New Year, new blog, new classes, and Condom Sense

It is fully 2009.  Crazy!

I have a new-looking blog that I’m excited about.  (If you’re reading this via RSS or e-mail, and haven’t looked at my actual site this year, come look!  It’s fan-tabulous!)  I learned CSS and a new graphics program to get the site looking like this – there are still a few bugs though, so continue to let me know if/when you run into them so I can continue to address them.

Yesterday I started another sexuality education class for middle school students.  I now have two classes going through the end of May – the first one is a private class a group of parents hired me to teach, and the second is through Wildflower Unitarian Universalist Church here in Austin.  One of the reasons I am excited to be teaching both of these classes at the same time is that I can actually talk about them more freely here on my blog.  I know that several parents from both of these classes read my blog, so while I was teaching only one class I was very hesitant to talk about it all because I was concerned it did not fully honor my students’ confidentiality.  However, with two classes going, there is far more confidentiality.  So look forward to more thoughts and conversations about my middle school classes coming up this spring.

This weekend, in addition to starting my new class, I also started reading Condom Sense by M. Monica Sweeney, MD, MPH and Rita Kirwan Grisman.  Here’s my favorite quote, even though it’s really from the authors:

As the former Surgeon General Dr. Jocelyn Elders said, “I”ve never heard of anyone needing an abortion who wasn’t pregnant.”  She further commented that just as we teach kids how to behave in the front of the car, we should teach them how to behave in the back seat.

So here’s the thing about this book: It seems like it has ended up with two, somewhat conflicting audiences.  First, young people who she is trying to scare into using condoms.  Second, policy makers and sex educators who she is trying to scare into promoting condoms.

Condom Sense is pretty good at reaching it’s goals.  It’s certainly scary.

And here is where I, perhaps, differ in approach from Sweeney and Grisman.  They make sex sound pretty scary and deadly.  In fact, they say anyone who has sex without a condom is committing murder.  I don’t like that approach at all.  Now what about the man who the authors describe as in his mid-forties who is infected with AIDS, knows he is infected, and is “determined to continue his sex life with multiple partners, and without condoms.”  Is he committing murder?  Maybe.  At least he is an accomplice.  Because the people he is having sex with are choosing to have sex with a man they don’t know without a condom just like he is.  Are all of these man’s partners committing suicide?

It’s a delicate balance, making the repercussions of non-protected sex serious and real enough to change people’s behaviors without going too far and making sex scary, gross, and filled with negative imagery.  I think that for the majority of the population, Condom Sense has gone too far.  That said, there are people who feel immortal and who do not recognize the implications, or at least do not believe they apply to them.  This is a great book for these people.  In fact, I am considering sending a copy to my little brother as an Epiphany present.

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. I can’t think of a better Epiphany present.

  2. Somehow my little brothers never appreciated my detailed instructions on the correct way to use condoms. But I think so many people miss important details…

  3. I think using the terms “murder” and “suicide” are not helpful. For the person who is already HIV-positive: Unethical? yes. Irresponsible? Obviously. For the person not (yet) HIV-positive? Careless? Yes. Self-Destructive tendencies? Yes.

    But not everyone who has unprotected sex with an HIV-positive person becomes HIV-positive themselves. That is a fact, just as the Black Plague did not kill every person in Europe.

    Perhaps a better analogy is playing Russian Roulette. Does the person who stands in the room while someone does that commit murder? I don’t think so. Is the person who spins the cartridge of bullets commmitting suicide? Well, not unless the bullet fires.

    But in the case of HIV, not everyone who gets the virus dies, so suicide doesn’t really apply. it’s not a given.

    So, the terms “murder” and “suicide” (and everyone’s right to commit suicide is another entire topic indeed) are simply inflammatory and misleading. Perhaps they can be used consciously for shock value, because these are such serious issues to ponder. I find, rather, that they will turn people away from the discussion rather than further it.

  4. Very well said, Ruth, thank you!

  5. Karen, I strongly believe that selling people on doing something out of fear almost always backfires in the long run if the reasons given for fearing something are to any extent exaggerated.

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