagrams in their science textbooks and is probably no less confused on the topic.


The term vagina specifically refers to the muscular canal-like structure through which the menstrual flow is discharged, though it has come to be known as a representative for the entire female genitalia. From above the vagina, the urethral opening emerges, which facilitates the excretion of urine. And above that, the clitoris — a bud rich in nerve endings, whose only known function is pleasure.

The male genitalia consists of the penis and the testicles. The penis is a long, tube-like structure which has an opening at its head that conducts semen during ejaculation and is a passage for the discharge of urine. The testicles are two hanging, sac-like structures connected to the penis, where semen is produced and stored.  A helpful image here.

In addition, there are people who are intersex, whose genitalia may present as a combination of male and female characteristics. These variations are not out of the ordinary and do not warrant being treated as such. Do emphasise that all our bodies are different, and that there is no standard when it comes to the appearance of the genitalia.

Of course, this is the most basic of information and provides a small but crucial view of what sex involves. Your child will hopefully have some clarity beyond their science textbooks now, and hopefully a higher level of comfort — if not mortification — in discussing such topics with you. Remember to support them through their education of sex, and stay tuned for the upcoming articles around it!

Until next week,

Yuvana from REDefine.

Diagram of female genitalia by Tara Palchaudhuri of REDefine.

Image cited: “Male Reproductive System” by
Phil Schatz. License: CC BY 4.0