Did your parents ever tell you about the “birds and bees”?
Come to think of it, is there even a Malayalam version of that? Pakshikalum Thenichayum?
Well, after almost a quarter of a century, I just realized something. My parents never told me what sex was about.
I might be in an incredibly small minority here, so forgive me. But this isn’t just about me. I’m pretty sure it’s the case with each and every one of my classmates growing up. None of them ever came up to the gang during recess, looking equally excited and scandalised.
“Do you know what my Dad and Mom said yesterday?”
None. Instead, almost all of us found out about sex through our peers or kids who were slightly older than us. I still remember the day when I found out how human beings procreate. I was in 4th standard, I think, and cycling alongside a friend who was 4 years older than me. In between gasps, he told me the “horrible” truth.
I didn’t believe him. I couldn’t. What he described sounded disgusting. And to think any of the elders in my life that I looked up to would ever indulge in such acts…
And then I got, how shall I put it….video confirmation.
Am I the only one who discovered how people have sex by watching porn? In fact, by the time my school even got around to addressing the issue (in the 8th standard, I think), most kids in class had passed the Beginners Course on the matter. None of the technical words in our science books could come close to matching the graphic depictions we’d seen over and over again for years.
How messed up is that?
While we are not psychologists, I can easily think of all the ways this rite of passage is damaging. In Hollywood movies, the father sits down and tells his son, “When a man loves a woman, he…”
That’s the first mistake. Because a generation of individuals like me first saw sex as an act of lust, performed by pornstars on camera. For us, sex wasn’t the culmination of love, but the payment for a pizza.
Looking back, what baffles me is how pervasive and discreet the whole enterprise was. I lived in a housing community along with hundreds of other kids. None of us got the sex talk at home. Almost as if the parents convened a meeting early on and decided to let sex be part of the hidden syllabus, a sort of easter egg we unlocked by stumbling on the wrong website or downloading the wrong file from Limewire and Ares (If you get those references, I see you!)
In the United States, there’s been a never-ending battle between two main schools of thought. Conservative parents believe it’s important to tell their children to abstain from sex until marriage, and they push for schools to teach the same. Liberals, on the other hand, think that sex is an inevitable part of an adolescent’s life, so the focus should be on safe and consensual sex. They support schools that talk about condoms, birth control, and STDs.
My school belonged to the third camp. Where sex was a secret left for children to discover on their own. The only time it was ever mentioned in class was when we’d giggle and nod our heads and the teachers would move on to other topics.
That’s what gets me. It wasn’t like the elders around me assumed we were oblivious about sex. They weren’t shocked when we grinned at a joke that was laced with sexual innuendo. Instead, they grinned or lightly chided us, while looking relieved that we weren’t going to ask questions.
Why was it decided that parents would simply wait it out till their children became aware of sex, rather than address it themselves?
I don’t know if parts of Kerala have moved on. I don’t know if your parents have been frank and open about sex since the time you hit puberty. If so, good for you. You’ve avoided a lot of potential problems. Problems that come about when your only guidance comes from unrealistic actors on camera or untruthful peers who pass on their own misguided beliefs.
Many boys my age grew up either fearing sex or fanatically chasing it. Many were tormented by their inexplicable urge to masturbate while others were pushed to seek sexual popularity over anything else. We were never taught about consent. Boys and girls were left to build their own belief systems, unsupervised, unguided.
Instead of a system of healthy communication, we spent a lot of time and energy establishing several layers of deception. Guys started to pretend as if they never noticed their female peers when they were being observed by their parents. We would hide our phone calls, chats, and rendezvous. Attraction became an illegal activity, so a massive underworld flourished. Malayali boys and girls got crash courses in acting, lying, misdirection, and concealment. Instead of sex education, we got espionage training.
Many of our parents behaved as though we were not attracted to the opposite sex. Ironically, the only way they’d ever actively encourage that, was if they were suspected that we were attracted to members of our own sex. I once joked to a friend that he’d be able to tell his parents about his girlfriend if he’d just pretend he was “potentially gay”. In which case they’d welcome the news about the girlfriend with immense relief and joy.
Right now, I feel absolutely certain that I will have the “birds and bees” talk with my kids when it’s time. But then I wonder if that’s how every previous generation felt as well. Did our parents think it necessary to enlighten people about sex, only for the topic to become shrouded in taboo as the years passed on?
I won’t know the answer, of course. Because, c’mon, you think I’d ask my parents directly?
Recently, my mother and I went to a relative’s wedding. As we were leaving, I spotted a really beautiful lady. A thought crossed my mind, and after instinctively censoring it for a moment, I said out loud:
“Umma, that’s the kind of girl I want to marry. See how sharp and angular her nose is?”
My mother glanced over and chuckled. “Hmm, let’s see!” She replied.
A part of me couldn’t believe it. For the previous 15 years, I’d never once pointed out feminine beauty to her. She’d never once commented about it to me. And all of a sudden, here we were. As though it was completely normal. Like a WhatsApp group mute notification setting that had expired.
I wonder how life would have been different for me and my peers if our parents had been open about attraction, sex, and love. We would have learned to accept ourselves in a healthy manner. We wouldn’t have built up false notions that now need to be painfully unlearnt. We wouldn’t have had to resort to deceiving our parents until lying became second nature, till we forgot that we’re leading double lives.
I don’t have the guts to ask my parents any questions about this issue right now. I think I will be able to, in a few years’ time. And when I do, I’ll ask them what made them decide to pretend. Not in an accusatory tone, but out of sheer curiosity and concern.
Because I want things to be different for my children. I don’t want them to save their friends’ contact information on their phones with different names. I don’t want them to jump behind trees and crouch beneath parked cars when they spot adults in the vicinity.
The good news is, this is an issue that can be addressed. And the change can start right away. If you are a parent, you can make that choice. Because while it was painful for me to discover how human beings have sex, it’s been even more painful for me to realize that the ones who should have told me about it, never did.
So please, tell your young ones about Pakshikalum Thenichakalum.
Though it sadly doesn’t contain any sex, check out Marwan Razzaq’s debut novel, a fast-paced crime thriller called The Man Who Found His Shadow on Amazon!