Many Indian parents are queasy about discussing sex with their children. Some are convinced that they should never speak about it, others feel they owe it to the kids, but are not sure how to do it. Still others are unsure about when to introduce the topic with their children.
Even if you are comfortable discussing sex with your child, you may stumble when it comes to talking about same sex relationships, or queer relationships. Assuming that you are a cis-heterosexual person yourself, you may either not have enough information about the subject (in which case you must first educate yourself) or you may wonder how to go about doing it in an age-appropriate manner.
Here are some FAQs to get you started:
1. Is it necessary to talk about queer relationships at all?
Yes. If you want your child to grow up knowing that queer relationships are just as "normal" and "natural" as heterosexual ones, it makes sense to talk about them around the same age that you start discussing heterosexual attraction and relationships.
Also, since we live in a society where queer relationships are still frowned upon (despite the historic Supreme Court verdict which read down Section 377 recently), your child may never have an opportunity to learn about them from a reliable source before the homophobia in popular culture conditions them to believe that theyâ€™re something to be derided.
Most importantly, you may have a child who is queer â€“ though neither you nor the child may as yet know it. But it helps for them to grow up in a home where one or both parents is accepting of the idea. It may help them discover and understand their identity better, too.
2. What's the right age to talk about sex?
Many parents believe they should sit down one fine day, when the child has attained puberty, and have an hour long discussion with them about the "birds and the bees." This is an absurd idea and may also be decidedly awkward if you have never discussed the subject prior to this.
It makes sense to start talking about sex gradually, expanding on the subject and providing more details as your child grows older.
Many young children ask where babies come from, why they have a different set of genitalia than their siblings/friends, how do people kiss, when can they get a brother or sister, and so on. When your child asks such questions, don't be evasive. Give them correct information and present it in a way that they can understand.
For example, if your 3-year-old asks, "Where do babies come from?", you can say, "From the mother's uterus" (as opposed to "stomach" or the stork) and explain that the uterus is an organ in a woman's body where a baby grows.
If your 6-year-old asks the same question, you can explain a little more, referring to how a baby grows in the uterus when the mother's egg and the father's sperm come together. Something simple along the lines of, "When a man and woman really like each other, then sometimes, they lie close to each other and the man's sperm goes into the woman's body. Here, it meets an egg and together, they make a baby which is really tiny at first and then grows big." An older child can be given a more detailed explanation.
There are many children's books and child-friendly online videos that you can use to explain this to the child in an age-appropriate manner.
3. And what about same sex relationships?
However, sex is not only about reproduction, and your child should know that attraction needn't always involve babies. When you explain about men and women liking each other in a special way, you can add that sometimes two men and two women can also like each other like that.
Remember that a young child, who is unlikely to be homophobic, probably won't be shocked by this information as you think s/he will be. Young children are far more tolerant and open about differences than adults are. They may have a few questions, or not. If they do ask, answer them as truthfully as you can. For example, they may want to know if two men or two women can have babies. You can tell them that while it may not be possible for such a couple to have a baby without the help of doctors, they can always adopt a child together.
In fact, when your child asks you the "Where do babies come from?" question, you can also use the opportunity to speak to them about adoption and the various ways in which we can form a family â€“ it needn't always be a man and a woman with a child. You can tell them about single parents, people who've decided they don't want kids, and so on. All of this shouldn't be relayed as an information dump but through a light conversation where both of you are speaking and sharing.
These days, even Hollywood films which are primarily made for children have become more inclusive and include representations of same sex relationship. Boss Baby, for instance, had the stork delivering a baby to gay parents. The 2017 Beauty and the Beast also had a gay character.
You can point out these examples when you watch such films with your child â€“ in general, it's good to develop the ability to critique popular culture in your child. That way, they don't just absorb what they watch, they also learn to think about it and question it if needed.
4. What if the information I give them "spoils" them?
You are worried that your child is going to start experimenting physically because of all the things you've told them? You should know that many small kids already know that touching their sexual organ gives pleasure, although they do it as part of self-exploration without really assigning the same meaning to it as adults. Peer touching with consent is also a normal part of growing up.
Providing access to correct information through a safe source is your best bet for preventing and identifying sexual abuse, as well as bringing up your child to believe that consensual sex is healthy. If you don't speak to them about it, they will get the information anyway from some other sources â€“ their friends, older relatives, books, the internet. Your paranoia may prove to be counter-productive, if it drives them to unsafe channels and environments to find out more.
And if you're not worried about your child suddenly wanting to touch a child of another gender just because you gave them a bit of "regular" sex education, why think something similar will happen when you talk to them about same sex relationships?
5. Okay, but what if they get into trouble for talking about it?
This is indeed a practical difficulty when you live in a society where most adults are not cool with discussing such subjects among themselves, forget about children doing it. Your child may want to convey all the new information to his/her friend at school or in the neighborhood and this may horrify the other parent who finds out.
You cannot, obviously, control all of your child's conversations (please don't), but you can offer some friendly advice that it's best for kids to learn such information directly from their parents. You can say that not all parents think about bringing up their kids in the same way â€“ some are okay with their children eating chocolates every day, others have rules; some give their kids gadgets, others don't. Similarly, some discuss such subjects and others may do it later. It should be the parents' decision when they want to tell their child. Do not, at any point, give the impression that this is something "dirty".
Despite this guideline, your child may very well talk about this with their peers. But if it so happens that another adult has an issue with this, do not guilt trip your child or blame them for it. Take on the parent, adult to adult, and explain why you have such conversations at home. A grown-up's bigotry shouldn't be your child's cross to bear.