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Same-sex experimenting doesn't mean girl is gay

Dear Beth:

My fifth-grade daughter confided that she had a sexual experience with another girl her own age. She was terribly concerned that she might be gay and that I might be upset. I was flabbergasted, but it was very clear to me that she was acting out of curiosity, was not coerced, and that her feelings simply overwhelmed her.

I reassured her that sexual feelings were normal and that it was good she had this experience in a safe context. Inside, however, I was distressed because I just don't know how to help her through this phase of her life. She is physically mature and intellectually advanced, but is nowhere near as ''worldly" as some of the other girls in her class. Is there anything I should be doing to help her? Are early sexual experiences a sign something is amiss?

ANY MOM, ANY SUBURB

I think you did exactly the right thing! You were calm and accepting. You didn't overreact. Most importantly, you let her know that her sexual feelings were normal.

Kids her age are extremely curious and often experiment with someone of the same sex. Kissing or making out, even pretending to have sex, is common play. It is normal if it is mutual and doesn't involve coercion. Enjoying experimenting with a friend of the same gender does not mean she is gay or that it will lead to anything more.

Because your daughter was concerned that she might be gay, it is important to talk with her about why this worried her so much. Once you know what her concerns are, you can address them and assure her of your support.

Do some reading about how to address young people's questions and concerns. A good book for both of you is ''Changing Bodies, Changing Lives: A Book for Teens on Sex and Relationships," edited by Ruth Bell (Random House).

Teen sexuality is too often viewed negatively, which makes normal sexual development appear to be a disease. I am very impressed with how you handled this.

Beth can be reached at askbeth@globe.com.

Send letters to Ask Beth, The Boston Globe, PO Box 55819, Boston MA 02205-5819. Questions can be answered only through this column. Ask Beth is a registered trademark of Globe Newspaper Co.

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