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!
Confession: When I first received the invitation to join the folks from Ohhh Canada for an exclusive bachelorette party, I was a little wary. I’ve always been a bit of a humbug when it comes to the standard bachelorette foofarah. I certainly don’t begrudge a gal pal a wild night at the bar if that’s how she wants to roll, and if invited I’ll certainly come along for the ride. I’ve just never loved sipping cocktails through a penis straw, and I can only muster up so many screeching "WOOOOO"s before my vocal cords start to chafe. So last week, as I set out for the Ohhh Canada bachelorette, I couldn’t help but feel a little wary.
The party was being thrown at The Spoke Club, a venue in downtown Toronto. Instead of dark lights and loud music, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself in an elegant space with exposed brick walls and large windows that let in lots of light. I was greeted by Melissa, who led me to the party area. There was nary a penis straw. I did, however, spot a dessert table, beautifully decorated out with candies, cupcakes, and doughnuts. I immediately felt better.
This was going to be my sort of party.
The music playing was at background—rather than booming—levels, which made it easy to introduce myself and chat with some of the other guests. A few minutes later, I found myself face-to-face with Katrina McKay—CEO and founder of Ohhh Canada.
With Ohhh Canada, Katrina has realized her vision of taking sex toy retail from down and dirty to upscale and sophisticated. She sells high-end, high quality products. Her staff are knowledgeable and make sure that when customers take home a new product, they’re stimulated and educated.
Katrina is applying her same philosophy to bachelorette parties—smart, fun, and sexy! Also, cupcakes.
Katrina had one of her staff present an array of beautifully designed adult toys. I was especially intrigued by the Leaf. When I mentioned this to McKay, she suggested I drop by her Toronto store to pick one up and perhaps have a tour. I plan to follow up on her invite, so stay tuned.
After the toy presentation, we made a toast with some sparkling wine and then more socializing ensued. Later in the evening, Katrina gave us an abbreviated version of a workshop she often presents at her bachelorette parties—how to talk dirty. An educational workshop during a bachelorette is great, because it provides all the fun and giggles of a traditional bachelorette, while providing some...highly useful...information for the guests. Applied knowledge, anyone?
Also, did I mention there were cupcakes?
All in all, my upscale bachelorette experience was top notch. Thanks to my fabulous hosts, Melissa and Katrina, for a great evening. If you’d like to find out how to arrange your own classy shindig, check out the Ohhh Canada website here.
If you're looking to shake things up in the bedroom, this is what you need to know before you buy your first vibrator.
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Parents ask me a lot of questions about how they can talk to their children about sex.
But every once in awhile, someone wants to know what my parents told me about sex. Did they provide a model of open communication and comprehensive information? Or is my choice of career the ultimate rebellion against a highly restrictive sexual upbringing?
Growing up, my mom was honest and pretty forthcoming. Sex wasn’t a regular topic of conversation, but when I was three and wanted to know where babies came from, she gave me an honest answer. When my period came, she made sure I was equipped with an adequate supply of maxi pads and knowledge. And when I hit puberty, she gave me her copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves.
My dad and I didn’t talk about sex very at all. Which was kind of weird, because I was very much my father’s girl. As far back as I could remember, people told me that I looked, thought, and behaved just like him. We were extremely close. When I was a kid, we spent every moment we could together, making pancakes, reading stories. We played with model trains and washed the car together. But my very favourite were Saturdays. Dad and I would take the bus into the city. We would eat at grown-up restaurants and Dad would listen attentively to my little kid thoughts on grown-up subjects. My dad understood that children’s interest in things like politics, art and culture develop over time. Rather than shielding me, he encouraged my interest in the adult world around me. But the one thing my dad was never comfortable discussing was sex, so he rarely brought it up.
In fact, the first time I remember talking to my dad about sex was when I was fifteen. It didn’t start off all that well. Over the summer, I’d gone on vacation with a girlfriend. Because I was all teenager-y and traveling sans chaperone, I decided it would be wise to buy myself some condoms. A week or so after my return, dad found them in my room.
“Nadine, get in here!” he ordered. I walked into the room and saw him holding my slightly bent box of international prophylactics and my heart jumped.
“Are you having sex?” Dad demanded. Suddenly, I was enraged. Who did he think he was? I rarely ever spoke back to my father, but in this case I shouted at him
“That none of your business! And even if I was, you should be glad I’m using protection!”
There was more yelling, followed by indignant teenage stair stomping and door slamming. I retreated to the basement, where I spent a good hour raging and sobbing. I’d done nothing wrong! Nothing! How could my beloved Dad, my always-ally, my kindred spirit, have questioned me like I was a criminal?
Eventually, Dad came down and sat next to me on the couch. He began talking and I realized that my normally composed father, was nervous. He sounded awkward as he explained that sex was not just physical, but emotional. “You need to be ready for it,” he told me. Then I admitted — just as awkwardly, that I hadn’t had sex, that I didn’t feel ready for it yet. But I was getting older, so that might change, maybe someday soon. “I don’t know when I’m going to be ready to have sex. I just thought it was better to get condoms and then that way I know I have them, when I am.”
Moving forward, my dad still wasn’t super-keen on talking about sex. But he was supportive of my budding interest in doing just that. A few months after the condom incident, I did a biology report on artificial insemination. Dad let me take an afternoon of school and drove me downtown to visit a real life sperm bank. He didn’t come in with me, but we met for dinner after. He only looked slightly ill, while I enthusiastically described the process of sperm extraction over pizza.
In my last year of high school, I decided to make a PSA on safer sex for my social studies class.
“That seems very...provocative...for high school,” my dad observed.
“You told me I shouldn’t be afraid of saying things just because people might not like it,” I reminded him. I guess that was the right response, because after that, Dad let me have free access to his beloved Sony camcorder.
I grew up and my passion for talking about all things sex grew too. While my dad definitely did not have my penchant for oversharing, he tried very hard to understand my passion — because he wanted to understand me.
Under normal circumstances, Dad would have rather died than set foot in a sex shop but when I started working at one he pushed past his discomfort and graciously accepted my invitation to come in for a visit.
When I began my career as a sexuality blogger, he proudly told his friends about his daughter who wrote “an online column about intimate things.”
Over the years, he began to ask me about topics we’d never spoken of like friends with benefits, gender diversity, non-mongamy and more. He would listen attentively to my thoughts on sexuality...and occasionally he would share some of his own.
When I announced my plans to head out to California to start my doctorate in Human Sexuality, the first thing Dad said was, “I think that’s a fantastic plan. I know you’re going to do incredibly well.” In the weeks leading up to my departure, we had visits and spoke on the phone. He wanted to know every detail of my plans for school and my time away. I told him that I’d be renting a house with a spare room, so he could come visit.
“Hmmm...maybe. It’s far and I’m getting older,” was his response. I knew he letting me down gently, that he felt overwhelmed by the prospect of a trip to a place he’d never been before. I was sad. I would be gone for a year. It would be the longest I’d ever been apart from Dad. I knew he was very sad too and part of him was wishing I wasn’t leaving. But he would have never, ever said so. Dad would have never let his feelings interfere with what he thought I wanted. I knew that more than anything, he wanted me to be happy — even if that meant traveling 3000 miles away to learn more about sex — he would wish me well and cheer me on because that’s the kind of dad he was.
I left. But Dad and I kept in touch through phone calls and Skype. He always asked about the new things I was seeing and doing in California. And he always wanted to hear about what new things I’d learned in school. “This whole sex thing is really fascinating,” he exclaimed during one of our Skype sessions.
My year away was wonderful, but as the time approached for us to return this summer, I began counting down the days knowing that come July I’d be reunited with my dad. I couldn’t wait to see him, to hug him. I was going to take him out to lunch, so we could talk about grown-up things like politics, art, culture and maybe even sex....
Sadly, as some of you know, our reunion was not the one I had hoped for. I returned to Canada to find my dad in the hospital. He had developed cancer and it had taken a sudden, severe toll on his health. He was lying in bed, looking frail and weak but as soon as he saw me, he smiled. He turned to his nurse and “That’s my daughter — she goes to school in California!” His voice was weak, but filled with pride.
I sat beside him on the bed. We held hands for awhile, but didn’t speak. There was no need. My dad would’ve hated any kind of mushy-feely bedside talk. I know that, because I know him. I have always been my father’s girl.
The following afternoon, my dad died.
I miss my dad tremendously. His death is recent and my grief still feels pretty fresh. But I’m also blessed to have had him in my life for as long as I did. He gave me so much and I wanted share one of the many lessons his life and death have taught me. When it came to sex, my dad didn’t always know what to say or what to do. He was awkward. He made mistakes. But he tried his best...because he loved me. And it’s his love I remember and that’s what I will carry with me as I raise and educate my own child.
I want to encourage all of you to talk to the children in your life, about sex, about life, about anything. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know exactly what to say — just let them know you love them enough to try.
Thank you Dad, for everything. I love you. I always will.