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Sharon Lobo

IWB Blogger

Sex Ed Coach Niyatii N Shah Asks Parents To Not Dismiss Their Kids’ Doubts About Sexuality

  • IWB Post
  •  April 18, 2019

While we spoke, I could hear her child ask her about a few things, and I could feel the patience she mustered to juggle work and life in real-time. An experienced Sexuality & Parenting Coach with a demonstrated history of working in the sexuality education awareness industry and a pioneer in her own way, Niyatii N Shah shares with us her experience of being a sex-ed educator.

Niyatii is the founder of Averti, a one-of-a-kind organization which prides itself on educating parents and their children on a whole range of issues often shunned by the mainstream education. She is also a Global Goodwill Ambassador to India for human rights, sexual harassment, gender Inclusions and guilt-free parenting. Excerpts:

What was your inspiration for starting out as a sexuality educator?

My journey as a sexuality educator started as a mother, who had the belief that she wanted to empower her children in matters of understanding one’s sexuality. I have considered myself as an aware parent, and I had promised to have an open relationship with my children so that they may feel free to ask me anything they want to know about, and I could give them an honest answer. So to answer your question, what inspired me to become a sexuality educator is my children and the questions that they had regarding their sexuality.

Let’s start by talking about what got you to kick-start Averti. 

Since the beginning, I had maintained an open and friendly relationship with my children, which motivated them to ask me any and all kinds of questions – considering their natural curiousness. So by the time my elder son was 6, there were a lot of questions by him regarding his sexuality that I had already answered, without really realizing that I am ‘educating’ him, in the literal sense. This was around the time that I  attended a sexuality education session in his school by Dr. Rajan Bhosale, and that is when I realized that there is so much more I need to speak to him about, without him even asking me about it. Understanding the need for this kind of conversation between the parent and child, I ventured into a course about sex and sexuality by Dr. Rajan Bhosale.

Over the next few months through word of mouth, I started conducting small-scale workshops and seminars for the children in my extended family and friend circle. Slowly word spread and I began conducting more such workshops. I did not have any intention of making it a career, I just look at it from the perspective that I am sharing my knowledge with people around me. As my seminars picked momentum, I realized that I need to formulate the entire thing and give it a proper structure and that is how it all started.

In the field of sex education, you have been an educator for close to six years. What gaps or shortcomings have you come across?

During my initial stage, I reached out to as many platforms as I could and researched a lot. The more I spoke to parents, the more I realized that every child has a unique set of questions, given how unique the personality of each child is. But there is not much that the parents or schools are doing to address these specific queries. If at all there are any sessions in schools, it follows a set format, which usually doesn’t address such particular doubts.

A lot of times I have even come across adults who are not that well versed in their own sexuality. So that becomes a motivation for me to reach out more to children, so that when they grow up, they may not face problems, that we adults have during today’s time – in our married life, interpersonal relationships, etc. See, in our country sexuality education is not a course, and you have to be self-learned. Whatever material is available is mostly for adults, and that I feel is one big shortcoming.

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When do you think is the right age for parents to talk to their kids about sex education?

We should casually start talking to our kids about general topics regarding their sexuality from the age of 3 or 4. The topics that we can cover at this age is more or less about their body parts, personal hygiene, etc. Slowly by the age of around 5, these young ones have a lot of questions about how I was born, and this is probably when you could give them the real picture, obviously without sounding too formal and technical. The critical thing to keep in mind is to never be dismissive at all regarding any of their queries.

What parents should also keep in mind is that children are adept at picking up nonverbal cues that parents give out regarding their own sexuality especially how the parents treat each other, or if they have different treatments towards their sons and daughter. So even without explicitly talking about sexuality, the parents could give out wrong messages unknowingly, they need to be careful about that as well.

In the age of digitization, how do you think movies and social media play a role in imparting sex education?

See, in this day and age when information is freely available, it becomes crucial to divert the right kind of information to your kids. The recent movie Padman was a perfect backdrop to start a conversation regarding menstruation with your daughter as well as son. The worst way to have this conversation is by telling them, look I have something important to speak to you about. Instead of this, use visual assistance by means of videos or cartoon representation to speak to children about period, body parts, personal hygiene, etc. Every time you get an opportunity to speak to your child, just grab it. It could be a TV advertisement about sanitary napkins, or a movie about any sexuality-related topic, etc. The older the child, much easier it becomes for you to explain things to them scientifically. But using visual cues, videos, etc. which social media platforms provide, would definitely make the task much easier for the parents.

With your experience in this field, what according to you are the consequences of not imparting this knowledge to kids?

The society has played the role of creating a taboo around topics of sex and sexuality. We are afraid to explore ourselves, to find out about what we like and what we don’t, seldom do people talk openly about sexuality. So when kids are part of a society like this, it becomes all the more imperative to make them sexually aware, so that they may not fall prey to any wrong notions about their sexuality.

What happens when a child is unaware is that, for instance, he or she might not realize the difference between a good touch and bad touch. Another example is about a 10-12-year-old girl. If she isn’t made aware of her bodily changes, she may find it difficult to embrace her changes happily. She may become unnecessarily self-conscious and shy. If a child is not educated in these aspects by their parents and teachers, they may also blindly accept all the wrong myths that float around, they’ll believe what their peers are saying, or even resort to Google-ing things on their own, which is actually the worst of all.

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Moving on to teenagers and young adults, what should we teach them about masturbation?

Masturbation is a topic prevalent among children who have hit puberty. First of all, parents and children alike, need to understand the fact that there is nothing wrong with masturbation. It is another thing that usually people don’t talk about, and that makes it a taboo topic – whereas it shouldn’t be! In fact, masturbation actually helps the child understand his or her own genitalia, which is essential. It so happens that when a young child is touching himself or herself, they may not have sexual feeling per se, but they can feel the pleasure, and they like it. So there is nothing wrong in that as that is how they are exploring their own bodies.

How should one deal with teens’ exposure to porn?

To start with, I would say I feel that a child shouldn’t be exposed to the pornographic content. But at the same time if a couple who with each others consent is comfortable with exploring their sexuality, they may resort to watching it. See there are two schools of thoughts – one that says it is entirely wrong to watch porn, and the other that says it is healthy. I would say both are right, in its own way. What is crucial is to understand who is watching porn and what is his or her motive. If it is a young boy or girl who is curious to know about intercourse, then I feel watching porn is the wrong step to take, as pornographic content is not educational, and it doesn’t really help the child much, if anything it only makes them more confused. What they see online is absolutely the wrong and distorted representation of sexual intercourse, and that is precisely why I discourage the idea of porn among youngsters and teenagers as it sets wrong standards of sex among them.

In conclusion, what advice would you give to parents and the youth regarding sex ed?

I would urge parents to let go of the mindset that sex is taboo. Children are not going to lose their ‘innocence’ if we speak to them about their sexuality, which is what most parents I have interacted with, feel. Personal hygiene, puberty, attraction, relationships, exploring your own bodies, sexual intercourse,  STDs, etc. are all equally important topics that a child at the right age should know about, and given the generation of children, the right age starts at around 4-5. Always be there for your children, and never be dismissive about their doubts. And most importantly, start by educating yourself.

For the youth, I would say first of all avoid referring to pornographic content or peers to understand sexual intercourse. Always ask the questions to the right people who can guide you. Respect each other’s sexuality, communicate, and most of all learn and respect the importance of consent.

First published on Mar 28, 2018.

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