(Nominated in the category of English Non-Fiction for the REC-VoW Book Awards, 2019)
Excerpts from the interview with Swati Shome:
By Shweta Kapoor
Your book discusses a topic that is generally avoided in Indian society; why do you think talking about sex is still taboo in our country? What do you think we can do to change this?
I can think of several reasons: Currently we have a mismatch in the age at which one reaches puberty and gets interested in sex, and the age of being able to get married and support a family. This was not a problem faced by our grandparents who got married at much earlier ages. I believe we, as a society, don’t know how to deal with this discrepancy and have decided to keep quiet and just let things happen. We have not been taught how to speak about such topics. Often people don’t have the vocabulary. For many Indians, our parents and teachers never taught us the appropriate words to use for our different body parts! There are so many books and online resources nowadays that there is no excuse for parents not to educate themselves on their own. Somehow, parents think that the ‘sex talk’ is a one-time event. Yet, they do not realise that children are being bombarded with issues related to sex from very young ages. It has to be an ongoing discussion between parents and children. Talking about sex with one’s partner can be difficult because people are very vulnerable at the time. Yet, relationships become so much more meaningful if they do communicate well. Avoid porn as a source of information. Porn is an unrealistic, highly edited depiction of sex between actors made for the purpose of entertainment. It does not depict a loving relation between a couple. Use stories from the news or from books or videos to start a conversation with your loved ones. That is the reason each of the 47 chapters of my book starts with a story.
The book discusses a lot of important things like basics of sex, sexual consent, puberty, sexual abuse and online harassment. What was the writing process of your book like? How did you decide the topics?
I first started writing down stories of my personal life or that I had heard. I was not sure if it was going to be a blog or a book. But as I gathered more material around the topic, I felt confident that I could have a book. I researched what topics were covered by books of similar genres and added topics that I wanted written about. But, I did not have first hand stories to go with the topics. Hence, I ended up asking people to share their real life stories with me. Initially, I wrote stories that I know from personal experience or stories from friends. A friend told me that it would be great if I could add nonfiction information after each story and make it into a book.
My manuscript was accepted on the basis that I increase the word count from 13,000 words to 40,000 words. I had no stories to add. Where was I to find them? I sat in a book cafe looking for inspiration. With a lot of trepidation I started telling people that I was writing a book with the title “Let’s Talk about Guys, Girls and Sex’. And to my surprise about one third of these people shared their stories!
Later, I needed stories for topics that the editors suggested. For example, they wanted stories about contraceptives from a man’s point of view. I asked my writer’s group, we had a meet-up based on my book and I got a ton of information.
We’re going to assume you’ve had the ‘sex talk’ with your children! Do you have advice for parents of adolescents and pre-teens who shy away from having the talk with their children?
Sex is an uncomfortable topic to talk about with our children. But then so was pregnancy and labour. “It is our responsibility as parents to talk. Not once, not as only pre-planned lectures, but as a part of ongoing conversations.”
How? Ask. Ask friends and family, how did they go about teaching their children about menstruation, where do babies come from, what are condoms, and other topics. Read books or go online and find resources. There are beautiful videos that explain many of these topics. Watch them, figure out which ones you want your kids to watch, watch them with your kids and be there to answer their questions. We need to learn the correct vocabulary and teach it to our kids, too. If they ask a question and you are not prepared with an answer, do not mislead them. Let them know that you will get back with an answer in a few days. And then go do your homework!
Swati Shome has a PhD in cell biology and has been zigzagging between the USA and India her whole life. She attended primary school in the USA, high school and undergraduate college in India and did her Masters, PhD and post-doc in the USA. She currently lives in India.
For the complete interview, log onto www.valleyofwords.org