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Condom Shopping 101
Testing out an embarrassing sex ed homework assignment
Julieta Velazquez
Sex Advice Column

Have you ever walked into a drugstore and bought a pack of condoms?

Some controversial changes in New York City’s sex education curriculum began this spring, and they involve a lot of frank, detailed lessons about sex and contraception. One optional activity even involves sending students to local drugstores to buy condoms.

Critics of the new curriculum think it’s too risqué. The open discussion of contraception and sexual practices, they say, will only encourage teens to have sex. But supporters—including many teens—think it’s good that schools are being explicit. Department of Education officials say that the intention is still to help kids delay sexual activity, but if they choose to have sex anyway, they will be more prepared to practice safer sex and seek healthy relationships.

Another YCteen writer and I decided to test out the condom shopping activity. We wondered whether it would make the experience less mysterious and thus less intimidating. We visited a local Duane Reade and did some comparisons of different condom brands and styles. As we entered the store, we felt extremely nervous about having to go up to a clerk and ask where we could find the condom section. So to avoid awkward conversation and a potential stare-down, we found our own way to the aisle without asking.

image by YC-Art Dept

We took our time examining the entire box of every condom brand we could find: Trojan, Durex, Lifestyles—you name it, we analyzed it. We compared 10 different brands and found that even though they have similar features, there are still some significant differences among them. For instance, condoms come in different shapes—some are straight, others curved—and not all of them are latex. Some don’t even come with spermicide or lubricant.

As we shopped, other condom buyers approached. Some seemed just as nervous as we were, and hurriedly walked away when they saw that the area was already occupied. Others were brave and reached right in to grab what they wanted. (Clearly these were more experienced shoppers.)

Our entire ordeal lasted about 30 minutes, but I would say that this little experiment proved to be useful. While it was embarrassing standing in that section and picking up different boxes, I think it’s good for teens to know all of these things when buying condoms. I don’t think that it’s a waste of time to be informed.

In my opinion, this activity is likely to encourage teens to have safe sex because not only is it informing them of an important form of birth control and STD prevention, but it also helps them feel more comfortable when purchasing condoms. If teens endure standing around the condom aisle for a few minutes reading all of the different labels, they won’t feel so self-conscious about purchasing the condoms before they have sex. They’ll already know what kind they want and how much it’ll cost. They’ll be more confident that the whole transaction will be over fast, and that they won’t die from embarrassment.

Read more about NYC’s sex education curriculum or check out YouthSuccessNYC.org's sexuality section, Planned Parenthood's teen page, or SexEtc.org for more information about sex, condoms, and other forms of contraception.

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(NYC-2012-05-10b)

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