Thought that would get your attention. It got mine, too. I turned on my television to hear the anchor at HLN talking about condom distribution for first graders.
I raced to the remote to turn up the volume. What I heard was a caller talking about the need to maintain a child's innocence and something about not wanting her twelve year old to view sexual material. I rolled my eyes. (If you've ever read anything I've written, this isn't a surprise.)
Hysteria aside: The story is that an elementary school in Provincetown, Massachusetts has decided to make condoms available to its students. (Notice I said "available" - not universally distributed.) According to the policy, any student who wants a condom has to see the school nurse, who will then counsel the student (and discuss abstinence, too) before giving the student a condom. Now, is the thought of an elementary school student having sex a hard pill to swallow? Sure. But isn't it better for our students to have access to information and services than to engage in unsafe sexual activity? I think so. This policy is being implemented because whether we like it or not, there are children engaging in early sexual activity. I'm not saying it's right, but it exists. (And BTW, if you are talking to your kids about healthy sexuality, self-esteem, body image, sex, condoms, health, puberty, sexual orientation, and so on, chances are they will NOT be sexually active elementary school students.)
But that's not really the issue for me. I spend most of my days explaining that condoms are health products, just like anything else we keep in our medicine cabinets. Toothbrushes prevent our body from the invasion of too much oral bacteria; condoms keep bacteria out of our bodies, also. The fact that a condom covers the penis? Well, last time I checked, the penis was a body part, too.
My son (who is five) has seen condoms in our home. When he asked me, "What is that?", my response was, "Something that grown ups use to stay healthy." Eventually, when he asks me for additional information, I'll tell him, "It's something that a man wears on his penis so that he stays healthy." And my answer will continue to evolve. I am not ashamed of condoms. "Condom" isn't a bad word; "Condoms" are the best preventative health product for sexually active people. Condoms are the only (let me repeat, ONLY) product that offers protection against sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy.
Two days ago I wrote about our fear when it comes to talking to children about sex. The "innocence" issue always comes up. But this Provincetown story isn't about passing condoms around to first graders (contrary to media hysteria). This is about our fear of talking to our children about sex and sexuality. Our children are exposed to far more damaging material (think of all the graphic violence on primetime television, video games, etc.) than the image of a condom. If we can get past our own anxiety, fear, and insecurity (based on our own lack of information), our children will be far better off. And they won't really bat an eyelash if someone uses the word condom in front of them. Or if they ever find yours.
Follow Dr. Logan Levkoff on Twitter: www.twitter.com/LoganLevkoff