Buying condoms? In middle school?

Last weekend I took 10 middle school students to buy condoms.

None of the students wanted to come to class, which was unusual for them.  Their parents pushed them, made them come.  The students told me and my co-teacher: No way.  We’re not going to buy condoms.  The students asked me what they should say if the clerk refused to sell it to them because of their age.  They asked what they should say if the clerk refused to sell them condoms, if the clerk asked what they were going to do with the condoms, if the clerk asked if their parents knew what they were doing.  They asked me – they begged me – not to make them do it.

I told them they could buy something else along with their condoms to ease the experience, and suddenly everyone was slightly more willing to try it out.

People of any age can buy condoms – my four year old could buy condoms.  A clerk should not refuse to sell condoms to anyone of any age.  A patron has no reason to divulge what they intend to do with a purchased product at the request of a clerk – but leaning on the amusing (water balloons!), the honest (I’m buying them for a class), or the lie (I’m buying them for my older sister who’s too embarrassed) are always fine too.  My students happened to know that their parents knew exactly what they were doing.  It is rare that a teenager can have such confidence.  Nevertheless, teenagers are still allowed to buy condoms regardless of whether their parents know what they are doing or not.

So away we whisked to the Walgreen’s down the street.  The students went into the store in twos and threes, found the condoms, made their pick, found something else (mostly gum and soda), purchased the condoms, and made their way back outside to where we were waiting with minimal fuss or muss.

Neither of the clerks who checked them out made any comment.  One student said, “It was no different than if I had just been buying a coke!”  Another said, “I kind of wanted to have to stand up for myself!  I’m kind of disappointed, it was so easy.”

We came back to my office, took the condoms out of the packaging and learned all about them – how big they can get, how thin they are, what kind of lubrication destroys them, and of course, how to use them correctly.

Everyone had huge fun.

As we were looking over the condom packages, everyone noted the expiration dates on their condoms.  Their reaction was disappointment: None of them thought they would actually be able to use the condoms, because the expiration dates were only two or three years away and none of them plan on having sex before then.  Buying condoms and learning how to use them correctly has not made these students any more likely to actually use condoms.  But now they all know exactly how to use condoms correctly when the time does come.

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. What is sad is the fact that many places would have tried to “card” the teens for buying condoms. It really is sad how some clerks tend to think they should enforce their moral standards on their customers. And it is also sad how stigmatized something like buying condoms can be. I mean, even I blush a little, and I write for this blog from time to time!

  2. If I were a middle school parent, I would not allow my child to go on this “field trip.” How did you respond to the parents who did not sign the permission form for their children to participate in this activity? If the parents are so excited about their CHILDREN learning how to purchase and use condoms, they should be the ones to go with their child.

  3. I feel the need to clarify a couple of points.

    If you are concerned that the students were forced into the experience, you’re wrong. They were nervous, but glad to have adult support on their first trip to buy condoms. They had a lot of questions about protocol and what to do in this situation or that situation. They were excited that they had some of their parent’s money that they had permission to buy gum or soda with.

    They certainly aren’t ready to be having sex yet.

    Which is exactly why this is the ideal time for them to learn how to buy condoms. They aren’t going to use them, so there was no concern on their part that the clerk would “know” they were having sex – because they aren’t having sex. This was just about as low-risk an experience as is possible to have when getting birth control and STD protrection for the first time.

    Knowing how and where to get condoms is a basic skill that every teenager in our society should have – regardless of whether they’re having sex, regardless of whether they’re interested in having sex.

  4. What a fantastic idea, Karen. Thanks for sharing. I forwarded your blog to my fellow OWL teachers and hope we will incorporate this into our class next year. It’s a great idea. I like that your students were disappointed that the condoms were only good for 3 years and they didn’t think they would use them. Seems to me that is a good indication of what frank, honest, and comprehensive discussion about human sexuality will do: help young people think about the complexities of become sexually active and choose more often to wait.

  5. I agree, Mrs. E, that the parents going with their children would have been great! This particular class is one the parents came together and asked me to teach. It is not in a school, and the parents went over the curriculum in some detail with me before the class began.

  6. That story is so similar to one I had when I taught Our Whole Lives several years ago. In the “Puberty Concerns” class (where the groups do get separated by sex), our group of boys (8th and 9th graders) were far more vocally confident and comfortable with “appropriate sex talk” than were the girls (mostly 7th graders and very quiet). As the male leader, I found that the boys (who had read up on the subject) were as educated as they needed on basic hygene and male anatomy and “functionality”. Since the girls needed a lot more information on the subject, their time with my coleader would run well into the next class.

    At the end of the session, several boys asked if we would distribute condoms in this class. I replied “probably not, but the condom ‘education’ class comes much later in the program.” After class, my coleader and I needed to formulate a plan, since the girls were still woefully unprepared and had many concerns. We decided to split up and the boys and I would have a “road trip” to the local CVS.

    The next class, the 6 of us headed over to CVS, and I gave each young man a 5 dollars with the following instructions: They have to purchase a birth control or “hygiene” product. Essentially, condoms or pads/tampons.

    Watching their bravado gradually change to nervousness and then fear as we approached the store became one of the most priceless moments of my OWL teaching experiences. Seeing them approach different cashiers alone (part of the deal was a one-buyer-at-a-time process) with their box of condoms (no one chose tampons), and look everywhere except at another person — reminded me of the importance of experience. We returned to the classroom and each took out the choice of condoms and compared packaging, style and expiration dates.

    At the end-of-class evaluations, two of the boys stated that that experience alone was the highlight of their entire OWL curriculum. And when I chatted with another one of my students a few years later (as my son took the course), he said that the *act* of buying those condoms has given him the courage to walk into any drug store and buy anything — including condoms — since that day. He said that so much of our OWL course was about learning and communicating and informing, not not about doing. Going to the store with money and a mission was about doing. It made me realize that, in the process of learning about sex and protection, classroom information and preparation may be important, but there’s no substitute for real-world experience.

    Handing out condoms in class may or may not be a good idea (personally I think that, for upper-class well-educated middle school students, it’s not a good idea), but providing the experience of walking into a store and paying for condoms is. You learn what they are, where they are, how much they are, and how long they’ll last. And you won’t soon forget the feeling of handing your money to that little old lady behind the counter.

  7. P.S., We informed every parent from the class and got their permission for this activity in particular (in addition to the general OWL permission for taking the class). None of them objected. None of them joined us for this “field trip” either.

  8. I am not posting some of the comments I have received on this post. I will not post comments that call me or other people names, are angry or insulting in tone, or provide incorrect information about effective sex education. If you have questions or concerns, I’m happy to answer or address them.

  9. I am a parent of one of the condom buying middle schoolers. When this class was just forming, Karen sat us parents down and told us what she would teach our kids. We knew before the class even began that our kids would buy condoms. This is certainly not an everyday kind of activity. What? My young 13 year old buy condoms? Whatever for? He is not having sex. He has not even had his initiation into kissing. We had many questions and comments. After much discussion, my husband and I saw the brilliance of the idea. When our child actually does have sex for the first time years from now, he can remember back to this class and think, “Oh, I have bought condoms before. It was not a big deal. I can easily do it again.” Hence, he will ideally act responsibly in making sure that neither an unwanted pregnancy or STDs occur. He will respect his body and that of his partners. Yea, for acting from a place of knowledge and maturity verses reacting from a place of embarrassment, fear, or lack of information.

    Let’s be honest. How many people have not bought condoms because they felt embarrassed? My son has already gone over the huge embarrassment hump. He might still blush slightly in future condom buying experiences, yet he WILL buy the condoms. A huge part of putting our kid into this class is to encourage him to make conscious, responsible decisions in his intimate relationships. This goes way beyond the nuts and bolts of sex. This encompasses communication, awareness of what their partner is feeling and experiencing, and being able to vocalize their needs (both emotional and physical).

    Karen, or us parents, are in no way saying that it is okay for middle schoolers to have sex. That is the complete opposite of what we intend. Yet, we know that even if our kids were not in this class, they would hear about sexual topics from friends and others (which may or may not be accurate information), see highly sexualized material in media and print, have their own normal feelings and thoughts about sex and love, and so much more. With this class and our families personal perspectives, our hope is that our son chooses healthy, successful relationships and will act accordingly. Buying condoms was just one aspect of an extremely well thought out, well researched, and well cared for class. My husband and I are thrilled with this class. Our son has entered the land of teenagers and instead of closing us out, he often talks openly and candidly about his thoughts, feelings, and questions concerning relationships. My husband and I are able to answer questions, listen to our son, and set clear boundaries about what is appropriate and inappropriate behaviour. This class is a lovely part of our open, nurturing, and healthy family.

    Thank you, Karen!

  10. If I had known this: “This particular class is one the parents came together and asked me to teach. It is not in a school, and the parents went over the curriculum in some detail with me before the class began.” I probably would have changed my tone and possibly not posted a comment at all. It is not on the burden of the reader to learn the whole story via comments.

    I am not offended or surprised that my comment wasn’t posted. It is the habit of liberals to silence any Christian religious views that disagree with their agenda. We are expected to accept liberal teachings and allow our children to be taught them without voicing objection, but we are often muzzled ourselves. It is complete hypocrisy.

  11. loveroftruth, Thank you for your acknowledgment that the parental approval changes the story. I had – incorrectly, and without foundation – assumed that all readers would know that I had obtained parental approval. For regular readers of my blog, this would be an assumption.

    I am very sorry to hear that you feel you are not allowed to voice objection to how other people are interacting with your children. That is not a good place to be, as a parent. How each person parents is an intensely personal choice, one that I highly respect.

    My approach to sex education is quite liberal – I’m fully aware of that. However, I have found that in some ways I am pushing liberal parents to do exactly what many very religious parents already do – talk with their kids about sex!

    I have conservative friends and conservative readers, loveroftruth. I am not in the habit of silencing them either here or in person. All I ask is that the conversation be respectful of our differences as it investigates them.

  12. I would like to see a study on parents who allow their children sex education with condoms compared to parents who teach their children abstinence. I wonder which group of children will have a higher percentage of unwanted pregnancies and STDs down the road? Which group of children would be more likely to have college degrees and high-paying jobs? The ones whose parents taught them how to have sex properly or the ones whose parents taught them that abstinence until marriage is the only way to prevent STDs and pregnancy 100%?

  13. “I am not offended or surprised that my comment wasn’t posted. It is the habit of liberals to silence any Christian religious views that disagree with their agenda. We are expected to accept liberal teachings and allow our children to be taught them without voicing objection, but we are often muzzled ourselves. It is complete hypocrisy.”

    I am curious to know the gist of loveroftruth’s comments. What was the central issue that you brought up that you think is being stifled by liberals? Additionally, it seems to be an assumption that Christian religious views must be at odds with liberalism. I would respectfully disagree.

    I too am a Christian and I too am a parent of one of the children who participated in this field trip. This is not a liberal vs. conservative issue. This is an education issue. I want my children to receive the most comprehensive and thoughtful education possible regarding the myriad aspects of human sexuality. As a Christian I am aware that sex is a major theme throughout the Bible, mainly the Old Testament. The entire book of the Song of Solomon is extremely sensual. I don’t think it is liberal to want my children to be equipped with the best and most honest information regarding a central part of their lives as God’s created beings.

    We chose this for our child because Karen is an expert in the field and our child already knew, liked and respected her. As parents, we have spoken openly about sex since our child was at least six, when the younger sibling was on the way. But, children reach a point where their parents are no longer the best messengers of some information.
    I grew up when AIDS was new and teen pregnancy rates were at or near their highest levels ever. I came of age thinking, mainly, that sex could kill me or ruin my future. I had the basic mechanics sort of sex-ed class, which I think was six weeks of a physiology class, and I doubt my parents reviewed the curriculum beforehand. I would bet they trusted that the expensive, Christian, independent school I attended would do a good job. So, I learned about anatomy and biology, STDs and that was about it. I never learned about the emotional aspects of a healthy or unhealthy relationship and how sex plays a part in that. I don’t recall learning much of real use but rather I came away with a sense of, “Here is what a condom looks like. Sex is bad. Bad people have sex and when they do it kills them or ruins their lives. So, don’t be bad.” Meanwhile I was rolling around in the back seat of cars with girls and neither of us had any idea what we were doing beyond what our friends told us, which they learned from their friends, and what seemed to feel good. It was a general disaster emotionally. To this day I struggle with emotional difficulties related to sex because it was a painful and awkward experience for so long.

    I want what is best for my children and that is not always going to be for me to decide. I want my children to view sex as a beautiful gift from God, through which they are able to participate in the ongoing miracle of creation, and through which they can come as close to full union with another person as is possible in this life. Sex at its best is between two people who have chosen to share all that they are.
    There are those who tend to view sex as for procreation rather than for enjoyment and I have heard this given as an argument against contraception. The idea being that we should not need contraception because sex is always for procreation. Did God make a world in which food is only for sustenance, clothing is only for protection, houses only for shelter? In all of life the practical and the aesthetic merge. I believe that is part of God’s desire for us. And, I believe that it is our God given duty to guide our children to the best of our abilities. For us, this includes letting our child go enough to let them join their peers in learning about this most important and complicated subject with an expert educator to provide information and guidance.

  14. I do not understand why there would be any correlation between abstinance based sex-ed and higher educaton or earnings. Can you explain?

    Also, why can’t children be taught both. Where is the flaw in giving children all of the information as they enter adolescence so that they have the most time possible to make right choices for thier lives?

  15. Before reading your reply, I felt that I needed to come back and apologize for my tone. This is an area I feel strongly about, but that doesn’t excuse my lack of patience. Expressing my views in a considerate way on the internet is something I still struggle with. I will try and get back to praying before posting on controversial issues.

    Now that I have read your reply, I am even more convicted. I appreciate your calm responses.

    You said, “How each person parents is an intensely personal choice, one that I highly respect.” I am extremely glad to hear that and rather relieved. I wish more people believed that way. I would never push for a law to forbid parents to teach their children sex ed at an age that I personally deem inappropriate, and I don’t like the idea of the government forcing me to teach my children about sex ed before I feel they are ready.

  16. I am in favor of teaching that abstinence until permanent monogamous partnership* is the only way to prevent STDs and pregnancy 100% AND how to buy and use condoms.

    *Unfortunately, not all marriages are faithful; also I don’t want to exclude same-sex partnerships.

  17. I just read ‘loveoftruth’s comments. I agree wholeheartedly with Dr. Rayne and yet, I am a Christian woman who has taught Sunday school for years, very active in my church, listens to Dr. Laura, has a father who is a minister, a husband who is going into the ministry, creates strong family values in our home, am at my kids school when they get out, believe strongly in God being the center of our family, etc. I say all of this to make a point that. Even though I may fit into the ‘conservative’ category in many areas, I can still stay open to a wide variety of ideas from all sorts of people.

    “Loveroftruth”, thinking that Dr. Rayne did not post you initial comment because she was “muzzling your Christian religious views” may not be correct. It seems that you assumed the worst as to why she did not post it. Why not ask Dr. Rayne, instead of accusing her of why you think she acted this way?

    When I read your second post, I thought you sounded like a person who is feels very upset about this topic. I assume that you normally have daily rational discussions and are able to engage in the give and take of communication. Yet, I do not know if you would be able to truly hear Karen’s perspective about this because you think she is closing you and other conservatives out.

    I think this is a perfect forum for people with all sorts of perspectives to ask questions and gain understanding. This way, we can work together instead of against each other. This post is about giving our children the right tools for healthy relationships. Obviously, there are many ideas as to what ‘the right tools’ are. Why not calmly talk about it instead of closing the door with accusations. Unfortunately, I find that I can go into blaming or assuming the worst of someone with very little information. I am wondering if you, loveoftruth, just did the same thing. Maybe you had all of the information you needed about why Dr. Rayne did not post your first comment. If so, ignore my post. It just seems like many people (including myself at times) can jump to the worst assumptions which makes it so we do not hear each other.

    I encourage anyone who has concerns about this condom buying expedition to ask Dr. Rayne questions when we do not understand something. I have read posts where she listened to her readers and the readers can listen to her (even when we readers disagree with her perspectives). I just hope that continues without shutting down communication with insults and false accusations.

    I am curious, loveoftruth, how old are your children and how you have or will teach about contraceptives to them. This can be such a complex and charged topic, that I am always interested in hearing how other parents go about teaching their children.

  18. Lee, I agree with much of your comment. There are a few parts I disagree with.

    The portion of my comment you questioned stemmed from a previous comment that wasn’t posted in which I stated my views of sex. It is probably for the best, because as I have said, my tone was not good.

  19. Reply to comment #18.

    Ahhh the limitations of e-communication.

    I’ll bet we can all agree on at least one thing. That is; that we all want what is best for our kids. And, we are all muddling along in the best way that we can figure out. One of my favorite quotes is one I attribute to Jesse Winchester – “I’m just a feeble follower of Jesus.” I love the honest recognition of the imperfect nature of humankind.

    God’s peace to you.

  20. Karen, as a mother of two teen/pre-teen daugthers, and a worker in the education system, I must first and foremost say I am impressed by the professional way you handled this important dissemination of information and exposure of experience for the young people involved. You communicated with the parents as well as the students in a way that sounds to have encouraged dialogue and made everyone involved feel comfortable with the experience. Following that, you were brave enough – despite any potential controversy/lashing out – to share that experience. For all of those things, I greatly respect you.

    Above and beyond those aspects, I must also say that I appreciate what you are trying to do in its very essence. I have worked with too many families where because of discomfort – in talking to parents/guardians about sexuality, in inquiring about contraceptives and protection against the consequences of unsafe sex, and in communicating emotions involved in considering their sexuality and sexual experiences – young people are literally on their own in the world of their budding sexuality. This results in isolation, judgment, lack of safe decision making, misinformation, insecurity, and potentially the contraction of diseases and unwanted pregnancies. Whatever the focus of sex education, it is imperative that it happen. And you have facilitated that for a group of young people, and their supportive parents, in an effective way. That alone is monumental.

    I also heard a request in this thread to find out more information about what the effectiveness of such education might be… There are government, private, religious, and other organizations that have a pluthora of information out there if someone really does want to see (and maybe even be surprised by) the effectiveness of such education.
    A few links people might want to check out:
    From the American Psychological Association –
    A branch of the National Institutes of Health, publishes multiple
    studies about sex education in schools –
    An American Medical Association brief – http://www.ama-

    It is interesting to watch the dialogue that has ensued in this blog and I applaud people for either initially or eventually making it a respectful, honest conversation. There is much to be said, heard, and felt in this kind of discussion and if that discourse can happen in a forum where people can do so respectfully, we can all learn.

  21. Oh my goodness, I go to pick up my kids from school and come back to a full-fledged conversation!

    I have a meeting in half an hour, and then kiddos to feed and put to sleep, but I will be back on and present in a few hours. I’m loving the conversation, by the way!

  22. loveoftruth, unfortunately with the delays in comment postings, I did not read your comment #15 before I replied, which make the comments read out of order.

    The purpose of my post was to encourage a discussion, which is now beautifully unfolding. I respect that you have come back on several comments and changed some of your tone and become more open to honest conversation. We can all aspire to what you have done.

    Lisa, thank you for your comment. I respect your experience working with children and enjoy reading from someone who has experience in this area.

  23. Lee,

    On this we can definitely agree:

    “I’ll bet we can all agree on at least one thing. That is; that we all want what is best for our kids. And, we are all muddling along in the best way that we can figure out. One of my favorite quotes is one I attribute to Jesse Winchester – “I’m just a feeble follower of Jesus.” I love the honest recognition of the imperfect nature of humankind.

    God’s peace to you.”

    Amen! Including the part about peace to you. There are few things I care about more fervently than my children’s welfare, both soul and body.

    To the nameless commenter,

    I am not going to spend a lot of time explaining my previous comments. Much of my attitude came from misunderstanding what exactly happened. When I first read this post (without the comments), I was under the distinct impression that this was done in a public school. The tone of the post sounded like this was a big, fun game and the kids were pushed into it. It almost made me sick. I did see where it said the parents were supportive, but the overall tone of the post greatly irritated me.

    I have already apologized for my rudeness.

    You asked for my views. It probably won’t help anyone here for me to go into a long explanation of my beliefs. Basically, I think that a child’s innocence should be preserved until shortly before puberty. Then, a simple explanation of sex and how it works. Sex should not be taught as a bad thing, as Lee mentioned. I agree, it should be taught as a good thing, created by God for procreation AND a special thing to be enjoyed between a husband and wife. I am not opposed to contraceptives, but I am opposed to teaching about them in school. I think the parents should decide when and how this information should be presented to their children. I reiterate that I didn’t realize the full circumstances of this outing. I should probably move on to my daily responsibilities. I wish you all well.

  24. Oh my! I see now that there are new comments I didn’t see before replying! Another reason for having grace in our replies! 🙂

  25. loveroftruth: “I would like to see a study on parents who allow their children sex education with condoms compared to parents who teach their children abstinence.”

    Your wish is my command: A sizeable study of Abstinence-Only vs. Comprehensive Sex education by the University of California:

    Here’s a link to the 29 Page report of their results and their methodology. The summary of their findings is on page 2 (.pdf file):

    The one-line summary of the study: Comprehensive is better. Teaching people everything including the proper use of condoms is better than teaching people only about the benefits of abstinence.

    The relevant paragraph of of the summary, taken directly from the report: “The abstinence-only approach to sex education is not supported by the extensive body of scientific research on what works to protect young people from HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and unplanned pregnancy. An assessment of the peer-reviewed, published research reveals no evidence that abstinence-only programs delay sexual initiation or reduce STIs or pregnancy. By contrast, credible research clearly demonstrates that some comprehensive sex education, or “abstinence-plus,” programs can achieve positive behavioral changes among young people and reduce STIs, and that these programs do not encourage young people to initiate sexual activity earlier or have more sexual partners.”

  26. I’m so glad you are out there doing the work you’re doing. If it were up to me, I’m not sure I could make myself take my middle-schooler condom shopping. Of course, she would probably also rather die than be within 1000 feet of me while buying condoms, so it’s a good thing there are other people who can do it.

    Hell, I’m 42, and I still get a little embarrassed buying latex.

  27. Dr. Rayne – Thank your work, the class sounds great! I’m impressed at the level of parental involvement and at the practical aspects of the class. I want my daughters to have everything they need to make good decisions as they grow – good information, a clear moral context, and well developed communication skills. Keep up the good work!

  28. I was thinking more of what the parents are teaching than what the government is teaching. Anyway . . . it’s probably a moot point. Trying to fix the problems created by lousy parenting with outside programs is nothing more than a band-aid. There is no good substitute for good parenting.

  29. Maybe abstinence programs only work if they are used more often. Sounds like they can be very effective for 1 1/2 to 2 years after taught. Perhaps the kids just need a reminder, especially with all the pro-sex messages out there.

  30. […] Yesterday’s post about a trip that I took a group of middle school students on to buy condoms garnered many comments.  Many of the early comments were angry, name-calling, incorrect-fact-providing, assumption-making rants.  I did not post them.  The comments eventually evolved into a very interesting conversation about religion and parental rights.  If you weren’t still reading into the evening yesterday, highly recommend you go take a read of the rest of the conversation. […]

  31. Loveroftruth: Thank you for that link. I read the paper with some interest, and looked for some information about the organization that published the paper. I found a few issues with it though. It wasn’t really a study, in that it didn’t conduct research or publish findings. Rather it was a 6 page research paper with 2 pages of endnotes. And it doesn’t compare comprehensive sex education with abstinence-only programs. It compares abstinence-only education with no education, and concludes (correctly) that when it comes to sex education, abstinence-only education is better than no education.

    The paper’s conclusion: “Well-designed and well-implemented abstinence education programs can reduce teen sexual activity by as much as one half for periods of one to two years, substantially increasing the number of adolescents who avoid the full range of problems related to teen sexual activity.”

    Unfortunately, performing some research on the authors of that paper led me only to this group:, which has no academic or professional standing anywhere. In fact, their website contains only generic “Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet,” text. And while I see several papers of theirs referenced by conservative groups like Concerned Parents of America and the Coalition for Marriage and Family, I don’t see their research referred to by more mainstream organizations like the Center for Disease Control or the Surgeon General’s office. Do you have more information about this group and why you consider it’s research would be more reliable than the peer-reviewed university study that I linked to, or the better known informational organizations that Dr. Rayne links to from her main page?

    I don’t wish to denigrate this group, but I’d never heard of them before this morning, and they seem to have no history or expertise in this area. Can you tell me more about them?


    As to your other statements:
    “I was thinking more of what the parents are teaching than what the government is teaching.”
    As far as I can tell, my government teaches close to nothing on the subject of sex. In my mind, that’s part of the problem. We parents need help understanding what and how to teach our children, and that’s what sites like this are about: Encouraging us parents to reinforce our values and teach them to our children. My values are quite conservative, so I teach my children about sex (and life) from a conservative’s viewpoint. Your values may differ from mine a little, or they may not. But we as parents are the primary purveyors of our values and if we don’t pass them on to our children, they will pick them up from other sources.

    “There is no good substitute for good parenting.”
    I completely and totally agree. The problem is that we as a society don’t do always a good job in teaching one another the skills of good parenthood, and there’s no owner’s manual for the raising of wise and compassionate children. It’s a struggle and a blessing.


  32. I understand exactly what you are saying. But how do you know the people who did the study you refer to are not biased? I know that people who make a living in this field have every reason to be biased, especially if they get funding from organizations. I do not want to say that you could be biased, but how do I know you aren’t since this is your career? You seem like a very resonable person, so I am not saying you are. I just am not sure.

    My degree had nothing to do with sex education or anything similar, so I do not have the resources, background knowledge, etc. to really be able to have an in-depth discussion on studies and the people behind them. I had read long ago that the study that did not recommend abstinence had not taken into account short term effectiveness, only long term in their recommendations. The question was asked, how can children who are taught abstinence be expected to retain that 4 years later with all the sexual messages in our culture?

    If the only 100% guarantee of no STDs or pregnancy is abstinence and abstinence only ed is effective short term, wouldn’t it make sense to do that, but do it more frequently? Say every other year or something?

    It was so long ago, I had even forgotten! I spent only a few moments searching to find that link and only read it a little to refresh my memory. It isn’t unusual for organizations to ignore studies which do not support their views. I see this in both liberal and conservative circles. I actually don’t follow very many organizations (conservative or liberal), but there are a couple.

    As for peer-reviews in universities . . . That is another discussion entirely. Universities are notoriously liberal, full of biased teachers. I went to one that was private Catholic, (I am not Catholic, nor ever have been) and was stunned to see that even there the professors are extremely liberal in their views. These are the people teaching, and these are the views graduates are often coming out of school with and passing down to the next generation of students. I wouldn’t be too quick to trust everything proven by a university and supported by their peers. Even if the study is accurate, it may not take everything into account.

    To tell you the truth, it is really bizarre for me to even be having this discussion. Normally I would not have commented on the blog of someone whose expertise is in an area I have disagreements. I am already at a disadvantage not being in that field myself. I actually came here through a link on a forum and read your post thinking that you were a typical blogger who talks about all sorts of things, probably a public school teacher since you were obviously teaching. Lol! And most of my early comments were with that in mind. Oh well! Hopefully, something good will come of it. 🙂

  33. loveroftruth, I am so glad you’ve been commenting on this thread!

    Yes, I essentially disagree with you – shall we say we both pick which studies we believe? – but there is something substantially useful and informative about talking about these issues across the belief line.

    Now to your question: If abstinence-only sex education is only effective for a short time, why not simply do it more often? Because all people need a full, comprehensive knowledge of sex and sexuality There are two primary reasons for me:

    First, most people have sex eventually – even people who wait until they are married – and so will need a comprehensive introduction to sex education eventually.

    Second, not everyone will wait to have sex until after marriage (in fact, most Americans don’t), and will need the information before then. My husband has a lovely saying: “There are two times to learn something, before you need it or after you need it.” When things are as high-stakes as sexual activity is, it is critical that they know it before they need it.

    And to your point about abstinence: I talk about how critical abstinence is in all my classes. I talk about it with my middle school students as the best possible choice for them, and I talk about it with my college students as a relevant and legitimate choice that must be respected. My middle school students mostly learn about condoms rather than the full range of contraceptive choices, but we talk about failure rates and I try to drive home that point that if they are having heterosexual intercourse, they can get pregnant. It doesn’t matter how perfectly they use condoms, there is always a chance that the woman will get pregnant. Condoms work really well much of the time, but they are not perfect. Abstinence is the only perfect contraceptive option. Any sexuality course that doesn’t face that fact straight on isn’t worth it’s weight in salt.

  34. I have two sons, 19 and 15, and I’ve had condoms around since middle school specifically so that they could practice with them. We talk about all kinds of sex ed issues a lot, and this is just one of them, but they know they can almost always grab a condom from the bathroom cabinet without explanation, and that I won’t assume that they are having sex or not having sex or giving it to a friend who needs or wants it, because the point is that condoms should always be around in case someone needs them. Like tampons. Or Sharpies. Or a Tic Tac.

  35. I am the proud mom of one of the kids who went on Karen’s ‘field trip’.

    When I sent a much older sibling Karen’s blog on the outing the reaction was “That’s so cool why didn’t you do this for me? I still haven’t had the guts to buy a condom myself yet I always hope my partner has one”
    As adults we need to honestly remember how uncomfortable we were having conversations with our parents about puberty and sexuality. The programs I experienced in school with their ‘talking’ sperm were severely lacking in content and did not answer many of my questions. Kids tend to depend on their friends for information on sex which is a notoriously bad source. No matter what your belief system or religion I would encourage every family to find someone as trustworthy and educated as Karen to be there to answer those questions your child would never ask you. Remember talking about sex doesn’t make you do it more it just makes you think first!

  36. today i bought condoms and im 13 and i must say that buying them is embarrassing but i bought other stuff with them to make it easier and it did make it better but the clerk just gave me the weird look but its better safe than sorry i would just like to know more about condoms and sexual intercourse because i think i will be using them soon plz help 1) how do you know if a condom fits 2) whats the best brand 3) am i too young for sex 4) is getting lubricated condoms good THNX

  37. Hi Miguel,

    Here’s some (hopefully useful) answers to your questions:

    1. Try it on. It shouldn’t be notably tight or loose.

    2. There are bunch of reputable brands – Lifestyle, Trojan, and Durex are all well-respected and pretty easy to find. For more information on finding the right condom for you, take a look at the information provided here:

    3. Deciding if you’re ready for sex isn’t something that I can do by just knowing your age. Sex is something that is much deeper than a number. It’s a huge decision to make, and you should really be talking with your partner (or potential partner) about whether your not ya’ll are “ready.” Here are some guidelines on a few topics ya’ll should talk about openly before you move forward:

    4. Yes. Unless either you or your partner has allergy issues, lubricated condoms are nice. (There’s more on lubricated condoms in the link in answer #2.)

    Hope this helps! Feel free to ask more questions as they come up.

  38. Karen, I love the way you moderated this discussion! Your clear boundaries created space for respectful tone and meaningful dialog. Bravo!

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