The Condom Conundrum--How Are We Going To Teach Safe Behavior If Parents Are Afraid To Talk To Their Children About Sex?

May 16, 1997

When it comes to talking to their teenagers about sex, health and condoms, mum's the word for most American parents.

"The core of the problem is that it is harder for adults to talk about sex than substance abuse. Parents don't talk about sex with their children," says Diane Morrison, a University of Washington research associate professor of social work who studies public health issues and the consequences of risky behavior. It is especially hard, she notes, for a parent to talk to a child of the opposite sex.

She believes that if Americans want their children to learn safe and positive sexual behavior, parents have to teach these things just as they should tell their children about the harmful effects of drugs and alcohol.

"People's concerns with teenage health issues and sex have become hopelessly jumbled," she says. "We can accept direct messages of no-alcohol and no-drug use. But when it comes to sex we rely on hidden messages. We believe that if we talk about condoms, birth control and safe sex with our children we are giving an inferred message that it is OK to have sex. We can't seem to tell our kids directly, 'I don't want you to have sex yet,' and why."

Teenagers, she says aren't smart about sex and they are confused about expected sexual behavior.

"Our society is saturated with sex, but primarily the negative side of sex. The idea of sex being something you do with someone you care about is not being taught. You would expect parents to talk to their children about the positive side of sex, but they don't.

Instead, children largely see only the seamy side of sex, and see it as something used to sell everything from books and beer to clothes and makeup. It's a good cheap way for advertisers to get an emotional response," says Morrison.

"Our culture expects schools to teach about sex, but different parents have different standards for what their children should or shouldn't know," she says. At the same time parents, by and large, don't talk to their children about sex and condoms because they don't feel comfortable discussing them. "We need to teach parents how to talk to their children about sex. That way children get culturally acceptable values from their parents."

Condoms and AIDS prevention present special problems. Americans can't seem to look at AIDS as a public health issue because it has a sexual component, she believes.

"We should compare AIDS with tuberculosis. People recognize that controlling TB is in everybody's best interest. In the same way, greater use of condoms is in everybody's best interest. It is one way to keep the rate of HIV infection as low as possible," she argues. "The more condoms are used, the better it is for all of us."

Why are condoms so important?

"Because they are the most common method of birth control used by teens," says Morrison, "and virtually the only one they use when they have sex for the first time. Few teenage girls go on birth control pills before having sex for the first time, so if they aren't using condoms, they aren't using any kind of birth control."

Morrison also thinks that condoms should be distributed at little or no cost in schools or restroom vending machines. Many teenagers, she says, don't have a lot of spending money and many are embarrassed because it can be very intimidating for them to buy condoms at the drug store. The cost of condoms, she says, is much less than the cost of a pregnancy and far less than the cost of controlling a sexually-transmitted disease.

"Teenagers need extra help in setting up good health habits," says Morrison. "The single best predictor of using condoms in the future is having used them in the past. We should want our children to learn safe sexual behavior just as we teach them what moderate and responsible drinking is, even before they're old enough to drink. We should also tell them clearly and frankly what our family values about sex are, and explain why we don't want them to have sex too soon. These messages are not contradictory."


University of Washington

Related Aids Articles from Brightsurf:

Developing a new vaccination strategy against AIDS
Infection researchers from the German Primate Center (DPZ) -- Leibniz Institute for Primate Research have in cooperation with international colleagues tested a new vaccination strategy against the HIV-related simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) in rhesus monkeys.

HIV-AIDS: Following your gut
Researchers find a way to reduce replication of the AIDS virus in the gastrointestinal tract.

A path toward ending AIDS in the US by 2025
Using prevention surveillance data to model rates of HIV incidence, prevalence and mortality, investigators at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health set targets, specifically a decrease in new infections to 21,000 by 2020 and to 12,000 by 2025, that would mark a transition toward ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

What does it take for an AIDS virus to infect a person?
Researchers examined the characteristics of HIV-1 strains that were successful in traversing the genital mucosa that forms a boundary to entry by viruses and bacteria.

How AIDS conquered North America
A new technique that allowed researchers to analyze genetic material from serum samples of HIV patients taken before AIDS was known provides a glimpse of unprecedented detail into the beginnings of the AIDS epidemic in North America.

New research could help build better hearing aids
Scientists at Binghamton University, State University of New York want to improve sensor technology critical to billions of devices made every year.

NY State Department of Health AIDS Institute funds HIV/AIDS prevention in high-risk youth
NewYork-Presbyterian's Comprehensive Health Program and Project STAY, an initiative of the Harlem Heath Promotion Center (HHPC) at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health has received two grants totaling more than $3.75 million from the New York State Department of Health AIDS Institute for their continued efforts to prevent HIV/AIDS in at-risk youth.

A new way to nip AIDS in the bud
When new HIV particles bud from an infected cell, the enzyme protease activates to help the viruses infect more cells.

AIDS research prize for Warwick academic
A researcher at the University of Warwick has received international recognition for his contribution to AIDS research.

Insects inspire next generation of hearing aids
An insect-inspired microphone that can tackle the problem of locating sounds and eliminate background noise is set to revolutionize modern-day hearing aid systems.

Read More: Aids News and Aids Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to