I know I’m not the only one out there doing this. But I know that most young people don’t ever access contraception until they need it – right then! That’s not a time or a place to try and do something as different and unusual and potentially scary as buying condoms.
I take groups of, mostly, middle school students to buy condoms at pharmacies. My students are usually very nervous about the process. Here are the issues they tend to bring up:
- What if they see someone they know?
- What if the clerk won’t sell to them?
- What if someone asks them what they’re doing with the condoms?
- What if buying condoms is against the law at their age?
- How will they locate the condoms in the store? What if they can’t find them?
- What if their…parents find out? (Their parents have all given specific permission for this excursion.)
Buying something as overtly sexual as condoms just feels wrong to young people. And thus the difficulty buying them for the first time when they really need them. The hurdles are already there – raising above them when the stakes are high is even harder.
Talking young people through the legalities of buying condoms (fully legal, at any age) and how to navigate the store is empowering for them. Pointing out that they can just put the condoms down somewhere and walk away from them if they see someone they know, that they can lie to people who are inappropriately inquisitive about why they’re buying condoms or what they are going to do about them can make a huge difference.
Pointing out that I am outside the store, fully ready to support them in any way they need and that their parents are fully aware of the trip also helps.
But do you know what makes the biggest difference? Actually buying condoms.
I’ve had, overwhelmingly, my students experience the following: Loads of giggles on their part and clerks who don’t bat an eye at them. Except, sometimes, after the twelfth or fifteenth middle schooler comes through their line in an hour they’ll ask whether a class is happening or something. My students are often surprised (and sometimes disappointed) at what a non-issue it actually is.
I have, once, had a clerk who desperately tried to avoid selling my students condoms. She flat out refused the first one. Because of our talk beforehand about how to handle this sort of situation (“It’s legal, it’s none of your business.”), my student knew how to respond. The clerk called her manager over and protested. The manager told her she had to sell the condoms, that it wasn’t her choice. The clerk harassed all 17 of my students, one at a time, as they went through her cash register. My students were amazing. After the first one, of course, they knew what was coming. Two of the boys bought their condoms while holding hands. Another student bought a six pack of Red Bull at the same time. The clerk demanded that my last student through put the condoms back and not buy them. He asked her, “Why not?” She shook her head, glazed-eyed, and said, “I don’t know.”
My students learned that they can stand up for their own sexual health that day. What better lesson is there, really?
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.unhushed.net/blog), 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 KarenRayne.com I’ll be writing about teachers and other educators’ issues about condoms in the classroom. At Unhushed.net I’ll be writing about parental concerns about condoms. Interested in receiving KarenRayne blog posts as they happen? Sign up here. You can sign up to receive Unhushed blog posts here.