A pharmacist's perspective on health and metabolic disease
I’ve just come back from my summer break and saw this article in The Guardian “Why I put 400 condoms in the kitchen drawer for my sons”. I couldn’t help but think this how responsible this Mum was, but more importantly, how mature her sons were to share the condoms with their friends (I hope they kept enough for themselves!)
But this article made me think further. Should condoms be free for all teenagers and available in easily accessible locations? Often schools will have supplies, but what about the holidays? From my experience providing emergency contraception, holidays are another “risky time for sex”.
One medical centre I worked with had a great policy. They would order at least 400 condoms a month and make them freely available in their toilet with a “no questions asked” policy (and you didn’t have to be a patient to use their toilet). We ordered the condoms and the nurse responsible and my team would go to some lengths to make sure we had a good variety: coloured, flavoured, ribbed, extra large, natural feel etc. Essentially, if it was subsidised, we had some in stock! This way, we were pretty sure there was something for everyone – and not just the teenagers. In my time there, I think I supplied the emergency contraceptive once to a teenager – the condom had broken.
So should we all be making condoms available on a no-questions-asked basis to our teens? I think so. Sexually transmitted diseases are common and not all of them are symptomatic. Many STDs cause long-term infertility. Generally, these diseases can be prevented by condoms. But providing condoms doesn’t just prevent STDs and pregnancies. Teenagers who have access to sex education are more likely to delay sexual activity and are more likely to use contraception. Providing condoms to our teenagers is a home-based sex-ed moment that may lead to other conversation moments about health and good relationships. We can’t just rely on sex-ed programs in schools, we have to reinforce the messages and be the positive role models. Providing condoms also doesn’t necessarily mean that we are encouraging our teens to have sex, but it does mean that we are keeping them (or their friends) safe if they do. In New Zealand, condoms are cheap on prescription – $5 for “three months supply”. How the three months supply is interpreted is pretty loose, but 84-144 condoms is pretty standard.
Having easy access to condoms is important and we must remove the embarrassment aspect. Some years ago we had a young man attempt to shoplift condoms from the pharmacy. He wanted to keep him and his girlfriend safe, but was too embarrassed to buy them because premarital sex was taboo in his culture. (He was let off with a bit of a lecture, after he purchased the condoms).
We also have to make sure our teens have access to contraception BEFORE they need it (a bit like menstruation supplies!) This means that you may want to get some condoms for your 13-15 year olds. Hopefully they will be uninterested and embarrassed but know you care about them. If this is the case – please keep an eye on the expiry dates!
So maybe you find yourself trying to supply your teenagers and maybe, like the mother in this article find yourself supplying half their friends as well. Does this matter?
Lastly, I don’t know that the kitchen is the best place to keep the condoms though – it might be difficult to be discrete about taking some. Maybe the bathroom is better for privacy?
What do you think?