Conversations about sex
In a survey carried out on youngsters on sexual and reproductive health, 35% of the respondents did not believe pregnancy could occur in the first sexual encounter, while 19% believed using two condoms at the same time offered better protection.
The Malaysian Youth Sexual And Reproductive Health Survey 2016 certainly shed some light on the poor levels of sexual and reproductive health (SRH) knowledge among our youngsters.
Why are we so embarrassed to talk about this topic? Parents tend to avoid talking about the birds and the bees, schoolteachers whiz through the boy-girl anatomy sections, and youngsters discuss the subject in hushed whispers.
Because it is widely considered a taboo topic in Asia, our youngsters are ill-equipped with SRH knowledge, which leads them to make rash or bad decisions.
But this culture can be changed.
It begins at home and starts with a conversation about intimacy. Instead of skirting the issue, leaving it to schools or turning a blind eye, parents should talk about sex with their children.
“When we start talking about it, we will be able to address the deep-rooted perception that SRH education encourages sexual activity and promiscuous behaviour.
“Additionally, talking equips one with an in-depth understanding and respect of the physical, mental and social aspects on all matters relating to SRH.
“When parents speak to their children about their private parts, it is best to avoid using nicknames to ensure children treat their genitals the same as with other body parts. By addressing the private parts with their biological terms, it will help children not to feel ashamed of those parts, but appreciate and respect them.
“If parents continue addressing the private parts with nicknames, their children will build a perception that it is not right to talk about such things, and they carry this culture into adulthood,” says obstetrics and gynaecology consultant Prof Dr Harlina Halizah Siraj.
She was commenting on the ongoing #TalkNowProtectAlways campaign by Durex Malaysia, which seeks to encourage Malaysian youth and parents to talk about the subject in an effort to correct misconceptions.
According to certified parenting coach Zaid Mohamad, parents should treat it like a normal conversation at home, like how they would talk about school, games, and even programmes they watch together.
“Though it may be tough at first, I strongly urge parents to take note of the benefits their children will have by having such knowledge.
“Parents should also remember that it is okay to not have all the answers to the questions their child may have. Be honest with your child. If you do not know how to respond to them, let them know you will go find out and you will get back to them,” says Zaid, who is also the author of Smart Parents, Brighter Kids and Smart Parents, Richer Kids.
Every day, we read stories of rape and teenage pregnancy, with both victims and perpetrators getting younger. Just last month, a seven-year-old boy was alleged to have raped a six-year-old kindergarten pupil in Melaka.
Teaching children about SRH and sex crimes should be the priority for every parent as primary caregivers, as soon as the child is able to understand things.
Prof Dr Harlina says, “First, parents need to educate themselves on what SRH knowledge is truly about. They need to be made aware that it covers a wide range of areas that are fundamental to one’s growth and in keeping children safe and protected.
“These include a basic understanding of the bodily parts and their correct terminologies, puberty and respect of others, healthy relationships to staying protected and using contraception.”
While there is no ideal age for parents to start educating their children on SRH, Zaid feels these conversations should begin as early as possible.
“Opportunities may arise when parents are spending time with their children at home or when they are out doing activities together.
“For instance, when watching TV together and a pregnant teenager appears on screen, parents can educate their younger children on what pregnancy is all about. Or, if they have teenage children, ask them about the kind of feelings and emotions that the pregnant teenager might be going through,” he advises.
The conversation should not be treated as a one-off and has to progress in tandem with the child as he or she grows older and develops physically, mentally and emotionally.
Zaid adds, “A parent who has a two-year-old can start talking about body parts, private behaviours, as well as the difference between boys and girls.
“As the child grows older, say, when they are five years old, the conversation can evolve to include topics about understanding and respecting their bodies, appropriate touch, as well as when to say no.
“As the child reaches the pre-teen or teenage years, then it progresses into topics on dealing with puberty, body changes, relationships and much more.”
Prof Dr Harlina says, “When you talk, connect it back to your family values so that those are communicated as well. Though it may seem like a tall order at first, rest assured, that over time the conversations will get better, smoother and easier for both the parent and the child.
“In fact, a key message that I would like to tell parents is to be an ‘ask-able’ parent, rather than a lecturer. Listening is key to understanding what your child is going through, so do not be quick to judge nor brush aside their thoughts as it may deter them from coming to you again.”
Asians are accustomed to the practice of saying “no” to their children and expecting them to follow suit.
However, in today’s world where information is easily accessible, parents need to realise that they no longer stand as the sole source of information to which their children can go to for guidance.
In the digital age, false information is also widely available – and it is this type of inaccurate information that tends to go viral.
“As parents, we all know that constantly saying ‘no’ may even fan the fire of curiosity, and in turn, make them more rebellious. Knowledge is power. Help them understand the potential repercussions of their actions rather than just telling them ‘no’.
“This is particularly important when it revolves around your child’s SRH whereby one mistake is all it takes to have a permanent effect on your child’s life. Keep a lookout for signals that your child may be contemplating doing something behind your back,” says Zaid.
By instilling in the child an understanding of unprotected sex and its repercussions, it will help the child appreciate their body and the process of reproduction, which in turn will help them make informed decisions.
And contrary to what critics fear, such awareness does not encourage youth to start “experimenting”. Young people need age-appropriate and culturally-sensitive sex education to empower them.
“It is important to educate boys to learn to respect girls and their decisions. It is not enough to only teach girls about pregnancy and how to stay protected; boys need to learn to take responsibility, too. We need to educate them on the female’s reproductive system, how it works, as well as how to be respectful and responsible.
“This will in turn cultivate a culture whereby boys are responsible, considerate and protective. These are all part of a healthy understanding of SRH that we hope to grow and develop among Malaysians,” stresses Zaid.
Read more at http://www.star2.com/health/wellness/2017/08/28/conversations-about-sex/#ym7Bk7xthC08fm7p.99