Sexuality is an
essential component of development in young people. Sexuality
has been a controversial topic from the time of Aristotle’s ideas to Sigmund
Freud’s era and more so in the modern era. The adolescent period  and formation of their identity is a transition
phase for the adolescents, parents, and society.

Both the World Health
Organization and the report from the 1994 International Conference on
Population and Development emphasize the importance of healthy sexual
development to overall mental and physical well-being.1,2

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Despite the widely
recognized importance of sexual health, education to promote it remains a
sensitive and sometimes controversial issue. Many controversies exist about the
role of government in family life and sex education; parental opinions on the
content of sex education; core values to be included in sex education, such as
gender equality and, fundamentally, what constitutes appropriate adolescent
sexual behaviour.

As parents, we have all
received different messages about sexuality. Some of us

may or may not have
received education about sexuality from our own parents. Regardless

of what we were taught
when we were young, it’s important to give our children accurate

information, along with
our family values, to help them make healthy decisions

about sexuality. There
are some myths regarding even talking about sexuality to adolescents.

True
or False: Parents must know a lot about sexuality before they
can begin to talk with their children about it. False!

True
or False: Talking to children about sexuality will encourage
themto have sexual intercourse earlier. False!

Sexuality is often considered only as the act of sex and often that
concept limits the discussion. However, human sexuality is more than the act of
sex and involves the person ‘s concept of his or her own body image, sexual
identity, role at home and society, personal feelings and self-esteem.4

Anatomic sex:

This refers to the anatomic sexual reproductive organs. Anatomic sex is
only one component of sexuality.

Gender identity:

This refers to the feeling within the person as being either masculine
or feminine.

Gender identity and anatomic sex sometimes do not match. For example, a
person can be born as a boy but feels and behaves like a girl. This is
sometimes referred to as transgender.

Sexual orientation:

This refers to the sexual attraction one feels towards another person.
One may be

attracted to people of the opposite sex (heterosexual or straight), the
same sex (homosexual, gay, or lesbian), or both (bisexual). Sexual orientation
is influenced by many factors, including anatomic sex, gender identity and the
society. It is common for adolescents to feel confused about their sexual orientation,
which is normal. These feelings may change as the person matures or may
persist. It is important for adolescents and adults to be comfortable with all
aspects of sexuality (anatomic sex, gender identity and sexual orientation).

 

In fact, parental conversations
with thier children about sexuality should go beyond how to takecare of one’s
body, how to abstain from sex, and how to use protection. They should also include:

a) The importance of
feeling good about oneself-promote self esteem.

b) How to have healthy,
respectful relationships.

c) Clear messages about
values and expectations about sexual decisions.

 

 

The common delemmas
parents feel are the following:

1.      When should I start
talking to my child about sexuality?

2.      What should I talk?                                                                                                                                

3.      How should I talk?

4.      Where?

 

1.When
should I start talking to my child about sexuality?

Parents may not realize
it, but parents would probably already have given their child a lot of
information about sexuality. It begins from early age and parents may not be
conscious about it. Early, honest, and open communication between parents and
kids is very important, especially when the child becomes an adolescent. If a
habit of open communication exists, the teens are more likely to speak with
parents about many issues of adolescence such as depression, relationships,
abuse of drugs, alcohol, and sexual issues.

Beginning a
conversation about sex early and continuing that conversation as the child
grows is the best sex education strategy. It lets parents avoid giving one big,
and likely uncomfortable talk when the child reaches adolescence (and will have
already gotten information and misinformation from their friends). These
conversations are easiest when they encounter a life experience, like seeing a
pregnant woman or a baby.

When parents talk with
their children about sex, they can make sure that they are getting the right
information.  Parents should be a child’s
first source of information about sex. Understanding correct information can
protect children from risky behaviour as they grow up.

2.     
What
should I talk?

Sexuality is related to
much more than the sexual act. It involves speaking about the following:

a) Anatomy and
reproductive health—Biological sex, puberty, menstruation, hygiene, and general
health care.

b) Gender identity and
gender role—How we see ourselves as male or female, and gender roles in
society.

c) Body image—How we
feel about our bodies, respecting it, and how attractive we feel.

d)Love and
affection—How to express love and affection to friends, family and romantic
partners.

e) Relationships—Behaviours,
expectations and abuse.

Late
adolescence

f) Sexual
orientation—Physical and emotional attraction to a man, woman, or both.

g) Sensuality and
pleasure—Accepting and enjoying our own bodies and accepting them as they are.Questions
may be raised about masturbation.

h) Sexual activity—Acts
of intimacy such as hugging, kissing, touching, and sexual intercourse.

I)Contraception,sexually
transmitted infections (STIs), HIV, pregnancy, childbirth.

 

Sexual
development age wise.

Infancy: Up to two years 

Toddlers should be able to name
all the body parts including the genitals. Most two-year-old know the
difference between male and female, and can usually figure out if a person is
male or female. Teaching the children the correct names for their genitals
gives them a couple of advantages. It’s never too early to start teaching
children the correct names for their body parts, including their genitals. When
you’re giving a young child or toddler, a bath or changing his diaper, state
matter-of-factly, “This is your nose, this is your tummy, this is your penis.”
It’s confusing for kids to have cutesy names for some body parts and not for
others. “When you teach a child the correct names for their genitals (penis,
scrotum, vulva, vagina, anus), they have no overwhelming shame or shyness
around that part of the body,” says Hickling.

It always encourages a healthy and
positive attitude toward their body. Teaching your children, the correct names
for their genitals will give them language they can use to express themselves
clearly. This becomes particularly important later in a medical situation and
in reports of abuse.

Early childhood: Two to five years old

Children may ask questions about
pregnancy and babies. Parents can give some basic scientific knowledge. Children
should understand their body is their own. They should know where other people
can touch them and where it is a NO.

 When toddlers and preschoolers touch their
genitals for pleasure, parents can give the message, without over-reacting,
that touching should be done in private. Again, naming the behaviour is
helpful. “I see that you’re touching your vulva. I bet that feels good to
you. That’s something that you do in private, okay?”.

 If the toddler is in the habit of touching
herself at day care, the grocery store or in front of relatives, the parent
should gently remind the toddler, ‘That’s not allowed in public.’. Don’t scold
or shame them.`, says Johnson. It’s helpful to talk about this as simply as
possible, and without shaming the child. It is important not to induce the
feeling of shame to private parts, by saying, shame, shame. Young children who
touch their genitals do so because it feels good. They don’t fantasize about
sexual things at this age. Parents need to remember not to overreact to our
children’s early genital exploration. 

Curiosity about sex is a natural
learning about the body. Sex education helps kids understand about the body.
Younger kids are interested in pregnancy and babies, rather than the mechanics
of sex. When babies go through the process of discovering their bodies, they
are learning what feels good. If we allow this discovery without pushing the
baby’s hand away from his/her genitals, making faces, or saying things like,
“We don’t touch that,” or “It’s dirty,” we can avoid giving
negative, early messages about the genitals. It helps to name the genitals by
their correct names, just as we identify “eye,” “nose,” and
“toes.” This is the first step toward helping young people appreciate
the body.

Middle childhood: Five to eight years old

Children should know about the
basic social conventions of privacy, nudity, and respect for others in
relationships. Children should be taught the basics about puberty and
growth.. 

Nine to 12 years old

In addition to reinforcing all the
things above they have already learned, they now learn from the media. They
also understand sexual dynamics in the house, their parent`s relationships. They
should also learn to judge whether depictions of sex and sexuality in the media
are true or false, realistic, or not, and whether they are positive or
negative. 

Teenagers: 13 to 18 years old

Teens are
generally very private people. However, if parents have spoken to
their child early about sex, it increases the chance that teens will
approach parents when difficult or dangerous things come up.                                

?Early adolescence in age groups of
10-13 years show increased interest in opposite sex, excess interest in sexual
feelings and may masturbate. Girls achieve menarche and males experience
nocturnal emissions. In middle adolescence in age groups of 14-16-year-old,
puberty is often completed. They explore relationships with other gender and
like to spend more time with same or opposite gender friends.

In late adolescence (approximately
17 to 19 years old) goals are established. Adolescents begin to understand
consequences of sexual behavior, begin to understand pregnancy and sexually
transmitted diseases. They explore relationships, understand their own sexual
orientation. Adolescents may be sexually active and begin long term
relationships. The oedipal complex (a child’s attraction to the parent of the
opposite sex) is common during the adolescent years.

Parents can acknowledge the adolescent’s physical changes and gradually
lay down ground rules to not cross parent-child boundaries. Sexual orientation
begins during puberty. Sexual orientation and gender identity are not a choice
and appear to be established by early childhood. Feelings of homosexuality or
lesbianism, transgender may emerge to discontinue later or may continue. Both
biological and environmental influences influence these.

 

Should I
talk to my girls and boys differently about sexuality?

Both boys and girls need the same important information to become
healthy adults. It is important for both boys and girls to understand their own
body’s development as well as the development of the other gender. Both boys
and girls also need to know that sexual feelings are normal, how to take care of
their bodies, how to protect themselves from disease and unplanned pregnancy,
and how to have healthy, respectful relationships.

In teenagers- Parents can talk about developing `crush` on people—whether
those people are movie stars, famous athletes, or someone down the street. It’s
helpful to remind youth that there are many healthy ways to express sexual
feelings and that sexual intercourse is only one form of sexual expression. Parents
should affirm the adolescent`s feelings, with clarity about  family’s values about sexuality and
relationships..

If parents wait for their child to start asking questions, they may wait
forever, warns Hickling. “Some children just don’t think to ask, or the
parent`s silence may be sending a message that it’s a taboo subject.” .

 

3.     
How
should I talk?

How
do I answer my child’s questions about sexuality?

Teaching a child about
sexuality is an ongoing process.

Keep the answers brief
and uncomplicated.

Start with a simple
answer and give the child more information if he or she continues to ask more
questions.

Remember, if you don’t
know the answer, it’s okay to admit you don’t know, then look it up, and get
back to your child.

Here are four basic
steps foranswering your child’s questionsabout sexuality that we suggestand
have regularly used ourselves.

Step
1. Normalize and validate the child’s question
and then ask thechild why he or she is asking you this question: “That’s a
really good question. How come you’re asking that today?” This step reassures
the child that his or herquestion is normal. It will also give you a sense of
what caused your child to ask thatquestion and where he or she is getting
information (Did he or she see something orhear something? Who was involved?).

Step
2. Ask your child what he or she thinks the answer is: “What do you think?”
This gives you an idea of what your child already knows and the sort of
languagehe or she uses to express it.

Step
3. Answer the question honestly based on the child’s response and your values.
Take advantage of the opportunity to introduce your views and values aswell as
to give your child honest, accurate information about his/her question. Extreme
responses like shouting, or threats are not the measures to be employed.

Step
4. Ask the child if he or she understands the answer: “Does that answer your
question?” This step allows a parent to make sure
the child understood theanswer. Try different words or resources if your child
doesn’t understand the first time.

4.     
Where?

It
is preferable to speak on a one to one basis in a private setting. One should
also use Teachable moments.

TEACHABLE MOMENTS

 Teachable Moments are everyday opportunities
that can be used to talk to our children about sexuality without seeming
obvious. As parents, one may come across issues related to sexuality while watching
television and movies, listening to music, looking at an Internet site, talking
about personal experiences and other people’s experiences (family members,
friends, etc.), reading the newspaper or magazines,

The most important part
of Teachable Moments is asking the child what he or she thinks about the topic and
then being ready to interact, mainly listen. It is important to know what the
adolescent is thinking.

Here’s an example of
how you can use a Teachable Moment. You and your pre-teen child are doing a
project with help of an internet. An advertisement pops up with a scene from a
movie showing intimacy.

While calmly closing the
window and after having finished the search, one can ask the adolescent what he
or she thinks about the scene or about the couple being close. Then you can
follow up with one or two more specific questions such as: (All should be age
appropriate)

Do you think that
situation was realistic?

Do you think they were
ready to have a closed relationship (or sex- if child is older)?

How do you think that might
affect their relationship?

What are some of the
consequences that they may have to deal with?

If Older-  Did they protect themselves against unplanned
pregnancy and/or sexuallytransmitted infections?Did the couple know each other
well enough to have sex?

Did they act
responsibly?Do you believe that only people who are in love or married should
have sex?

2nd case-

I was reading a
newspaper when my daughter says, pointing to a model, ` She looks

Sexy, doesn`t she?” I
wanted to turn the page but did the 4 steps with her.

The first question
broke the ice: “Why are you asking that question today?” She began to explain
that her friends are always saying they are sexy and that she didn’t feel that
way. She wondered if there was something wrong with her. After I knew where she
was coming from, we were able to have a great talk and I was able to reassure
he r and share my values with her.

 

Preventing
child sexual abuse

A common concern of parents is raising the subject of sexual safety.
Encourage children to know they can decide who touches them. Teach children
they have a right to say no to unwanted touch. Teach about privacy and help
them identify the private parts of the body.

Talk about the difference between good and bad secrets. Encourage them
to tell someone if they are confused or upset or if they have concerns or
questions.

Try to always know where your children are and have them check in with
you.

Maintain an environment in which children feel safe talking about their
feelings and problems.

Safety rules for kids

1.It is never OK for anyone to touch the private parts of my body and to
ask me to keep it a

secret, even if it is someone I know or like.

2.It is never OK for anyone to ask me to keep a secret if it makes me
uncomfortable, or I know it’s wrong, even if it is someone I know or like.

3.I can say ‘No’ to touching that is not OK. I can say ‘No,’ or ‘Don’t
do that,’ or ‘I’m going to tell.’

4.If I have a problem, it is important for me to tell an adult I trust
about it.

 

Legal
aspects

In India legal age for consensual sex is 18 years under the Criminal Law
(Amendment) Act, 2013. Marriage of a female less than 18 years of age or a male
of less than 21 years of age is illegal. (Hindu Marriage Act, 1955).

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender is still illegal in India.Homosexual
intercourse is a criminal offence under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code since
1860.The Supreme Court of India overturned the decision of the lower court in
2013 and upheld the primacy of section 377.

 The Medical Termination of
Pregnancy (MTP) Act of India clearly states the conditions under which a
pregnancy can be ended or aborted, the persons who are qualified to conduct the
abortion and the place of implementation. One of the qualification is
pregnancies in unmarried girls under the age of eighteen with the consent of a
guardian. (Medical Termination of Pregnancy,1971).

POCSO act is covered in
chapter on Medicolegal issues

Be aware of your
child’s activities. It means know where your children are and who are their
friends. It’s a good idea to have their friends’ home and cell phone numbers.

Monitor them when they
are on the Internet and ask them to tell you about who they communicate with
and what sites they visit. It’s important to let your child know your
expectations concerning Internet use.

We
can teach the children to –                                          

Appreciate their own
bodies

Express love and
intimacy in appropriate ways

Enjoy sexual feelings
without necessarily acting on them

Practice health
prevention, such as regular checkups and breast or testicular self-examination.

When they are mature
enough to act on their feelings, they will talk with a partner about sexual
activity before it occurs, including sexual limits (theirs and their
partner’s), contraceptive and condom use, and the meaning of the relationship
and of relationships, in general.

Sex
education is safer than no sex education

Studies show the more
children are exposed to sexual images in the media, the more likely it is they
will engage in sexual behaviours at a younger age. However, responsible sex
education does NOT lead to promiscuity. Children who receive sex education at
home are less likely to engage in risky sexual activity. So, turn off the
television and get talking.

Having open
communications with children about sex and other matters is healthy and safer
in the long run. This does not necessarily mean it will be easy or without
awkward moments. Teens are still very private people. However, speaking about
sex early increases the chance that teens will approach parents when difficult
or dangerous things come up.

 

 

REFERENCES

1.Wight D and Abraham
C, from psycho-social theory to sustainable classroom practice: developing a
research-based teacher delivered sex education programme, Health Education
Research, 2000, 15(1):25–38.

2. Bay-Cheng LY, The
trouble of teen sex: the construction of adolescent sexuality through
school-based sexuality education, Sex Education: Sexuality, Social and
Learning, 2003, 3(1):61–74.

3. Adolescent Friendly Health Services: An Agenda for Change.
The World Health Organization 2004.www.who.int/child_adolescent_health/ documents/fch_cah_02_14/en/
index.html.

4. Definition of the terms: Sex, Gender, Gender identity,
Sexual orientation. Excerpts from: The guidelines for psychological practice
with lesbians, Gay and Bisexual clients, adopted by the APA council of
representatives, Feb 8-20, 2011. Available at: www.apa.org/pi/lgbt/resources/sexuality-definitions.pdf.

5. Casey BJ, Getz S, Galvan A. The adolescent brain.
Developmental Review 2008; 28 (1): 62–77.

6. Spear LP. The adolescent brain and age-related
behavioral manifestations. Neurosis Bibeau Rev 2000; 24 (4): 417–463.

7. Steinberg L, Morris AS. Adolescent Development. Annual
Psyche 2001; 52:83–110.

8. Rena FS, Paula OK, Frank CW. Developing Adolescents:
A Reference for Professionals, American Psychological Association. Washington,
DC 20002–4242.

9. A parent to
parent guide on how to talk to children about sexuality, https://www.plannedparenthood.org/files/2514/0034/8138/ParentGuide.pdf

10. Adapted
from: Planned Parenthood Publications. (2008), The facts of life: A guide for
teens & families .www.ppfastore.org/publications.html

 

 

 

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