I had a parent ask me last week how I would approach a new sexual partner. She was getting at her concern for her daughter, who is single and sexually active, and whether her daughter would actually be able to ask about her partner’s STI status – or whether any sex at all was just too risky. I felt for this mother. She came of age in a time before HIV and has been in a monogamous relationship ever since. She is terrified.
I wanted to take her hand, pull her into a classroom, and talk about condoms and communication. And then do the same for her daughter, who I can only assume hasn’t gotten the sex education she needs if her mother is so undereducated. I got to thinking about the section in Teaching Safer Sex that covers condoms. It’s described thusly: This section examines the basic steps for proper use among the wide variety of condoms available. It explores the personal attributes of successful condom users (and partners), and stresses the importance of choosing the right ones. This lesson, especially, jumped out at me as a useful one for this particular mother:
THE PEOPLE PROBLEM:
When Condoms Don’t Work
By the end of this lesson, participants will be able to:
- List facts about condom manufacturing, testing and quality control in the United States today.
- Explain how improper usage can weaken latex condoms.
- Identify problems people have in using condoms correctly and consistently and recommend solutions to those problems.
Research demonstrates conclusively that condoms used correctly and consistently are highly effective in preventing both sexually transmitted infections and unplanned pregnancy. Since most condom failures are, in fact, people failures, it is important to identify and address the reasons people at risk do not use condoms consistently and correctly. This lesson addresses some of the problems people have using condoms, including the often confusing directions to use water-based, not oil-based lubricants.
The mother I was talking with was, primarily, worried about people. Her daughter. Her daughter’s sex partners. Her daughter. However, rather than framing her worry in that human dimension, she was framing it as a safety concern about STI transmission. As we bounced back and forth in conversation, this became even clearer. The intertwining nature of STI transmission, safer sex choices, partner communication, all tied up in a bow with love for her adolescent daughter, were spinning this mother out of control.
Bringing the experience of sexual contact back into control is what parents and teens both need. Teens, of course, are the ones who have the actual control. Parents don’t have any. But for this mother, at least, knowing that her daughter was in control seemed like enough.