Many a time, we hesitate to talk to adolescents about sex. A number of people believe that talking about sex might give youngsters “ideas” and unnecessarily get them curious to experiment. Such thoughts come from the safety of the assumption that adolescents in this time and age will not know about sex until we tell them. How far this assumption is from the truth and the consequences of not having open conversations with adolescents is something that will stare you in the face if you ever allowed youngsters to express freely.
As part of an initiative by ELCIA to undertake awareness talks to adolescent girls about menstrual hygiene and related issues, I was invited to speak to the students of Konappana Agrahara Government High School. My first session was for the girls, on Menstrual Hygiene. At the end of this session, I invited the girls to ask questions or write on a piece of paper about what else they wish to know. Majority of their questions revolved around rape, abuse, child marriage, pregnancy and violence against women and girls.
Allowing them to express freely
All our safe assumptions that these young girls are innocent will be shattered when we read questions such as “Why is it that these days fathers and brothers look at their daughters/sisters with desire?” Clearly, this question comes from a personal experience of having experienced or witnessed sexual abuse. Here’s another question that will leave you wondering where to start “Why do we feel attracted to boys once we attain puberty?”
If we really want to know the truth about what goes on in the mind of an adolescent, we have to give them the freedom to express and create a safe environment in which they will not be judged, laughed at or reprimanded for speaking out. And when they do speak out, we need to keep an absolute open mind and answer them with honesty and straightforwardness.
Being aware of your thoughts
The second session to the same batch of students happened on Dec 6, 2013. Before answering their questions, the students were invited to first get in touch with their emotions, feelings and thought process as an adolescent. Girls were invited to express their attraction towards the opposite sex. While all of them vehemently said that they do not have any such feeling, a simple question of who their favourite actor is, drove home the point. In a chorus, the girls named their favourite actor as Darshan. Giggles, blushes and much laughter followed. But the strange part was that all these girls were aware that just a year ago, a complaint was filed against the same actor for harassing and beating up his wife. And yet, the girls loved him. Did they think wife beating is macho? Did they feel it is OK if men like Darshan beat up their wives? The answer was silence and a quite nod of No…..they simply hadn’t thought about it.
And this is the case with much of what goes on in an adolescent’s mind – they do not think it through. And just the act of making them aware of pausing and examining their thought could be a first step towards ensuring their safety.
Answering their questions
While most of the questions written by the girls was about rape, none of them asked what sex itself is. It is interesting to note that in a similar session for boys done by Bhaskar in another government school, the questions asked by most boys was plain and simple – what is sex? Boys admitted gladly that they have all watched porn movies, but haven’t quite understood what exactly sex is!
And this is probably the most important reason why we need to educate both boys and girls about sex in a straightforward way. Adolescents, especially boys will anyway try all possible means to learn about sex. Often what they know will be twisted and half-baked. While most boys from government schools try and educate themselves about sex through porn, girls from government schools have no access to such material easily. Many a time, girls do not fully know what sex is and they could be easily tricked into “having a little fun” by experienced men. Therefore, there is a great necessity to educate girls about the sexual act and its consequences which are not just physical, but also societal, mental and emotional.
Once we told girls about sex, it was they who said what rape means and what the difference between consensual sex and sex without consent could mean.
Holding a mirror
With clear memories of my own adolescent phase and with my experience of working with thousands of adolescents, I know that one of the most unsuccessful methods of making an adolescent act sensibly is giving advice, however well intended! So then how do you convey important messages about personal safety to an adolescent girl?
We simply shifted roles – I played an adolescent and one of the girls played me. I acted like a stubborn adolescent, desperately in love with a boy and having plans of eloping, come what may! I invited the girls to “advise” me.
For all those who say that adolescents are reckless creatures who can never think right, I wish you could hear these girls speak! Each one responded with a more sane answer than the other. While one girl scolded me for doing what is clearly wrong, another girl explained why it is wrong. They said that unless the girl is physically mature, it is better to not get involved in a relationship. One of the girls pointed out that such behavior might make us a social outcast and it will be difficult then to live and face people. Another girl pointed out that at this age, we may not have the emotionally maturity to deal with the consequences of such a relationship!
Each of these points mentioned by the girls themself was discussed further.
Narrating day-to-day incidents of eve teasing or molestation, we got the girls to understand how much of these can be prevented by changing their body language and not showing fear. We discussed how girls can work on several preventive mechanisms to avoid tricky situations or to get out of difficult circumstances
Hard hitting realities
Any further doubts of whether or not such talks are necessary was completely dismissed when after the session, 10-12 girls came and spoke to me one-on-one. The stories they shared with me has left me thinking hard about the next course of action.
At least 5 different girls narrated incidents of eve teasing and harassment that happens to them everyday when they walk between home and school. Men who visit bars, auto-drivers and also boys from the same school bother these girls on a daily basis. They do not want to tell their parents as they might be made the culprit. They do not want to tell teachers as the news would spread and they might get a bad name. They almost pleaded me to do something about it.
While one girl gave me an address of her friend, aged 14 years, who is to be married in January (child marriage), another girl confided and narrated how she is being abused by her grandfather and has not spoken about it to anyone. Two girls spoke about how they are tired of the home atmosphere where they are constantly beaten up for the slightest mistake or attempt to speak up….
Next plan of action
Through Makkala Sahayavani network, we will be making an attempt to visit the spots where eve-teasing happens and take adequate action. Similarly, we will be working to prevent any child marriage that comes to our notice by working with the relevant authorities. Also, there is an equal necessity to have similar conversations with boys from the same schools who are turning into eve teasers.