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.