Thursday, May 5, 2011

Time to raise the fig leaf ?!

Whether we like it or not, admit it or not, see it or not, our children are afloat in a sexual revolution of sorts today. The popular culture and media are completely permeated with sexual messages. As a matter of fact, so ubiquitous is sex that the information inflow is beginning from the time of birth. We can be ostriches and stick our heads where they belong but the truth is that many children are dealing with aspects of sexuality early on, as early as the Primary School level.

Of course there is a strong adult discontent with these alarming developments. The world is very different from the one in which they grew up. My introduction to sex education was with the book “Godfather”. Some years later, I came across Irving Wallace’s “The Seven Minutes”. I had also read “Lolita” by then. Harold Robbin’s “79 Park Avenue” followed. There were graphic passages in these books but they were placed in a context. They were part of the human stories being told.

It is very different today. There is an undercurrent, a constant leitmotif, a casual acceptance of sexuality that was unimaginable in the years gone by. An easy access to internet, the versatility of mobile phones, rumours emanating out of playgrounds and school buses, the conflicting messages from the environment about the children have the oars to steer a safe way through this morass?

What is right and what is wrong? Whose responsibility is it to equip the young with the necessary relationship skills?

Surely the basic responsibility for teaching children about sex rests with parents. But what happens when too many of them abdicate this charge for one reason or the other? Do the schools then step in ? After all, the schools did not create this charged atmosphere. But they can certainly try and help the students cope with it by giving them access to essential knowledge that can ease their transition from adolescence to adulthood.

This is possible only through planned and relevant sex-education programs in schools. Give the children basic information and skills, in exactly the same way that they start with ABC when they begin to read and write. It’s good if they have this information before their bodies start to change. Talking about body parts is often easier for children when they are younger as they are less self-conscious and sensitive about their bodies.

The curriculum could include information about body parts, babies, differences between boys and girls, friendships and emotions. Children could also be taught to avoid medicines and dangerous substances in the home as part of drugs education lessons. Alternately, sex courses could be included as part of a broader subject such as health and human development. The probable topics would revolve around study of family living, growth, hygiene and, in the senior school, responsible social behavior, the hazards of indiscriminate relationships and premarital sex, as well as basic facts about the reproductive system and its purpose.

If the term “sex education” bothers the detractors, well, call these sessions “lifestyle classes” like they do in some schools and focus on sex, relationships, drugs and personal finance. Add to the flexibility and openness by giving the parents the option to enrol their children in these classes.

There may still be criticism: that the schools are usurping the educative role of the home and religious institutions. What would the legalities be in that case?

Either which way, we in India need to hear the wake up call. It is no longer a so called “western” phenomenon like we smugly tell ourselves. It is knocking at our doors, if we care to switch off the idiot box and listen.

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