Sex education: When and how?

Team IIBP Anveshan, Issue 6, Mental Health

Sex education remains a foreign concept in many parts of India. Both parents and teachers do little to educate children about sex and other related subjects. There is also a common misconception that sex education only concerns reproduction and sex organs, despite the fact that it is much more. Before we get into when should we start sex education, let’s see what it really is?

Sex education is a program that aims to increase knowledge and awareness about sexual identity, relationships, and intimacy. It includes topics such as sexual health, sexual identity, sexual orientation, sexual abuse, reproduction, intimacy, consent, and so on. The goal is to lay a solid foundation for both the sexual health and interpersonal relationships of an individual.

Now that we understand what sex education means, let’s focus on the question that’s often asked, when is the right time to speak about sex or start sex education? According to experts, sex education should begin between the ages of 18 and 24 months. It starts with the knowledge of different body parts, for instance, a 24-month-old toddler should be able to name every part of their body, including their genitals. Parents must teach their children the appropriate name of their genitals, rather than using nicknames.

Sex education for younger children has based on their developmental level as well as their curiosity. Preschoolers should be taught the distinction between private and public, such as their bodies being private and not being touched by others. When they know what is appropriate, they are more likely to come forward if they experience sexual abuse. Many questions, such as how babies are born, need to be answered appropriately considering the child’s level of understanding and their age. It is essential to note that the content of sex education changes as the child grows older. As children enter school, they should be taught about personal space and boundaries, which will help them develop healthy interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers. 

Once middle school starts, topics like different sexual orientations, the process of reproduction, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), internet safety, various contraceptives, and a variety of other concepts related to sexuality and sexual health, should be introduced.

Along with these topics, puberty-related issues such as hair growth and menstruation should be discussed at home as well as at school, which enables children to better understand and cope with physical changes.

As the child grows, sex education evolves into a problem-solving method that includes various challenges the child experiences and ways to deal with them. Sex education that is delivered in a systematic and effective manner helps to ensure a healthy sexual development of the child, which makes it very important to start sex education at the right time and in the right manner.

About the Author: Ms. Niti Joshi is a Clinical Psychology Trainee (MPhil, 2nd year). She has completed Bachelors as well as Masters in Applied Psychology. She aims to make people aware about the importance of mental health and make therapy affordable and accessible for the mass. Currently, she is offering pro bono online therapy and is interested in working with adolescents as well as adults.