How to talk to your children about sex: Educator Anju Kish on addressing questions about puberty and sexuality

How to talk to your children about sex: Educator Anju Kish on addressing questions about puberty and sexuality


“‘Sex education’ is one of the most misconstrued word today. When people talk about sex education, the word ‘sex’ gets magnified and education becomes invisible.”

It’s not ‘the talk’ anymore: awkward, embarrassing and best avoided. Author and sex educator Anju Kish has attempted to make sex education dinner table conversation, to be discussed openly between parents and their kids with her book, How I Got My Belly Button. “The sexual act is a very tiny, minuscule part of sex education,” she says and her book delivers a lesson on puberty, sex and growing up without any stutters, fumbles or lengthy sermons, but rather through a story.

Cover of Anju Kish’s How I Got My Belly Button.

In How I Got My Belly Button, the author narrates the tale of one family that tackles this topic together through the course of a weekend. Twins, a girl and a boy, converse with both, their mother and father, about growing up and the parents share with their nine-year-olds the story of the biological changes occurring in the body, “from the womb to the tomb.” By having two loving, involved grown-ups explain everything from menstruation to sexual intercourse to menopause to contraception to their children, she also creates a comfortable environment for the twins to openly ask questions and take notes without the fear of being judged or mocked.

Kish was first inclined to write this book on sex education shortly after she went looking for answers to her older son’s relentless questions around puberty and adolescence. She realised, as she looked around for material, that not a lot had been written about the topic in a child-friendly manner and being a writer, decided to do so herself.

But she did not stop there. Kish also went on to certify herself as a sex educator and spent nearly a year creating engaging modules that could hold the children’s attention. And it was in 2011 that she started Untaboo, a Mumbai-based organisation that imparts sex education through workshops, plays, stand-up comedies and conversations with both, kids and parents.

According to the student councilor of a Mumbai-based primary and secondary school, conversations around sex are taboo in many households to this day; the subject is meant to be whispered about either behind closed doors or discussed in hushed tones in the kitchen by mother and daughter. Growing up, children thereby hesitate to ask questions to their parents, she added, but are absolutely outspoken and comfortable while talking to a councilor in a free and non-judgmental environment.

Kish says, “‘Sex education’ is one of the most misconstrued word today. When people talk about sex education, the word ‘sex’ gets magnified and education becomes invisible.”

Her objective behind setting up Untaboo, according to the author, was to bring about a change in this mindset and rid kids of the shyness and self-consciousness associated with the subject to make it an something that could be tackled by the family as a whole. One of the most positive aspects of her workshops then is the icebreaker session that involves both, parents and children. She asks the grown-ups to step in and be a part of the discussion with the objective of essentially putting out in the open that now both parent and child know about the topic and that ‘it is ok’ to talk about it.

Author and sex educator, Anju Kish.

Author and sex educator, Anju Kish.

Age-appropriateness

The student councilor also pointed out that it was essential to sensitise children to issues around sex education and inculcate an element of empathy in them. It was also essential to understand that “our bodies grow very fast, our minds don’t.”

In a similar vein, Kish too, opines that knowledge about sex education should be incremental, so that each child gets the appropriate amount of information at the right age. Her workshops, spread over the age groups of six to 16, focus on age-appropriate topics at each level. While fun, engaging activities are planned for young adults, the workshop for the 16-year-olds is more of an open forum for discussion. She also emphasises on making these sessions confidential spaces where children are not laughed at by one another and questions raised in its four walls are not taken outside.

To this effect, she says, “We make the children take an oath at the beginning of each session.”

What is also crucial, is a talk on consequences. “We teach our children that their body is a temple and it should be treated such,” the principal of a school in Mumbai said, and they should be made aware of the consequences of their actions. “At school, we then encourage the children to be careful and mindful of their decisions which is also inevitably a part of sex education.”

Kish suggests that today, children are provided with everything from smartphones, to computers, internet access and social media and can, therefore, be exposed to a lot of misinformation online. In this climate, the onus falls on the parents to arm themselves with scientifically sound knowledge, empathy, gender sensitivity and openness to explain ‘consequences’ to their children.

Even as sex educators and student councilors try to create a comfortable environment for individual children and small peer groups to satisfy their curiosities and answer their questions, several schools either completely do away with sex education or hold separate sessions for girls and boys. According to Kish, sex education must be made compulsory in both, public and private schools and if it becomes a part of the curriculum where in year on year kids get to know about its different aspects, the learning will be beautiful, it will cease to be a dirty joke.

Anju Kish’s How I Got My Belly Button is published by Om Publications

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