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I can talk about everything to my daughter, but not sex.

How I hope and wish that they will deal with all these topics in school and be done with it.

If I tell my kids about sex, they will start thinking about us, their parents in that way…cannot bear that.

I do believe that we have to talk a little bit about sex with our daughters…only then will they start confiding in us.

What can I tell my daughter? She and her friends know everything…I just hope that they only know and do not do anything.

The opposite sex is our main concern at this stage…the interaction between them is the main thing to worry about.

Only if you are their friend will you be able to get close to them…

- Mothers of adolescent girls

Very similar reactions are evinced by mothers across the universe. When daughters experience menarche or when children step into their teens, parents, especially mothers begin to panic, faced with the inevitable dilemma - how must I prepare my daughter for this phase? There are things I must tell her about, but how do I do it? When must I tell her about the facts of life? Is she not too young for all this? My mother never talked to me about sex, must I....... mothers go on and on, worrying and wondering. We all wish to provide our child with the right information, help them develop the right attitudes towards sex and sexuality, but feel that our kids may not be ready for it. Nor do we feel prepared for the 'talk about sex'. Probably no mother is ever prepared to take on this oh so difficult task of parenting adolescents.

Most of us grew up without ever talking to our mothers about sex or any related aspects, and yet, we managed fine. How did that happen? Mothers say that circumstances were very different then. Our exposure to sexual issues were fairly limited as compared to the present times, when sexual issues are omnipresent at home, in schools and colleges, in the explicit scenes shown on TV and in films, advertisements, posters and hoardings on almost every street, in newspapers and magazines. Also, these are perhaps some of the most unsafe times we are living in, where young children are especially vulnerable. Issues like homosexuality, sexual abuse, rape and molestation are topical news and an adolescent's curiosity is naturally aroused. All of these are bound to raise a lot of questions about sex and sexuality from children that need to be answered. Difficult as it may be, these are best answered by parents.

Easier said than done, most of you must be thinking. True, mothers are not sex education experts just because they are mothers. Most do not know how to introduce intimate and potentially embarrassing topics, especially with an adolescent daughter. Sex educators will also agree that it is one thing to take a session with a bunch of other people's kids, but immensely difficult talking about sexuality with your own child. But with so much at stake, parents want to keep their children safe, and are eager to find an easy and effective way to approach a difficult topic.

The concern is to drive home the point you are making in a way that makes it easy for the child to accept and timely, so that she does not commit any mistakes.
- Mother of a 11 year old girl

An easy way to talk about sex! Those who have experienced it will affirm that it is never easy. However, with continued discussion it does get easier, especially if you start early enough when your daughter is willing to listen to you, talk to you, and most importantly, she has not already imbibed the usual secretiveness, which is largely associated with sex in our society.

An effective way to approach the topic would be to start by examining your own attitudes to the subject. If we are uncomfortable discussing it ourselves, we will not be able to help our daughters much. Therefore, it may help to get books and read some (which you are already doing!) or look up sites on the Internet. Not only will this update your information, but will definitely enable you to answer your daughter's questions confidently. Even discussing it with your husband, a relative or a friend will help loosen up. The more you are able to talk about it, the easier you will feel with your daughter. However, if your discomfort in discussing the topic persists, do not fret too much. You can always confide in your daughter that your parents never talked to you, and perhaps that's why you are feeling a little awkward. But you want to be able to talk freely with her, your daughter. You want your daughter to come to you with any query she has and you will try and help her understand the same.

If you are still uncomfortable and embarrassed at the prospect of discussing sexual matters with your daughter, just pause a while to consider the difference your willingness and your ability to talk, your acceptance and understanding, can mean for your daughter. Imagine the comfort your daughter will experience when she comes home and is able to talk to you about anything her joys, fears, doubts, pleasures, silly questions that she cannot ask anyone else. Imagine, the confidence your daughter will feel if she is informed and not plagued by doubts about what she is feeling, thinking, experiencing. Imagine the sense of security this will impart to your daughter, knowing that if she is in a spot, she can talk to you about it and you will help her through. The very fact that she is aware will keep her safe, will allow her to make the right decisions when she has to. Think back to the time when you were her age, and to the moments you wished you could talk to your mother, but were shocked by the mere prospect. For all you know, your mother may have wanted it as badly, but did not know how to, or was shy and scared, like you maybe feeling now. So, think about it, work on it and at least make an attempt.

To ensure that sex education works, start early. An important lead for mothers in a constant dilemma when do I start?

When do we start talking about sex?
Sex education is basically about intercourse…the foreplay of sex…basically they need to know to keep away.
Will she even understand what I am trying to say?
Isn't 10 years too soon…she is still a baby and I don't want to spoil her innocence!

- Mother

Experts say, it's never too soon. While parents dread that talking about sex means having to explain about intercourse, in reality, sex and sexuality is much more than sexual intercourse. Sexuality is about the way you feel about yourself and about other people. It is also about the way you appear - the clothes you wear, your mannerisms - the way you move or talk, your interactions - the way in which you relate to other people. All these are parts of your sexuality, which is much, much more than just sex. Our sexuality is a natural and normal part of who we are. Therefore, aspects like body image, relationships, self-esteem, decisionmaking, gender identities and roles, values and beliefs, etc. are significant parts of our sexuality. And just by doing what we do, the way we are, we begin to communicate about many of these issues. Even before our children are able to walk or talk, they learn from our actions and behaviour, imbibing these critical lessons, which will impact them for life.

Not surprisingly then, children are primed from early on and provided one does not go into lengthy explanations or use complex terms, even a four year old will get the drift of your talk. The precise age at which information should be provided depends on the physical, emotional and intellectual development of the children, as well as their level of understanding, which mothers will be able to discern.

Only if you start talking with your daughter early on, and keep talking to her through the years, will she come back and share with you in the later years, be able to come and talk to you frankly, without any fear. If she is able to do that, you will have achieved something truly wonderful and acquired something tremendous her trust. Sex education is not just about sharing information, it is also about building mutual trust and understanding, which takes a lot of time, and a lot of patient parenting. If more and more mothers are able to relate to their daughters about sex, there will be fewer statements such as -

My mother has never spoken to me about boys, leave alone sex…and she can't suddenly expect me to confide in her. I don't think she will understand.
- A 14 year old