Salony Priya, the director of Umeed, at the workshop on family health education. (Arnab Mondal)
Be open when confronted with questions on sex from adolescents, was the advice of counsellors to parents and teachers.
Overexposure to sex, Facebook dating, gender identity crisis, teenage pregnancy and child abuse were some of the issues addressed at a two-day workshop on how to deal with sexuality issues.
“Sex is all around us. Several commercials on TV, magazines, soap operas and even video games are sexually provocative. Many of these games can be downloaded free. There is little check on what children watch,” said Salony Priya, the director of Umeed.
“Overexposure to the adult world has left kids confused. Often, they feel virginity is a sign of foolishness. Many keep changing their boyfriends or girlfriends because relationships are more of a pastime or a status symbol rather than a bond of love,” Salony Priya told the audience of around 60 educators from more than 20 city schools who attended the workshop at Sri Sri Academy, Alipore, on September 21 and 22.
Counsellors at Umeed said adolescents often get into relationships because of a need for physical intimacy or distraction and such relationships are short-lived.
“We find that the sexual curiosity awakens in children at an early age these days, sometimes at six or seven years,” Salony Priya said.
Teachers and parents discussed the dilemma they faced when asked about sex. “My teenage child asked me the meaning of sex some time ago. I kept quiet. Now I feel I should have been more open to her,” said a teacher at the workshop. “My son once asked me if he was a virgin,” chipped in another.
“I often have to deal with teenage problems. The workshop has helped me see things in the right perspective,” said Sangeeta Tandon, social science teacher at Birla High School for Boys and and coordinator of classes IX and X.
The workshop began with Salony Priya explaining the difference between “sex education” and “education of sexuality”. “Sex education covers human reproduction and other physical matters. Sexuality covers psychological reactions and behavioural responses,” she said.
As the talk veered towards the Indian perspective on sexuality, the Umeed director said: “Gone are the days of Yaarana. Movies like Dostana have changed the entire perspective on the issue. ‘Sexy’, ‘hot’ and ‘sizzling’ have become common words for children and post-The Dirty Picture, ‘sexy’ is ‘dirty’ and many teens yearn to be that.”
Salony Priya also warned adolescents and their guardians against the ills of social networking sites and the need for some monitoring. “Teens often open accounts in fake names,” she said. Comparing “Facebook friendships” with physical relationships, Salony Priya equated “likes” to a handshake, commenting on each other’s posts to “holding hands” and “tagging” to “a peck on the cheek”.
Psychologist and therapist Priya Nandi spoke about child abuse and the myths surrounding it, while gynaecologist Mou Chatterjee stressed the need for timely medical advice. “It is a myth that children are mostly sexually abused by strangers. The culprit is often a family member or somebody they trust,” Nandi said.
“The first step towards resolving adolescent issues is counselling, the second is medical help,” said Chatterjee.