One question parents of tweens and teens often ask me is how and when they should bring up the subject of condoms. Condoms can be a great contraceptive and/or safer-sex option for youth having partnered sex. They’re reasonably cheap, they’re available without a prescription, and when used correctly, latex condoms are up to 98% at reducing the risk of pregnancy and the risk of transmitting certain sexually transmitted infections
Telling your kids, “if you’re going to have sex, use a condom,” is a good start, but it’s just the tip of the safer-sex iceberg. Putting that advice into practice requires more planning, preparation, and skill than a single sentence can convey. It also requires your kid having the confidence to talk to their partner about a potentially awkward subject. So, if you feel a little weird discussing the details of condom-use with your kids, if you can push past that discomfort and talk to them anyway, you’re showing them that communicating about sex is important, even if it feels a little weird sometimes. More importantly, you’ll be giving them the sex-smarts they need to take control of their sexual health. Here are a few tips and talking points to get you started:
Start the conversation sooner rather than later: You can get pregnant the first time you have partnered sex. You can contract an STI the first time you have partnered sex. It’s important for youth to have the information they need to maintain their sexual well-being before they become sexually active. Generally speaking, I think it’s appropriate to start having conversations about safer sex in early puberty, and I would love it if teens were well-versed in the basics of condom-use by the time they started high school.
Don’t discriminate: Some folks assume that they can skip the condom-chat if their kid doesn’t have a penis. Knowing where to get a condom, how they work, and how to put one on a partner empowers youth to take responsibility for their own sexual health and pleasure. Also remember there are external condoms (the type that go on penises) and internal condoms (the type that go inside vaginas and anuses).
Talk often: This needs to be an ongoing conversation, not just a single talk. I say this so often, I should probably have it printed on a t-shirt. Keeping an open, continuous dialogue flowing about condoms and similar subjects shows youth that you are approachable on an ongoing basis.They have opportunity to absorb information over time, ask questions as they become relevant, and come to you if any problems arise. It also takes the pressure off parents to cover everything in one go. Finally, the more you talk about sex, the easier it becomes. Trust me
Easy access: In addition to the drug store, youth can purchase condoms at the supermarket (use the self-checkout for extra discretion!), or from online retailers. Sexual health clinics and organizations, like Planned Parenthood, often provide free condoms. You can also keep a stash of condoms in the house—for most youth, there’s no easier access than that! If you do go that route, remember everybody is different. Figuring out which condom will best suit their individual needs may be a process of trial and error. If you provide a variety of brands, sizes, and textures, youth can experiment and figure out what works best for them.
Not too hot and not to cool: Avoid storing condoms in locations that are too warm, like pants pockets, wallets, or inside a warm car. You also don’t want condoms to get cold. The fridge is great for keeping milk fresh . . . not so much for condoms.
Another reason I encourage discussing condom use and having them available before youth start having sex-a-deux, is that actually putting on condoms isn’t difficult once you get the hang of it . . . but it can take a while to get the hang of it. Partway through first-time sex, is not the ideal time to be wrestling with rubbers for the first time ever. I think it’s great if teens have a chance to practice putting them on either their own body or something phallic-shaped before making their sexual debut. So what is the right way to put on an external condom? It goes a little something like this:
1. Check the expiry date.
Latex has a long shelf-life, but eventually it will start to break down. Condoms that are past their prime are more likely to have holes or tear, which totally defeats the purpose of using one in the first place.
2. Push the condom to one side of the package.
This helps protect the condom when you tear open the package. Which brings us to our next step . . .
3. Tear open the package.
It's sometimes tempting to use your teeth to do this, especially if your hands are sweaty or slick with lube, but I don't recommend it, as there's a greater risk of nicking the condom when you bite into the package.
4. Gently remove the condom from the package.
Aside from being able to see all of your partner's sexy bits, having sex in the light makes it easier to eyeball any obvious rips or holes in your condom. If you do notice any issues, throw that sucker out and grab a new one.
5. Squeeze the reservoir tip.
This helps eliminate air bubbles that might burst once the condom goes on. (Bonus reservoir pro-tip: putting a small drop of lube in there can amplify the sensation and increase pleasure!
6. Still pinching the tip, place the condom on the head of the penis and roll it down the base of shaft.
Confession: after years and years and years of putting condoms on stuff, I still sometimes lose my sense of direction and put it on inside out. If this happens to you, I recommend tossing the condom and starting with a fresh one. If the wrong-way 'round condom has come into contact with pre-cum (known in clinical-speak as seminal fluid) and you simply turn it inside-out, any infectious agents in that fluid can come into contact with your partner's body, exposing them to possible infection.
7. Have sex!
Anyway you and your partner want to do it! Enjoy!
Ideally, you should remove the condom as soon as possible after ejaculation. To maintain the protective effectiveness, the process should go a little something like this:
1. Grab the condom around the base of the penis.
This helps avoid spillage as you proceed to the next step.
2. Withdraw from your partner.
Keep that hand around the base of the penis until it's free and clear of your partner's body!
3. Carefully remove the condom from the penis.
This is another opportunity to have a quick look. If you notice any obvious rips or holes and pregnancy is a concern, you may want to consider using a back-up form of birth control, like the morning after pill. If you're worried about sexually transmitted infections, check in with your doctor or community health care team about getting tested.
4. Once the condom is off, tie it in a knot.
This is just a simple way to avoid spilling semen everywhere.
5. Toss your condom!
Condoms in the toilet tend to clog up the works, so tossing them in the trash is best.
That’s basically the jam. But before I wrap this up, just one final note about that last step.
For parents, finding a used condom in their youth’s garbage can may bring up some difficult emotions. Our culture equates sex with adulthood, and being confronted by the reality that your child has taken a major stride towards growing up can be difficult. If you can, try to resist confronting your kid or saying things that my shame them. Talk to them, yes. But kids who feel guilty don't necessarily stop having sex; however, they may choose to eliminate evidence of sex by no longer using condoms.
Have you spoken to your tween or teen about safer sex? How did it go? Am I the only one who still can’t tell when a condom is inside out? Sound off in the comments below!