Daughter with Bisexual Classmate

What advice would you give to a parent whose daughter comes home and says there is a girl in her fifth grade class that says she is bisexual? I had no idea I was anything at that age. Time seems to have passed me by!

Fr. Pat

Dear Fr. Pat,

Most of us didn’t have any understanding of our sexuality beyond perhaps the basic facts when we were younger, and many of us didn’t even have those. Children and adolescents have a natural curiosity about their bodies and sex. Sex education isn’t widely available, and some of it isn’t very good.

Now more than ever, parents are asserting an absolute right to control what their children are taught. But some parents teach their children very little, or they base their teaching on moralistic religious beliefs that promote abstinence only. In places where parents don’t teach about healthy sexual behaviors, porn consumption is higher, and porn skews the ability to understand what healthy sex looks like.

First, I would recommend these parents express their appreciation to this girl for having come to them with the question. I would also tell them to offer their daughter an invitation to ask them more questions when she has them.

Second, I would advise them to answer the question but not to tell them more than the child is asking. Her request is simple: “I want to know what it means when someone says he or she is bisexual.” A detailed explanation or a lecture on morality is more than she wants to know and may be off-putting.

The final recommendation would be to recognize the level of her understanding of sexuality. For most fifth graders, it’s rather primitive—although likely much more than what you or I knew at her age.

But most fifth graders know what it’s like to have a crush on someone. At that age, they are beginning to experience sexual attraction. They may understand the basics of sexual behavior, but they lack the capacity to understand the complexity of our sexuality.

I would encourage the parents to respond with something like this: “Boys have crushes on girls, and girls have crushes on boys, but some boys have crushes on boys and some girls have crushes on girls. As they get older, that may change, but sometimes it doesn’t. Some men are attracted to other men, and some women are attracted to other women. Everyone is different, but that’s okay. I hope you’ll treat her as well as you treat other kids.”

Then follow that with this: “Is there anything more you’d like to know? I’ll answer your questions if I can.”