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, my son 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.
Photo by Robert Elyov (Flickr).
Later, I cajoled my husband into speaking with him about flavored condoms, homosexuality and a number of other topics which required som 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 kids 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, 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.
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