This post was inspired by my seventeen year old sister. I’ve been very open with her about sex and sexuality for a while now. She’s having a very different experience than I did at her age. When I was a teen, I had no actual experience; all the knowledge I had about sex and sexuality was gleaned from books and side glances at the sexually explicit themes that surround my neighborhood in West Hollywood. (Not to mention the small handful of Gay Pride Parades I went to as a teenager.) My sister, on the other hand, has had a lot of open conversations about these topics. She’s proof of the sex positive movement’s position that having honest, accurate discussions on sexuality not necessarily leading to increased sexual activity (as the conservative, right-wing wants you to believe). Knowledge is power.
As my sister and I took a walk around our neighborhood recently, she recalled to me a situation which came up in her health class during freshman year (9th grade) a couple years ago. The instructor asked whether the students thought that stopping sexual activity to put on a condom would kill the mood. She told me that everyone said it would. How scary!
There are some problems with this.
Condoms are being perceived as negative. Why would you want to stop for something that you view as inconvenient? If they’re a “hassle,” why would you want to disrupt the fun you and your partner are having to slip on a condom? This idea is detrimental to the sexual and reproductive health of our youngsters. We need to start early and educate kids and teens (in age appropriate ways) about safer sex practices. This will teach them that condoms and other barriers are not a nuisance; they can be considered very commonplace.
Carrying condoms is equated with being “easy.” I admit, I haven’t heard this first hand. During a class I took in February on Childhood and Adolescent Sexuality, we watched a video in which teens were asked whether their perceptions of a friend would change if they found out the friend had condoms with them. Both boys and girls in this video thought it made the friend look like they were “easy”, or “sluts.” One girl did have a different opinion, which she gave tentatively; she said, “At least they’re prepared.” Sadly, the interview was conducted with a friend right next to her and this open-minded girl received an icy glare. In other words, some kids are peer pressured into this anti-condom mentality. It is extremely unfortunate that those who want to be prepared and engage in safer sex practices are being shunned and considered shameful. These teens should be commended for taking responsibility for their health and their futures and making a very adult decision to play safer.
Condoms have been described as not able do the job they are designed to do. It’s been a while since I’ve heard this awful statement, but I am sure it is still strong, especially amongst the sex-negative conservatives. They play up the negative aspects (read: failure rates) of condoms. There is no reason to take a doomsday approach to barriers. It is true that condoms have a failure rate. There are also different statistics based on perfect use and typical use. For example, with perfect use (using a condom start to finish without the penis coming in contact with the vulva), condoms are 98% effective for preventing pregnancies. With typical use (often in the heat of the moment, PV contact possibly), the effectiveness of male condoms do drop down to 85%. Overall, condoms are very effective in preventing unwanted pregnancies and STIs.
So, what do we do with this discrepancy? This is where accurate, comprehensive sex education comes into play. Let’s be realistic. Teens are having sex. “One in four new STI cases occur in teenagers.” (Taken from iwannaknow.org) And while the teen pregnancy rate has been on the decline for about two decades, the United States does have one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy of the developed world.
Our kids and teens need to become more informed on safer sex methods so that they can make responsible choices for themselves. We need to stop shaming sexually active youngsters who are taking steps to prevent Sexually Transmitted Infections and unplanned pregnancies. As adults, it is our responsibility to guide and give them the tools to make these choices which will affect their futures. This can be an extremely daunting task, particularly for those adults or parents who do not know how to go about educating their kids and teens. The important part is to be there for them; be a safe, non-judgmental space for your teen to come and confide. When you don’t know the answer for something, ask. This shows your teenager that not knowing is okay, and that they should go and find the answers from those who do know.
“In one year with perfect use (meaning couples use condoms consistently and correctly at every act of sex), 98 percent of women relying on male condoms will remain pregnancy free. With typical use, 85 percent relying on male condoms will remain pregnancy free.” (Taken from Advocatesforyouth.org)
“In 2010, 34.3 live births per 1,000 women aged 15–19 years. This is a record low for U.S. teens in this age group.” (Taken from CDC.org)
“The United States continues to have one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the developed world (68 per 1,000 women aged 15–19 in 2008)—more than twice that of Canada (27.9 per 1,000) or Sweden (31.4 per 1,000).” (Taken from Guttmacher.org)