Sex Education For Children: How To Explain Alternate Sexuality

Posted: December 13, 2013

Sex education for children is a must, but many parents aren’t very confident discussing sexual matters, leave alone alternate sexuality. Tips for Indian parents:

By Dr. Ujwala Shenoy Karmarkar

Indian parents are rather bashful about discussing sexuality with their children. So it is logical that explaining alternate sexuality is not even thought of.

A few simple thoughts about explaining alternate sexuality:

– Never underestimate your children’s ability to deal with the facts that you lay out.

– A parental age-appropriate telling of the carefully-worded truth is vastly better than a garbled twisted version from an ignorant source.

– We are the ones who know our own child’s emotional maturity and can tailor the truth to suit the situation.

– The rule of thumb should be – answer your child’s query as honestly as possible.

– If no specific question is asked, but you feel that he/she is puzzled by the topic of alternate sexuality, broach the issue and discuss it in a gentle manner.

– With older children, gay jokes, ridicule and mean comments are very common. So, it helps to deal with judgemental behaviour and nip it in the bud.

It does help to be prepared with some stock replies, of course.

Commonly asked questions 

– What is gay?

Gay is a kind of relationship where a boy is in love with another boy or a girl is in love with another girl. This is just like the relationship that girls and boys have, but it is between people of the same sex. When it is two girls/women, they are called lesbians.

– Do gay people get married and have children?

Yes, in some countries (not in ours), gay people do get married. But it needs a girl and a boy to make a baby. So they can have children only with help from a specialist doctor.

– If a person looks or dresses different, is he/she gay?

No, by merely looking at a person, one cannot predict whether they will fall in love with the opposite sex or same sex person. Just as by looking at you, I cannot predict if you like chocolate icecream or vanilla, prefer red or green colour, similarly we cannot make assumptions about a person from their appearance.

– If a person is not married or is not interested in the opposite sex, is he/she gay?

No. it just means that he/she has not yet found a person that they want to be married to.

– If a girl has a deep voice/boyish figure, or a boy has a high-pitched voice, is he/she gay?

Just as God has given you curly hair and your friend has straight hair; similarly, God has given her a particular voice or body structure. An “effeminate” man or “masculine” woman cannot be assumed to be gay.

– What is a hijra?

Sometimes a boy feels that he should not be a boy. So he adopts the mannerisms, clothes of a girl.

– What is a transsexual and transvestite?

Sometimes, a person (usually male) feels that he is better off dressing as a person of the opposite sex. So they think of themselves as women and dress accordingly.

– If I dress up as the opposite sex, will it make me a transsexual/hijra?

No, everyone dresses up as someone else for a drama, dance show or fancy-dress. If you dress up as a police-inspector or dacoit or a milkman, that will not make you one. So if you dress up in the clothes of the opposite sex that does not change your identity.

– Are gay/hijra/transsexual persons bad or evil?

My answer was and is “NO”.

I can clearly recollect the day when I realized that I would have to “explain” alternate sexuality to my child.  He returned from the playground, indignant that a close friend had been addressed as “Homo” by some older children for siding with him in a controversial umpiring decision. There he stood, all of eight years old, quivering with anger, understanding that it was supposedly an insult, but unable to comprehend the meaning of the word.

I did not have any ready answers that day, but I did not wish to fob him off with the ‘You are too young to understand’ ploy. It was clearly a question of hurt pride. So, our dialogue went something like this.

“Homo is when a girl and girl or boy and boy are in love with each other. The way girls and boys usually are.” I said.

“Is it a very bad thing?” my kid asked.

“Ummm.. not bad, just different.” I said. “Sometimes, different is mistaken for bad.”


site I visited gave an enlightening peek into what other parents had gone through when they had to encounter a similar situation.

If parents are composed and truthful about answering questions about alternate sexuality, children also adopt a similar a no-big-deal attitude. The bottomline is to be non-judgemental about our feelings to people who are different from the norm, and truthful within the parameters of the child’s age and capacity to comprehend.

Children’s books to explain alternate sexuality

Oliver Button is a Sissy  by Tomie dePaola is based on his personal experiences as a boy who doesn’t like sports like the other boys do. He likes to read, draw, dress up, sing and dance. Even his father calls him a sissy and tells him to play ball. How Oliver is seen as a star is what the story is about.

William’s Doll is the story of a boy who wants a doll.

King and King by Linda De Haan and Stern Nijland

Prince Bertie is urged by his mother to marry, but rejects all the princesses he sees. Along comes Princess Madeleine escorted by her brother Prince Lee. The princes immediately fall in love, and they marry. They are declared “King and King.” The story ends with a kiss between the two kings.

And Tango Makes Three 

Written by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson and illustrated by Henry Cole. The book is based on the true story of  two male Chinstrap Penguins in New York’s Central Park Zoo. The book follows the six years of their life when they were a couple and were given an egg to raise.

Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman and Diana Dsouza

At Heather’s playgroup, her family situation is discussed simply and positively, as are those of other children in non-traditional family units.

Uncle What Is It Is Coming To Visit by Michael Willhoite

Igor and Tiffany expect the worst when they hear that their gay uncle is coming to visit, but their stereotypes are shattered when Uncle Brett finally arrives.

My Two Uncles By Judith Vigna

Elly loves spending time with her Uncle Ned and his partner, Phil. When Elly’s Grampy refuses to invite Phil to his fiftieth wedding anniversary party, Elly is confused. Her Daddy explains to her what it means to be gay, as well as her Grampy’s mindset.

More books that could help you explain alternate sexuality to your children here and an online platform for LGBTI adults in India.

*Photo credit: incurable_hippie (Used under the Creative Commons Attribution License.)

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  1. I don’t think ‘alternate sexuality’ is a politically-correct term. As it is who decides what is ‘alternate’ and what is ‘mainstream’. Everything is natural, that’s what we know.

  2. Hey Japleen,
    That is a great thing to point out. Thanks
    Any suggestions about what we could call it ? As this has to do with explaining the concept to Indian children, would love to get your input about the terms that would do.

    • Hi Ujwala, I think children are much less complicated than adults and just explaining them that there are different kinds of people (sexual orientations) would do the trick. Make them see things beyond the ‘normal’. Simple words like, mommy loves daddy and sometimes daddy loves daddy and mommy loves mommy, of course it depends what age we are talking about it. But giving it a different term like alternate is already ostracizing them from the ‘normal’ and the ‘accepted’. I think we need to change the definition of these two words.

    • So, I guess we need to say different forms of sexuality… Perhaps calling LGBTI,” A different or alternate” from the norm is not correct. But, teaching /sensitizing (an Indian child, in particular) to the nuances of the ‘different forms of sexuality’ is a great idea.
      The case of the U.S student who committed suicide because his Indian room-mate recorded him with his same-sex date and then ridiculed him is well-known.So sadly, change of location for an Indian child does not always mean a shift to being sensitive, as well.

    • Forcefully recording for uni-sexual activity comes under BALATKAR and not a sexual understanding

    • Alternate source of satisfaction can be termed as Sexual Yogic exercises without actually using the traditional methods.

  3. Thanks a bunch for this! Very much appreciated. Alternate sexuality is fine. I know some don’t like it, but to me it is not offensive. You can just say human sexuality.
    Clarification: Trans folks feel that their mental and physical gender doesn’t match. Sometimes they choose to physically transition to their mental gender and sometimes they just express their gender without going through transition.

  4. Such a nice article. Not only children but even some adults need to be educated about this. Too much confusion and ill-informed opinions on this subject in our society. I met someone yesterday who thought gay men can’t get it up and are impotent.

  5. -

    You are really doing wonders by writing such important matters. We are passing through a very critical situation wherein we are always discussing about the modernization of life and side by side we are suppressing girls, we are killing their sentiments, We are hiding many things from our children, which they learn from third rate friends. Sex education plays a vital role for the physical development of teenagers. No school, no parent and even our society is prepared to include sex education in schools for Higher Secondary students. Age between 16 to 19 is really a ripe age and we must teach them What is sex?
    We simply avoid it by simply saying HUSH HUSH it is bad. Such HUSH HUSH generates curiosity to learn it .
    With the result they come in the trap of bad society.
    Ujjwala you really deserve to be congratulated.

    Dr Mrs Sushma Joiya Pandit.

  6. That was very helpful, thanks for the wonderful article Ujwala.

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