Monday, February 6, 2012

So You Want to Know About Flavored Condoms?: Parenting is a Very Weird Job

Photo Credit: Flickr

Three years or so ago, when my oldest son was in fifth grade, I went to his elementary school to collect him from an afternoon Homework Club. He had finished his work, but needed to look for a misplaced hoodie, so we wandered the quiet halls for some time while he tried to locate it. As we gave up and were returning to the entrance, past classroom doors where dedicated teachers still labored over tomorrow's lesson plans and yesterday's papers to be graded, he asked me, with a curious voice loud and clear as a bell,

"Is it true that there are flavored condoms?"

To this I quickly replied that I would prefer that we discuss the matter after leaving his school, and he assented without embarrassment.

Later, I cajoled my husband into speaking with him about flavored condoms, homosexuality and a number of other topics which required some re-education, after the initial tutelage of classmates with incompatible religious views or odd ideas of human sexuality.

No, sex does not hurt. Or at least, it shouldn't.
No, the purpose of Sex Ed. in the schools is not to instruct humans in how to have sex lest they fail to undertake this activity and cause the sudden extinction of the entire race.
Yes, people do actually do that. No, it's not as gross as it sounds.

Et cetera. Et cetera.

One thing a future parent does not particularly imagine for oneself when fantasizing about their future lifetime with their growing child is their role as a sex educator. If we did imagine this, it would really put a damper on the baby-making, I think. It's kind of a gross thought.

I am lucky in that our religious denomination does offer a course for middle schoolers on the subject, which is oddly called OWL (Our Whole Lives), so at least some of the particulars of in-depth sexual education are taken off my hands.

But, by fifth grade, in my experience, normal boys are curious enough to have Googled 'hot chicks" on the family computer, inquired about flavored prophylactics and garnered a host of bizarre information about sex from their dealings with other sexually inexperienced males of their own age. So, you really can't get out of it.

I have not yet ventured into the world of parenting a potentially sexually active child, since my older ones are still in the process of going through puberty, but there are things that deeply worry me about this.

When I was a teenager, the thing to do was to buy condoms from machines that had been installed in bathrooms at colleges and cafes. This was completely discreet, if somewhat more expensive. Word spread around about where these could be found and kids knew where to get birth control on the fly. This probably prevented any number of children from being born, who would now be twenty year-old nervous wrecks.

I have not checked out the various bathrooms at gas stations in my small town, since I am a married woman of thirty-six with a desire not to even touch a gas station bathroom, but I hope that they have condom machines. Because the alternative is too horrific even to describe.

I live in a town of 12,000 people. We have one grocery store in our town, and it is like the town square. You can't go in there to get a quart of milk or a box of decongestants without running into five people to whom it would be rude not to say hello, and fifteen more that you recognize on sight and know by name. I am never buying anything nefarious since my life has for years been given over to the acquisition of copious produce, lactose-free beverages and children's toothpastes, so there is no need to feel embarrassed, but I would hate to have to purchase any intimate products locally.

The condoms and lubricants at Smith's are situated directly opposite the check-out lines, in plain view of God and everyone. You have to stand next to them in rather an uncomfortable way to get your prescriptions at the pharmacy. This is particularly entertaining when some poor woman is there with her sick toddler, waiting behind a sluggish line five people deep, while attempting to contain her child either in a stroller, or in her arms. Given the arrangement created by the narrow aisle with condoms to the right, cigarettes to the rear and tables of discounted vitamins to the left, it is impossible to place a stroller such that a child who can sit up and reach will not be able to grab hold of whatever catches their fancy. At eye level to a stroller are the lubricants, which are packaged in hues of vibrant electric purple, ravishing red and glossy pink. Without fail, children go for these items.

"Mommy, I want this!," the child will exclaim with delight and anticipation.

The mother, upon realizing the situation, with a look of blushing pink horror, then snatches the libidinous liquid from her child, and tries desperately to interest the toddler in a bottle of vitamins to hold while the long wait continues, all without attracting undue notice. All four other people in line watch with total amusement.

"I don't want this! I want that, Mommy!"

And a tantrum ensues.

I could no more imagine purchasing condoms or lubricant from this place than I could conceive of bumming smokes from a nun. Especially if I was a teenager. The clerks know who everyone is, to whom everyone is related and what health conditions we all have.

Privacy, I think, is something you sacrifice to live in cozy places.

So, I guess time will tell whether I will become the sort of parent who places all my bets on the hope that my boys will be abstinent throughout high school, or the kind who leaves condoms hidden all over the house for them to find, in a desperate hedge against the possibility of becoming an extremely young grandmother.

Parenting is a very weird job.


  1. I think it's great he asked you. I have friends with kids who would call or text me with questions about everything from bikini waxing, to birth control, to possible pregnancies to how to correctly use condoms. One asked me if I ever did mushrooms. I tried to provide honest answers with a hint of hidden guidance and a reality check - Just keep the conversation flowing!!

    1. Such true words. I am always relieved when my teenager TELLS me things–even obnoxious things. Better than the alternative.

  2. Now on the back side of this with my sons, you are in for some fun, weird times.

    1)As said above, be glad he asked. You'll at least get the conversation going.
    2)As they get older, the less they are going to say voluntarily. Don't press to hard. They have to figure it out themselves.
    3)Above all, make sure he understands that respect, both for himself and his partners, prevent more problems than anything else.

    And he will probably will want to go to the next town for his supplies.

    1. The next town is 30 minutes away so I'm still thinking of hiding condoms all over the house–maybe at heights they can only reach when of mature stature?

  3. Parenting really is a weird job. Like the others above, I love that he was comfortable to ask you. I was always very open and available with my kids, starting when when they were very young, so they asked lots of questions along the way, some easier than others.

    1. It would make a funny book, wouldn't it–the bizarre things kids have said to us in our quest to maintain open communication?

  4. This post makes reason # 758,876 that I'm glad we don't have kids.

    My stepmonster came into my room one day after school when I was 13 with a banana and a condom. I was mortified.

    1. YES! That is the other thing I am always trying to avoid. The mortification of parental sexual over-shares. UGGGGHHH. Nothing worse.

  5. We've been fielding a lot of questions about babies and breasts lately with my girls (3 and 6) because my sister just had a baby. I'm glad they ask things about their bodies and I try to answer them accurately, but in a way that won't confuse them; because no matter how uncomfortable I am, I really hope not to be a grandmother anytime in the next 20 years.

    1. It's funny. We were all about the junior sex ed. with my older two because they each had a younger sibling born, but my littlest...has never even asked where babies come from! I'm not sure he knows what a vagina is although I'm sure I must have mentioned it. It just doesn't seem pertinent to his world as the youngest. I'm starting to worry that he'll never learn the birds and the bees at this rate; never realized how much childbirth and breastfeeding drove the interest of the other two.

  6. Don't worry. Your youngest will eventually be just as curious as the older two. Don't know how well I did with sex education, but it all worked out. And if you think parenting is a weird job, try grandparenting. They ask you questions they won't ask their parents.

  7. Okay, I have that toddler that grabs condoms while waiting in line. Maybe we can send our older boys with the toddler to the store. They can then blame the baby "It for the baby, he really really wanted the pretty box."
    But more seriously, I thought about this myself. How do I make condoms available without giving him permission to have sex? Maybe giving him a stash before I know he is even interested in having them around. High School is just a few month away, maybe I should decide soon.

    1. I don't know. It seems like we parents should have, as a group, worked out some sort of approach to this by now, wouldn't you say? It used to be that, growing up in Northern California in the late eighties and early nineties, people were always throwing condoms at you and torturing you with demonstrations of how to place them on bananas (thanks for the memories,M Half of the M-n-J-Show). You couldn't escape sex education OR birth control. People only got pregnant because they couldn't be bothered to carry the condoms out to the trees, abandoned couches and drainage ditches where they ultimately had sex. Maybe we should keep them in the medicine cabinet where they can STEAL them? Don't know...Or I've heard a really effective metghod of birth control is to just get them involved with World of Warcraft...

  8. Haha You're a better man than I am, Gunga Din! :)

    The good news about the child having a tantrum about said illicit item is that it makes an excellent cover for you to purchase it, if such was your desire. But seriously, child-rearing does not come with a booklet of instructions and anyone who undertakes it deserves infinite kudos.

    This was a fun read.
    Many thanks to Periphery for recommending your blog.

    1. I hadn't thought about that! "I'm afraid I will have to buy this bottle of Climax Enhancer. My child has been manhandling it." Then I guess you give them a cheap gumball and slip it in your purse while they aren't looking?


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