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Let me preface the question by saying that I'm not asking this question in order to endorse or promote teenage sex. Even if my child wants to wait until he is married to have sex, as a parent, I still want to educate him on how condoms work.

So some pertinent questions are:

  • How do you bring up the topic?
  • What do you demonstrate on?
  • What storage precautions should you explain?
  • What things should you mention about efficacy with regards to pregnancy and STDs?
  • What else should you tell your child about condoms?
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+1: I'm going to need the answer to this one in 3-4 years. Sending an email to myself with the link! –  ale May 20 '11 at 10:47
    
That the need for them is a pretty good idea that what he is about to do is risky and probably a mistake .... –  tomjedrz Oct 18 '11 at 6:11
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8 Answers

up vote 30 down vote accepted

Well, I went the carrot/condom route with my daughter when she was 12, along with discussing the following:

  1. Condoms are only effective when used properly. This means, no baby oil for lube, no vaseline or anything petroleum - as it will rot the rubber and cause it to break.

  2. Insist that a condom is used! If he's not willing to see to your safety and health - it's obvious he doesn't care about you, only about getting laid. Dump him and find someone else that's worth your time!

  3. The condom goes ON before ANYTHING goes IN. If it comes off for any reason, a NEW one must be used.

  4. IF it breaks - and you find out AFTER you're done, don't be afraid OR ashamed to get an emergency contraceptive. If you go to one pharmacy and they won't dispense it, go to another - but remember the first and never shop there again. If there isn't anyone who will dispense Plan B to you, call me and I will come with you and get it - even if I have to drag a lawyer and a baseball bat with me.

When you're in a committed relationship, think about getting on the pill (but know that it must be taken regularly at the same time of day, and you can't skip a pill), but only after you've both been tested for STD's. There are worse things out there than pregnancy.

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+1 Great point about "it's obvious he doesn't care about you, only about getting laid"...so many times that is glossed over. –  MichaelF May 20 '11 at 19:29
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...and know that the pill isn't effective if you are on antibiotics. –  nGinius May 21 '11 at 11:07
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She knows that already; I was on the pill when I got pregnant with her (after having taken antibiotics). –  Darwy May 21 '11 at 16:18
    
There's more to effective condom use: womenshealth.about.com/cs/condoms/a/gtmstprotcondom.htm –  Mike Partridge Nov 7 '12 at 22:10
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I've typically seen condom use demonstrated on (unpeeled) bananas, but I think @MichaelF's suggestion of a carrot is a better one. I'd even consider purchasing a ("regular" size) realistic-looking dildo, since what you lose in giggle factor you more than make up for with realism.

As for storage precautions, I'd point out that carrying a condom in a wallet (which is common) is actually a terrible idea (due to body heat and pressure from being squeezed) and that keeping them around for very long at all is something to avoid. Most Planned Parenthood offices and many health clinics and doctor's offices will provide free condoms (an extremely useful bit of advice for cash-strapped teens who might otherwise be hesitant to purchase condoms -- and especially to re-purchase "fresh" ones) so it's very easy to always have one available that's in good condition.

When discussing the effectiveness of condoms in preventing pregnancy and STD transmission, I think explaining the mechanisms of failure are the best bet. Too often teens are cited statistics regarding the percentage failure rates, without really being told how the condoms fail -- usually by breaking. This ties in with proper storage and frequent replacement of old condoms, since latex degrades over time and so newer condoms are less likely to break. When discussing STD transmission there's the breakage issue to address, but also it's important to realize that for many diseases it's skin-to-skin contact that's the issue, and that's why it's important to roll down the condom all the way, make sure to use it from the start, etc. I think going into these details is far better than simply stating "condoms reduce the chance of pregnancy or acquiring an STD by such-and-such percent" and will make a more lasting impression.

I'm not sure there is any "best way" to introduce the topic, though personally I'd shy away from tying it to any sort of life event. Having a conversation with your son about condom use just as he starts a relationship with a new girlfriend (or boyfriend, as the case may be) just has too much of a "cringe factor" in my opinion, since it's too personal and might feel like you're being too specific. I think it would be better to just have a random, spontaneous "sex ed hour" some weekend for no reason at all, so there's no reason for your son to feel like you're making assumptions about his activities or prying into his personal life.

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Good point on pockets, I hadn't thought about carrying them with you...too used to having them at home I guess. –  MichaelF May 21 '11 at 10:56
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At university, they used the batting end of a baseball bat to show that condoms are never too small. –  nGinius May 21 '11 at 11:04
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+1 for the point of avoiding a specific event as the embarrassing trigger. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun May 21 '11 at 17:40
    
It might also be worth mentioning that the condom-dispensing machines which are ubiquitous in fast-food, pub, and service-station toilets are often broken and will frequently swallow your money without dispensing anything in return. –  TRiG Aug 7 '13 at 19:48
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One item everyone seems to forget to cover, is how to take one OFF without making a huge mess. And to wash hands before applying a new one after removing a used one for those back to back sessions we all wish we were able to have back when we had the stamina but not the wisdom to make them worth it.

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When teaching the practical use of condoms I suggest one takes the opportunity to teach the life skill of deciding in advance as well.

Maybe these points will be helpful to cover.

Use of condoms, if used properly:

  • prevents pregnancies; pregnancy is life altering, take a moment to imagine your life pregnant (or with a pregnant girlfriend) and with a child after.
  • prevents diseases (STDs); STDs can have a permanent impact on your health. From HPV to AIDS symptoms vary but some diseases stay with you.
  • can increase pleasure. Acknowledge that different people report different effects on pleasure.
  • may reduce sensitivity. Acknowledge that using a condom feels different.

How to Put on a Condom

Refer to links and if the links break in the future search for: condom maker instructions on use and trusted health sources for condom use. Demonstrate in person on a proxy. Let your child demonstrate it back to you on a proxy.

Deciding in Advance:

For important life events it's effective to decide ahead of time what you will do in a given situation.

As a part of the condom talk, consider putting a few scenarios out there and ask your child what they will do in that situation. I have listed 3 scenarios and possible answers; try to get your child to think through the issues and come up with their own answers.

  • Opportunity for sex, but no condom...Go get a condom or skip the sex. Oral and anal sex both transmit disease.
  • Had some alcohol, and have a condom...Avoid situations where you might have sex, alcohol impairs decision making...
  • Condom breaks during sex...Stop having sex, put on a new condom, follow up with Plan B if appropriate, tell parents if needed...

Knowing the answers to these types of questions in advance will greatly increase that chances of following through on the best actions.

As to squeamishness / giggle factor. Acknowledge it and then ignore it.

I suggest revisiting this whole process again, say in a month. This will give time for natural questions to come up, for misinformation from friends to infiltrate your initial message, and will allow the kind of repetition that is the key to learning.

Resources:

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Wish I could upvote this more than once. How Thorough! –  balanced mama Jan 4 '13 at 15:40
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As a former sex-ed teacher (I don't know why the Science and PE teachers are ALWAYS relegated to this job, I would also add to some of the already wonderful and complete answers, that a lot of kids these days do not consider oral sex a form of sex. As awkward as it may be to discuss - do it bring it up. Even this form of sex requires certain protections and considerations.

In regard to HOW to talk about these things (because you also ask about that), I think you just bite the bullet and talk about it. It will be awkward and strange at first so acknowledge the elephant in the room and talk about it.

I'll never forget the day my Dad said to me as I moved into High School, "Honey this is going to feel weird to discuss with me - I'm already feeling nervous about it myself, but I love you and I'm not so ancient I don't know many kids have sex in High school" He continued with, "I love you enough to say that while I'd like to think your first time will be when you're are married I want you to know I'd rather you come ask me about Birth control than about what to do after you are sick or pregnant because I love you" It was strange and awkward, but I know and knew then how hard it was for him which made me feel all the more loved and trusted frankly.

This answer, This answer and This answer all look great to me.

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As for "what else":

Teach them that there's nothing shameful about carrying condoms. That carrying condoms doesn't mean they'll definitely be using them. And that you (Dad) won't assume that they're having sex just because they take condoms with them when they're out. Yes, this is my story - I was a fairly convinced Christian back then, and it was unthinkable (to me) that I'd have sex out of wedlock. Help your children out with plausible deniability if they need it: if you give them condoms, tell them it's okay to dispose of them if they aren't going to use them, that you aren't going to demand to know when and where and with whom (if anyone at all) they used them.

The mainstream narrative seems to be that teenagers are a bunch of gung-ho libidinous hormone bags with no concept of risk and consequences. But some are thoughtful, restrained and risk-averse - and it's alienating to them when you treat them as if they were the stereotype. The Condom Talk is one instance where this can happen.

Teach them how to find reliable information about condoms, and about sex in general, for themselves, and not from their peers (good for entertaining anecdotes, but not for facts). For themselves, because they might not be comfortable asking you. This might include knowing how to judge which websites give reliable info, or how to pick a random adult to ask (teacher: maybe good, doctor: good, taxi driver: bad). Kudos to you if your relationship with your kids is open enough that they feel comfortable getting their info from you, but prepare them also not to be dependent solely on you.

Live demo on an object seems like an obvious must-have, in hindsight. I know I'd have been mortified if my parents had given me such a demo, but I now also know it would have been the right thing to do. We didn't have sex ed in school back then, so that avenue wasn't available.

As others have mentioned, teach them about compatibility of materials. Show them a gross gooey old elastic band as an example of what happens to certain materials when exposed to some substances, light, or just time. Also that some people are allergic to this or to that, and that polyurethane condoms exist, too.

Heck, teach them about statistics, and that it's impossible to eliminate risk entirely from life. That condoms sometimes fail, and why they do, and whether and what second (or are these third?) lines of defence to use. That in some cases it's "game over" if the condom fails: as yet there's no cure for some number of STDs. That, despite all of this, humans take risks all the time, and are on the whole better off for it. And how to tell what risks are worth taking, and under what conditions one is more or less able to make such a choice rationally. Hint: while being drunk or sexually excited are not good conditions. Maybe you could even add in a bit of evolutionary biology: how the entire organism (including its mind) is built with one goal in mind1: making copies of genes. What a powerful adversary this is for a mere condom.

[1] Evolution has no "goal" and no "mind". Apply as-if rule here.

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When I had a Sexual Education class in school many decades ago, with much giggling, our teacher showed us with a non-lubracted condom and a carrot. I'm sure any similarly sized fruit, and or vegetable, will be adequate. Basically just do it, our teacher told us this was how it went on and then it was on to the next topic, ignoring all the giggling going on with a high school class. I doubt you'll get much better with a teen.

It depends on what you hope to gain from this, most of your questions are pretty obvious. You use a condom to prevent STD's and pregnancy, not sure how you explain storage or what you mean by that. If its necessary to bring it up, do it in a matter that your child will accept, you know your child best.

You may want to check your local library for resources, they might have something about talking about Sex to your child.

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Please, please, please make sure to destroy the myth that using two condoms is more effective. (The reality is that they will rub against each other, and that the friction will cause them to be more likely to break!) Teens love talking about sex, and a LOT of misinformation gets passed around as a result - misinformation that could result in surprise grandchildren. –  kivetros May 20 '11 at 14:50
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If he's likely to have sex, he will have it, regardless of your guidance. You can only influence whether he'll use protection or just "flow with it in a seemingly consequence free environment". If you think sex is imminent - guide him to protect his life and help him avoid complications such as teenage pregnancy (not very pleasant from the father side as well).

i am a parent of both boys and girls. I'd teach both sexes carry and use condoms when they hit that age (and support being on the pill for the girls). For my girls, I'll also do something extra. We are a pro-life home, and they will know that should they become pregnant, we're keeping the baby. I will raise my grandkids as my own if I must. We will not take the easy abortion route. They should keep that in mind, and protect themselves from unwanted pregnancies using PREVENTION.

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-1: This doesn't even try to answer the question. I'm not asking for how to guide my child in his sex life, I'm asking specifically how to explain use of condoms. –  Javid Jamae May 20 '11 at 18:38
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Condom + Banana. He needs to know how to unpack them, and how to safely roll the condom on the "apparatus" for optimal coverage. He also needs to know what NOT to apply (lubs, veseline etc) as this might cause the condom to slide or crack. You, your son, banana, two condoms. You demonstrate once. Let him do the other. –  ron M. May 21 '11 at 14:16
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turn that comment into an answer and you'll get a handful of upvotes for sure. Short, practical, simple! –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun May 21 '11 at 17:37
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