I’ve decided that it’s Condom Week around here at Unhushed. Melissa White over at Lucky Bloke recently asked if I wanted to provide content for her new safer sex education website, and of course I was delighted! But when I went back to look through my blogging archives (both here and at www.karenrayne.com), I found that I had written terrifyingly little about condoms. So here I am, rectifying that problem with Condom Week, on both sites. Here at Unhushed I’ll be writing about parental concerns about condoms. At KarenRayne.com I’ll be writing about teachers and other educators’ issues about condoms in the classroom. Interested in receiving Unhushed blog posts as they happen? Sign up here. You can sign up to receive KarenRayne.com blog posts here.
Starting a conversation about sexuality with your teenager about sexuality generally can be tricky – but a specific question about contraception and condoms can be both simpler and more stressful. You know what you’re getting at, but how to bring it up delicately?
As with all conversations about sexuality, just diving in at an inopportune time can be problematic, and your teenager can shut down. So find a time when it’s just the two of you and you’re both relaxed. If need be, if your home life is such that these moments don’t come around often, then fabricate one. If you struggle with this, find a YouTube clip or a movie that talks about condoms and watch it with your teenager as a way of introduction. (For example, Juno, where condoms aren’t used, or one of the many condom fashion shows with clips on YouTube.)
When you bring up the topic of condom usage, don’t hedge around the topic, just bring it up like you would anything else you want to have a conversation about. There’s no reason to treat sexuality as a forbidden or taboo subject matter, just a sensitive and potentially emotional one.
Before you start the conversation, it’s important for you to consider how much you know about your teenager’s sexual activity because they require slightly different approaches. Do you know if your teenager is sexually active? Do they know you know? Do you suspect, but don’t have any actual proof? Do you wonder, but aren’t really sure? Do you think not, but you want to start these conversations earlier rather than later (and good for you!)?
If you know your teenager is sexually active – and your teenager knows you know – then the conversation is easier. You can jump directly to contraceptives, but remember that it’s a conversation, not an interrogation. Offer support in obtaining condoms. Make it clear that sexual health is a value that you have and that you will follow through on.
If you don’t know for sure whether your teenager is sexually active – or they don’t know that you know – the conversation is a little trickier. Making any assumptions about your teen’s sexual activity level can feel presumptuous to them and make them shut down. Give your teenager enough room for plausible deniability around their sexual activity. For the context of this conversation, whether your teenager is actually having sex is less important than an upfront conversation about contraception: what it does, how to access it, how to use it, how to talk with a partner about it, and more.
You don’t need to know the answers to all of these questions yourself, but you do need to know where to find the answers. I recommend Scarleteen and Sex, Etc. as the best places to go with your teenager or to send your teenager to find sexual information online. Facilitating a conversation about condoms is really the most important part of this process. And it can start with this question, regardless of any other part of your process: “What do you think about condoms?”
More later this week on how to provide condoms to your teenager!