By Arathi Devandran @miffalicious
Forget the Awkwardness Moms, talk to your kids about Sex.
We were watching TV together after a long time, my folks and I. It’s a quiet evening, and I’m replying to my Whatsapp messages while keeping an eye on the film that’s running. Suddenly, a sex scene comes on (you know how it is in films, when you least expect it, bam! Naked bodies start writhing everywhere).
And just like that, the ease in the room abruptly dissipates. Dad clears his throat awkwardly. My mother mutters something under her breath, catches me looking, and throws a pillow at me. I’m supposed to hide my face, it seems. It strikes me that I’m reaching my mid twenties and my mother still thinks it’s awkward if I’m watching a sex scene on TV.
I mean, really?
I know for a fact that this is not an incident that is isolated to my family alone. I’ve got many South Asian friends who’ve shared similar awkward situations with their parents. (It’s almost as if our parents have covered the eyes and ears and chant loudly to themselves – if we don’t talk about sex, it doesn’t exist, it doesn’t exist, it doesn’t exist!).
It’s understandable, of course. The South Asian culture does absolutely nothing to facilitate discussion about “such” things. Never mind the fact that we have the shadow of the Kamasutra lurking over our heads, sex is not something families should discuss. Not even if it is simplified into the birds and bees version of things.
I’ve never had the sex talk. I can’t even remember how I learnt what sex was, though I’m sure being in an all-girls school meant that there would have been some sort of life-altering discussion with friends who were living in similarly taciturn Asian households.
This is not just isolated to sex, though. It’s related to most things that concern the woman, and the woman’s anatomy (and I suppose, this extrapolates to the man, and the man’s anatomy). Some time ago, I wrote a visceral poem about vaginas, and menstruation. I showed it to my mother, who appreciated it for what it’s worth. I then showed it to my Dad, who tried his best to understand my perspective, but seemed a little confused that I was writing so publicly about a very private process. I then had to explain to him that writing about vaginas was important and necessary in a world that tended to glance over struggles that women faced, starting from basic biological processes, right up to the socio-political impacts of the subjugation of one half of the human species. He was able to accept and understand it with a broader perspective eventually, but the fact of the matter was this – I still had to explain it to him.
As a culture, we just don’t talk about these things. At all.
South Asian girls aren’t told about what menstruation really is, until we see our friends buying sanitary pads and we start feeling strange aches in our nether regions and we go running to our mothers at the first sign of blood. Our mothers explain very briefly that this means we can’t enter prayer rooms or visit temples (or in some families, household kitchens) because we’re “unclean.” Immediately, it is tagged as a negative and as young girls, we become afraid to discuss anything related to it.
In most cases, no adult consciously educates you that this is a normal biological process, and an important one, too – if a woman does not have a healthy menstruation cycle, she will probably have severe childbearing issues in her later years. No adult tells you that you don’t have to feel ashamed when you’re trying to figure out if a tampon or a sanitary pad is a better bet – sometimes; no adult even tells you that you have an option. And no, you don’t have to hide your tampons under all your other groceries when you’re queuing at the local supermarket. No one is going to judge you for being a human woman.
South Asian parents definitely do not explain to their teenage children (teenage being a word that I highly associate with raging hormones) about sex, and more importantly, about the need for safe sex. It’s like this: if we (as parents) talk about it, we are going to put these ideas in our kids’ heads, and they are going to experiment with this dastardly deed, and then “what would everyone say about the type of parents we are?!” Cue insane family drama.
Sex, menstruation, vagina, penises – these words are contextualized to be taboo, and inappropriate for family conversation. And this, I believe, is the first hurdle that we need to overcome. No matter how awkward it may seem, having the birds and the bees talk that parents have with their kids sets the tone for the type of conversations that they are willing to have from thereon. It reminds these kids (or teenagers) that their parents can be open, rational and practical – the greatest assurance that a teen-something needs when he or she is going through the most physically and emotionally tumultuous years of his or her life. It also sets the stage for a lifetime of conversations that would probably bring your family much, much closer together.
The first step then, is to break the firewall of silence.
(Now, say it with me. Let’s talk about sex).
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