In an ideal world, your kids would come to you before they have sex, but that’s unlikely. So you may have to beat them to the punch.
A common question I hear parents asking is how to give their teenage children access to birth control even if they do not want them having sex yet. I managed to get my children and 37 of their friends through adolescence without a single pregnancy or abortion. Here are nine ways you can follow my lead:
- Check your judgments at the door. Sure, we don’t want kids having sex before they’re ready, but being judgmental about teen sex is not an effective way to get kids to use condoms.
- Get over the idea that your kids will talk to you before they have sex. Sure, in an optimal world, they would consult you and have your full blessing before they have sex, but when was the last time you wanted to talk to anyone, including your parents, before you had sex with a new partner? Do you really want to gamble your kids’ future on them feeling comfortable talking to you about their sexual feelings?
- Acknowledge how problematic it is for kids to get condoms. They have two options: a store and you as parents. At stores, they are often the object of scorn and suspicion. In the area where our children attended high school, there was one grocery store and one pharmacy that sold condoms. In both locations, condoms were kept behind the counter and sold by disapproving church ladies. For those living in the far reaches of the county, the nearest store selling condoms was more than 20 miles away. If you give your kids a package of condoms, they know that you can check on their sexual activity just by checking how many are gone.
- Change how you think about condoms. Think of them as a community resource, something that should be available to every person over the age of consent. If you are having a hard time with that, try imagining that you lived in an area where smallpox is rampant but where the people most in danger have the greatest difficulty getting the vaccine. You, on the other hand, have access to a nearly unlimited supply. Wouldn’t you feel an obligation to make this life-saving resource available to others? Condoms are a life-saving resource for many teens, but it is one they have little access to.
- Be a resource of information and condoms not just for your own children, but for their friends who may not have understanding adults in their lives. When you make condoms available to anyone who needs them, you make it far more likely that your child will take and use condoms when s/he is ready to have sex. You can tell your children that while you are sure they will wait until they are older and they will include you in their decision-making process, you realize that some of their friends will not. Express how much you like their friends, and how concerned you are that they have protection.
- Choose the container and spot for the condom stash with care. We kept our stash in a very large cookie jar. We loved the cookie jar because of the wholesome image it projected and because it is neither clinical nor threatening. Our first choice for a location, a shelf in the kitchen, turned out to be a mistake. We discovered that a public location like a kitchen made kids worry that their friends would see them taking condoms. We ended up moving the cookie jar to a shelf behind the toilet in the guest bathroom. It allowed kids to take what they needed without the risk of being seen.
- Stock your condom cookie jar with a variety of condoms, preferably in bulk. Often you can get them at cost from a Planned Parenthood clinic. You are going to want to have at least four kinds: flavored for oral sex, regular with spermicidal lubrication, extra large, and condoms without lubrication. The reason for stocking condoms without spermicide is that a surprising number of people are allergic or at least have serious sensitivity to the most commonly used spermicide. I know people who swear that they hate condoms who have switched to non-spermicidal condoms and found that they didn’t mind them all that much.
- In the cookie jar, we also kept a package of Plan B. This is something you will have to make your own personal decision about since it is illegal to knowingly provide Plan B to a minor who cannot legally buy it. After much thought, Pete and I decided that there are some acts of civil disobedience that are worth the risk. Still we minimized the risk by telling our children: “This is for your use. If you give it to any other person, you can be arrested under drug laws. However, we are leaving it in this public place, and if it happens to go missing, we will not ask any questions.”
- Be prepared for the consequences. Hypothetically, you can get arrested for contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Remarkably, for over five years, I had an open cookie jar policy and not a single person in our small rural community objected other than my mother. I have always wondered if the teenagers kept it a secret or if other members of the community simply did not want to take me on.
Here is how following these steps worked out for my children and their friends: Not one of my children’s 37 close friends got pregnant. The condoms worked.