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Convinced of the need for sex education for children, but having trouble teaching kids about the birds and bees? Books to the rescue!
By Sandhya Renukamba
Sexual feelings are natural, and little kids are often curious about where they came from, and what mama and papa do behind closed doors. While juvenile sexual activity is still criminalised in India, it won’t do to emulate an ostrich and think it doesn’t happen. There is the relentless media, peer behaviour, incorrect information from spurious sources, and experimentation, often with unwelcome consequences.
Start early. By the time the child is a teenager, all parties might find it extremely uncomfortable to broach the topic, one which was mostly taboo when today’s parents were growing up. Openness and good communication between the parents and children is imperative. The child must feel comfortable coming to you with a question. Despite all good intentions, parents might still find teaching kids about sex challenging; books help.
First, educate yourself. While there are many, infinitely more graphic books, magazines and movies that children might eventually get their hands on, (and they will, so you’d better make your peace with that right away), the books here could aid parents in giving children a proactive grounding in the facts, the right words to use, respect for another’s choice, and the right attitude towards sex, going a long way towards happier and safer sex lives for the kids in adulthood, and better peace of mind for you, the parents.
1. The Yellow Book – A Parent’s Guide To Sexuality Education, written by TARSHI (Talking About Reproductive and Sexual Health Issues), published by Zubaan Books.
This book, written in the South and South-East Asian context, guides parents through the why, when and how of sex education, dispelling any myths like, “If my child has this information, he/she will be tempted to experiment.”
On the contrary, what is the need for teaching kids about sexuality? What are the right attitudes towards one’s sexuality? How to recognise inappropriate behaviour, and stand up against it? How does one speak to the child at different ages, right into adulthood? The book discusses these, and other issues, and the ways to approach them.
The book also deals with topics relevant to peer behaviour – unavoidably linked to sexuality. For example, playing doctor-doctor in very young children that can lead to exploration; obsession with sex talk and “cool and uncool” behaviour in middle schoolers; infatuations, experimentation and possible intimate partner abuse in teens. There are plenty of facts on the actual biology of sex and reproduction, feelings and thoughts, unsafe and safe sexual behaviour, sexuality of differently-abled children, responsibility towards oneself, one’s partner, and the possible progeny, and much more.
Check out The Orange Book (school and teacher resource), The Red Book (for 10-14 years), The Blue Book (15+ years) and The Green Book (adults), also by TARSHI.
2. Babette Cole’s Mummy Laid An Egg is a picture book with humorous pictures and a single sentence on each page, which is eminently suitable for teaching kids as young as 4+, about the idea of sexuality in simple, easily understandable and no-nonsense terms.
For slightly older children, maybe 8+, Indian moms and dads can use Where Did I Come From?, written by Peter Mayle. This is an illustrated book, which first acknowledges the fact that teaching kids about sex can be embarrassing – the dedication says ‘for red-faced parents everywhere’.
Having gotten that out of the way, the narrative then goes into slightly more detail than the earlier one, going from what a child may already know, to simple and easily understandable explanations of the facts of life. It goes beyond just the ‘making of a baby’ part to actual feelings, sexual or otherwise.
3. A set of three books by Robie H. Harris that can be used by parents at different ages of the child – each book is a little more complex in the information it presents. The first, It’s Not The Stork!: A Book About Girls, Boys, Babies, Bodies, Families And Friends, answers the question that 4-7 year olds can have: How are babies born?
The second, It’s So Amazing!: A Book About Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, And Families, recognizes that 8-12 year olds are now more curious about sex, with an increasing awareness of their sexual feelings. The third, It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, And Sexual Health, is great for early and late teens. With plenty of quirky pictures and lucid explanations, this is a great set for Indian moms and dads to have at hand while teaching kids about sex.
4. Human sexuality is not an entity by itself, but is part of a spectrum of complex socio-biological behaviours. Sex education for children, in today’s gadget-and-social-media-obsessed world, can be a whole new beast to conquer.
Anju Musafir-Chazot’s Parenting Teens In Modern Times written in the Indian context, is the perfect book to pick up. With tongue-in-cheek humour, the writer keeps the reader engaged, and succeeds in dispelling the discomfort in the face of what can be a daunting task. Right from different parenting styles, different child personalities, through identity issues, sexuality, values, to different environments and technology, everything is discussed.
5. Ten Talks Parents Must Have With Their Children About Sex And Character, by Pepper Schwartz and Dominic Capello.
The introduction here says, “The education they get (at school) is mostly about fallopian tubes, sperm and egg chases – not about how they feel about their body, or how to interpret the sex scenes on TV and in almost every movie.”
The words we use, the way we treat people, the responsibility and consideration we have in our behaviour, the attitudes we have, the way we feel about ourselves, is all intricately linked to our sexuality. This book not only discusses sexuality, but goes a step ahead and places sexual behaviour in the context of the family and society.
I hope these books come to your aid when talking about sex and sexuality with your children. Do you have any other suggestions to add? Let me know!
*Featured photo credit: EWUL Libraries (Used under the Creative Commons Attribution License.)
In her role as the Editor & Community Manager at Women's Web, Sandhya Renukamba
I notice that the word ‘gender’ is missing. “Gender education” is much, much more encompassing, and better reflects the wholesomeness required in teaching children about both mankind, womankind and the in-between, and all the differences thereof, instead of focusing on one aspect (albeit major) of such differences.
Awesome list Sandhya, as usual!
@Swarna – Thank you for your comment. You are perfectly right about gender education. Gender, though, is a social construct that determines the role an individual plays in society, and is a topic for another discussion, and is also very important. there are many relevant articles right here on womensweb. What we have on hand here is sexuality, which, though associated with different gender roles, is not the same.
Namrata – 🙂
Very interesting & thoughtful initiative! Lovely article! Thanks for sharing:)
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