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Can Indian Teens Ever Be Honest With Their Parents About Sex & Relationships?

Posted: April 10, 2020

Having the relationship talk with parents, especially in India is a tough one to have. Are things changing, albeit slowly? Here’s what teens feel about it.

As a society, we face a dire lack of conversations, especially ones about growing up. Given how the children are raised under the watchful eyes of the society and the almost carefully suppressed atmosphere at home, conversations that need to take place, just don’t.

We in live in a society that prides grades, prestige over the many trials and tribulations of a young adult’s life. That they navigate the messiness and enormity of it on their own, is a whole different story.

Isolation, Confusion and Shame- the constant companions

These are some of the toughest emotions we go through when we are forced to approach this terrifying and daunting topic at the cusp of adolescence. Especially without any outreach and support from our schools, families and relatives. In a way, the absence of these necessary and crucial conversations can further distance and isolate ourselves from our families. Many of us have it worse when we understand our identities and sexualities further. Perhaps, this is why we have to go behind our parents’ backs.

‘’I honestly always felt like my sexuality was a crime and growing up it made me feel super alone – I did all my research on sex on my own’’ says *Tanya who spent a lot of our high school life hiding her relationships from her parents and teachers and had a harder time in university. 

Meanwhile, Mira, who has a slightly different opinion says, ‘’I know in a lot of households, that personal decision to take any sensual step may be dictated by a parent. Whether or not you can be in a relationship, or kiss someone. Mira, whose parents were more liberal than most was quite shocked at how Indian society handled these discussions and how girls hid their relationships from their parents.

The dire lack of sex education- especially for women

“I was bleeding to death when Aunt Flo first came and knocked down the door of my little chamber of culturally constructed naivety. In the absence of parental insight- or even acknowledgement- of sex, I was left to piece things together on the Internet,” says Pia.

This goes to explain how talk about safe sex practices, sexual health and health precaution vaccinations like HPV are also never openly discussed. “I can usually speak my mind in front of my parents. But sex is still a major taboo. Looking back, it’s kind of tragic that I had to Google ‘can you have babies without having sex.’ So much power in just three innocent letters,” she adds.

This seems to be quite a shared and mutual feeling among the youth. Sarah corroborates this by reflecting on her own experiences as she explains, “I was never given a talk about sex, and was always told that I could be in a relationship, ‘when I was old enough.’ What does that really mean? Sex is a taboo topic, and I know that I will never be able to tell my parents about that.”

For that matter, sex education, apart from being practically non-existent in our households, is far from giving us the full picture. Especially given the fact that conversations about female sexuality and pleasure are practically elusive. We continue to remain sexually suppressed in a way as sexual pleasure is constantly branded and stigmatised and seen as an ‘aberration’ of sorts by society.

A regressive narrative of patriarchy

“Conversations about sexualities or orientation were few and far apart till the age I was daring and confident enough in my knowledge and opinions to ask questions. However, I was always firmly advised against relationships before growing old enough,’’ says Xavier, as he reflects on his experiences growing up.

He also unravels another major aspect of the argument by talking about long-entrenched social norms and taboos due to sexism and patriarchal structures. And even explores how pop culture and film play an equal role in the production of gendered norms. “For me, it’s down to society-wide ideas outside of these such as the propagation of toxic masculinity or the lack of exposure to emotional exploration that I find more at fault too.”

Sexual liberation shackled by the constant shadow of these hierarchical gender and power structures owing to its socio-cultural production in society. As a result, women begin to be seen as ‘objects’ for the male gaze. We continue to be sexualised in our quotidian lives, art, pop culture and more importantly, how we treat and understand consent. 

A Constant and Perpetual Backlash

It is also important for us to reflect on the manner and point in which we have these essential conversations. “With increased Westernisation, the need to date and over-sexualise openly has been met with fierce suppression in Indian households,” says Sanjana, who is sceptical about the more ‘western-centric’ approach towards having discussions about sex and relationships. 

It is important to know that having conversations about sex also stems from a place of privilege for those of us who believe we have the potential to carry out this change. For a majority of society, issues like rape culture and honour killing remain deeply entrenched and continue to have lasting and toxic impacts. We should target these rooted structures, frameworks and institutions that contribute to the suppression of our freedoms and expressions first. 

Lockdown- what’s next?

Now with the lockdown in full swing with the extension, it is harder for teens and young adults to stay connected romantically. Physical and emotional intimacy remains a question mark, particularly when we are all back at home and having to rely on social media to stay in touch with our significant others. We feel the need to hide and distance ourselves from our families further during this time. The lack of openness and trust makes it all the more difficult for us to be honest and upfront and share those first love jitters and new fangled romances.

Fortunately, we are a stage when these dialogues and discussions are slowly coming to the table. And we are able to talk about them openly and honestly with less contrition.

Yet, no matter how hard I try, a tiny voice within me will always make me approach the subject with more caution, especially at home. Perhaps, society has just burned us women at the stake and we have performed our roles like puppets for too long. 

Picture credits: YouTube

*Names have been changed to protect privacy. 

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Shivani is currently an undergraduate political science student who is passionate about human rights and

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