I often wonder what it would have been like to come of age in today’s world. My own experience oscillates between an all girls school coyness and the bra-snapping bravado exhibited by the nastier boys in the co-educational school I finished at. Hence, it is to my embarrassment that I often display naivete in response to the younger generation’s sexual awareness. At a recent dinner party, an 11-year-old girl with a plump and wide-eyed disposition cosied up to me and admitted that one of the best things about a recent film based on my screenplay were the naked torso shots of Ranbir Kapoor. Although in general agreement, I was still at a loss. Having none of my own, I am inclined to think of children as little people. But this time, the pedantic voice in my head warned: “This is not a conversation we should be having.” I was spared the trauma of having to give a response when she scurried away upon the arrival of her mother. ‘Mom’ apologised discreetly for the clumsy carriage of her dinner duties and her lamentable reduction to barking orders because of her period. It forbade her entry into the kitchen. Nestled as I was between the two generations and their moments of unguarded feminine confidences, I contemplated ways to take the conversation forward. The little one’s censorious glances did nothing to aid the offsetting of my absent gift of repartee. At least one thing was familiar, there were still things that mothers were not telling daughters and daughters were not telling mothers.
But was that a fair assumption? My friend Sarita, mother to both an 11-year-old and a nine-year-old, is often regaling me with stories of her travails as a mother. Most recently, it was the dreaded sex talk at her son’s school. She is all for sex education and, as it turns out, the sex ed team made up 20 per cent of the class at this posh school. The school, recognising the contentiousness of the issue, had elected to share the presentation with the parents first and the kids after. What amazed and amused her in equal measure was the session’s metamorphosis into a class on sex education for the parents. Thirtysomethings asked the most basic questions—and listened in rapt engagement—as the debate about “too much information” was forgotten. How did they ever manage to make babies, she wonders.
However, my friend had her own lesson to learn. Over the weekend following the class, her son studiously avoided his parents. Deciding this state of affairs could not continue into the week, she cornered him into a conversation. His reply? He had known about ‘this stuff’ all along. When his friend had told him in class two that his mother and father ‘do it’, he had refused to believe him. And now that he knew it to be true, he was just too embarrassed to look at them.
Class two?? Really? I decide to speak to Dr Sudhakar Krishnamurti (Dr K), author of Sex is Not a Four-Letter Word and a leading andrologist and sexual health expert. He was once my paediatrician too—the way doctor uncles and aunts become when you are a kid with an early onset of hypochondria. He doesn’t find this phenomenon surprising. Sexuality has become biologically and psychologically precocious and it is mostly conservative parents who “struggle” with this aspect of raising a child. Enlightened parents move with the times and their kids become as comfortable with their sexuality as their parents. But there are other social networks that influence sexual awareness and, to some extent, play a role in shaping a child’s sexuality—the other day, my grocer was grumbling about the state of television serials and how he can’t watch a show with his kids in the same room.
And then there is the issue of including sex education in school curriculums and whether it really is the right way to go. Dr K counters that sexual education starts in the cradle and ends in the grave. It can never come too early but can and often is too late. Besides, there’s always an age-appropriate sexual education model. I decide to enquire about his own experiences as a father of two girls. His advice: “Just don’t make a fuss about it.” At times, he would walk into a room and encounter “female speak”—and it would continue as before despite his presence. But while that might work with doctor dad, one wonders if it would pass muster with, for instance, banker dad? “Look,” he says, “one cannot be comfortable with the subject of sex unless they are comfortable with their own sexuality.”
With the onus placed so squarely in the parents’ corner, it just seems like additional pressure. But as Dr K reminds me, parents need to wake up and realise the days of the “Chee, chee, get your hands off your pee pee” culture are over.
(Advaita Kala is a bestselling novelist.)