( By Dr. Vithal Prabhu )

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This book is meant for boys and girls aged between ten and nineteen years. These are growing up years or 'adolescence' and most exciting years of life. Boys and girls both experience physical and emotional changes. Each one has a unique way of development. Adolescents try to get adjusted to these changes. However, they have a curiosity and have several questions about themselves and about the members of the opposite sex. Boys ask about the sexual aspects whereas the girls are interested in physical aspects, romance and love. Sex drive is dormant during the infancy and blooms during the adolescence. Sex is a precious privilege of our lives. Like all the other privileges, sex carries with it certain responsibilities. The only way to prepare them for sharing these responsibilities is through sexuality education. Ideally it should begin at home and continued at school.

'Sex' means gender. Another meaning of 'sex' is sexual intercourse; while 'sexuality' is the sexual dimension of the personality. It is everything that is associated with maleness or femaleness of a person. Thinking, feeling and behaviour as a man or as a woman is sexuality. It is present from birth to death.

The term 'Sex Education' is a misnomer. It should be 'Sexuality Education.' Sexuality begins right from the day the child is born. It is later shaped differently, depending upon the gender, by the parents, relatives, friends, teachers and the society. There is a role of genetic factor and of hormones also. How much is the genetic and how much is the social conditioning is difficult to say. It is not possible to draw a line of demarcation between the two.

Since a man and a woman have to get married and have to stay with the most intimate relationship, it is necessary to understand the sexuality of the opposite sex, respect it and learn to make adjustments, as and when necessary. This only will bring harmony in the marital life and in the society.

The status of a girl in Asian countries is still of a second class citizen. From the time she is born, she is looked down upon; she is deprived of nutrition and education, denied economic freedom, and is supposed to be weak, less intelligent, and is made dependent either on father, husband or son. The female infanticides, early marriages, repeated pregnancies, maternal mortalities, dowry deaths are great stimgmas for the womanhood and to the humanity.

All these are man-made. Nature has made man and woman equal. Every girl and boy has to understand it. The girl should be proud of being a girl, should seek opportunities as a boy does, and prove her merits. A girl of today is the mother of tomorrow. Her knowledge and wisdom is going to be of great value in upbringing the next generation.

Parents/teachers may hesitate to give sexuality education to the adolescents, but they get it through other means—in a wrong way. They are bombarded with sexual messages everywhere they turn, from newspapers, T.V., films to toilet walls. They are more susceptible to such messages because they are rarely prepared with the sound sexuality-related information. This may interfere with their ability to develop into healthy and successful adults. Perhaps parents forget the emotional turmoil-filled days of their own adolescence. They too might have behaved in one way, but may expect from their children quite different behaviour.

Questions about sex are normal. Sexual feelings cannot be ignored. If parents refuse to relate the information about sex, children learn through friends or through pornographic literature.

Our society has a high rate of STDs (Sexually Transmitted Diseases), HIV/AIDS, sex scandals, sex related crimes, premarital pregnancies, promisquity, sexual abuse and rapes, in addition to ever growing population. Sexuality education brings awareness and can be the answer to these problems.

Sexuality education is not merely providing information; it is conveying values, attitudes and standards.

One way parents can help is through meaningful communication. The subject being delicate and emotionally charged, the manner should be socially acceptable and the language with standard words for the body parts. Learning to make responsible decisions and wise choices about sexual behaviour depends on the individual's own values. Parents have a major responsibility to help their children to make a better choice and wiser decisions. Learning to make appropriate sexual decisions is important even in early childhood. It enable young children to say 'NO' to inappropriate adult sexual advances. Later, it helps the adolescents to cope with peer pressure to engage in sexual behaviour that they are not ready for.

Some parents/teachers feel that "too much" information will stimulate curiosity and encourage sexual experimentation. Actually the reverse is true. Curiosity is natural and does not need stimulation. It has been found that the adolescents for whom sexuality education is not a taboo, are more likely to make rational decisions and right judgement in the matter of sex. Parents have misconcepts that sexuality education means information about intercourse; or discussing sexuality means giving permission to have sex. None of these is true.

Giving children a realistic perspective on sexuality is as important as giving them food, shelter and loving care. If the children are not asking questions to the parents now, they will be asking for the trouble later. Parents can solve their questions now, but they may not be able to solve their problems later. Of couse, parents have to be comfortable with their own sexuality to handle the questions well and without loosing their temper. To some parents, the idea of talking about sex, saying something to 'it' is just too much. It is alright to feel uncomfortable; but it does not mean that the parents should stop functioning. If they start early, it is easy and being comfortable will be a habit. It is not necessary for the parents to be experts. The main thing is that they should be askable. If they do not have an answer, they should refer a book. They may read aloud to them or give them to read, provided parents have read and approved it. At times, the parents may feel certain information is not relevant to their teenager. They are free to take the decision accordingly, but be assured that the needs of the teenagers are much more than what the parents think.

Teachers play an equal role in shaping the personality of the adolescents. What is true for the parents is also true for the teachers. Teachers too have their own inhibitions. However, adolescents would seek information on sexuality from their teachers if their parents are not askable or are unable to provide sufficient information.

It is quite possible that at some points the teachers/parents may feel that the information is "awful" "terrible" or "too much" for the children and may raise their eyebrows. In such case they should ignore and go ahead and realise that the said information is only for those who would accept it and would like to know something more about it. The information given is from accepted international books and not as a personal opinion. Repetition of information in some chapters is purposeful so as to give complete dimension of the topic.

While on the committee of "Maharashtra State Commission for Women" which was preparing a base document on family life education to adolescents in the State, I came accross the booklet, "Guidelines For Comprehensive Sexuality Education : Kindergarten to 12th Grade" prepared by National Guidelines Task Force of United States. I thought it to be quite appropriate for our adolescents if relevant changes were made. Accordingly, the Commission prepared a background note and circulated it to a large number of teachers, parents, NGOs and other interested parties. The responses received were considered and a base document was prepared. The subject is now under consideration of the State Government.

The base document, after certain modifications, has been included in Part II of this book (Ch. 38). It is not a curriculum but will give the teachers a framework for preparing a programme. The topics therein are grouped under six headings and under each topic are relevant messages to be introduced to he adolescents. Supportive text for these messages will be found in Part I of this book. Since Part I is an independent book on adolescent sexuality, written earlier, it will not synchronize with each message in Chapter 38.

I hope this book will be of help to adolescents, parents, teachers and trainers in understanding and in shaping adolescents' sexuality.

I am highly grateful to:

  1. Dr. J.V. Bhat, renowned sexologist and Dean of Somaiya Medical College for going through the manuscript and making valuable suggestions.

  2. Mrs.Vatsala Ram Joshi for pursuing me to write this book.

  3. Shri Balkrishna Joshi for typing the manuscript.

  4. Shri Anil Dabhade for the sketches.

  5. Shri Ashok Kothawale for promptly publishing the book.

  6. My wife, children and grandchildren for sparing me and encouraging me to write the book.

Mumbai, Vithal Prabhu
15th August 1997

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