How early is too early?

I am one of those people who is firmly in favor of contraception. I think it’s fantastic stuff, for me and other people. And I am absolutely clear about why: I think it’s great that women and men are able to engage in sexual activities without having babies, and I think it’s even greater that women and men can engage in the same activities without STD/STI transmission.

Now, many adults in America agree with that general statement. Here’s the point where everyone starts to disagree, with a large portion simply throwing up their hands and saying they don’t know: When should young people learn about condoms?

And I don’t mean learning that they exists, or even learning the words. I mean actually learning how to actually use them.

Here are some points to ponder:
1. Young women can get pregnant, and everyone can get an STD/STI the first time they have sex.
2. If the first time a young couple sees a condom outside of a package is as they’re trying to put it on, chances are they’re not going to do it right.
3. There is absolutely no relationship between knowledge/information about contraception and earlier sexual activity.

So, young people should learn about condoms early. Certainly before someone goes groping around the dark, trying to figure out which way the condom is inside out. Which basically translates to the earlier the better.

(Picture courtesy of CondomUSA. Go buy some for those you love!)

About Karen Rayne

Dr. Karen Rayne has been supporting parents and families since 2007 when she received her PhD in Educational Psychology. A specialist in child wellbeing, Dr. Rayne has spent much of her career supporting parents, teachers, and other adults who care for children and teenagers.


  1. But, you still didn’t answer the question you posed. How early is too early? Will you open a condom package with your 5 year old daughter and pull out a banana? I bet not. How about 7 years old? Still sounds too early for me. There are lots of 11 year old girls giving birth these days – shall we say every 10 year old girl needs ‘the lesson’? I don’t think so. I think it is something that needs to be figured out in the context of the child and the community she is living in. Are there any firm guidelines on this or suggestions by others?

  2. Figuring out if and/or when to show a young person how to use a condom is so contentious! I figure a 16 year old is old enough for almost everyone, and 7 is certainly too young for anyone.

    I think that, for most children, sometime around the beginning of high school is about right. But the only way to name an age would be along with many qualifiers! Sex education, ideally, happens just before a young person needs it. Regrettably, there’s just no way to know when they will!

  3. I wouldn’t let a 5 year old put a condom on a banana, but I would probably let her blow it up like a balloon…and I let my 17 month old play with the packaging! I want her to feel comfortable seeing them and handling them.

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