Scarleteen Confidential: The Safer Sex Drawer
An easy way to both normalize safer sex, and make sure that the young person or people in your home have access to basic safer sex and contraception they may need is to have some of those basics in your home, somewhere where everyone can easily find and see them.
Find an extra drawer (or make some room in one that's already being used for something else), room for a basket in the linen cabinet, or some kind of small space that's in a common room. In it, put a small selection of:
- Condoms: let's say 20 or so, with some that are non-latex
- A couple dental dams and some nitrile gloves
- Some single-use packets of lubricant (these are a better option than a bottle, as they're both more portable and allow anyone taking some to feel freer to do so than they might to take a whole bottle)
- A few disposable pads and tampons, ideally in a number of different sizes
- A packet or two of emergency contraception pills
What can this offer?
For one, a lot of young people have the idea that once people get older, are married, or are in long-term relationships (and for young people, long-term can be something attributed to very short-term relationships just because they feel like they will be long-term: you may remember having that notion yourself), they don't -- and don't need to -- practice safer sex anymore. Whether you still do or you don't, just seeing those items in the home can challenge that idea, an idea that often results in young people not using or ditching safer sex barriers when STI risks are still high. Having these items in the home, and not hidden, but with other health and hygiene items, also just sends a general message that safer sex is not about being promiscuous, dirty or deviant, it's just about taking care of your health, just like brushing your teeth or washing your body.
Including items like dams and gloves serves a couple purposes. For one, it makes clear that safer sex isn't only needed for intercourse. Having all the barriers, not just condoms, can also send a subtle message to any queer or questioning young people in your home that you recognize -- and accept and support -- they may want or have partners. Not to mention young people of all sexual orientations may need items such as gloves and dental dams.
Having an item like Plan B out and visible normalizes the use of contraception, and sends a message that it's okay with you for people to use contraception and engage in family planning. This also sends the message that just because people are married, have a family already, or are in long-term relationships doesn't mean they always want to be pregnant, or will stop using contraception.
Having lubricant can help rectify a common idea that there's something wrong with someone if they need or want lubrication, and can make clear that lubricant is just a thing people have and use. If the young person or people in your home aren't yet at sexual partnership, they likely are and have been at masturbation, and may want or need lubricant for that. This can also send a subtle message that masturbation is okay, too.
Having pads and tampons helps destigmatize menstruation, and is also a gesture of courtesy in the event that a guest in your home gets a "surprise!" period.
Access to these items is often tricky for young people. If they don't have their own incomes or a means of transportation, getting any of them from a clinic or store just isn't possible. That can set them up with sexual partners to be fully dependent on them to bring the safer sex goods, or to provide contraception, and that sometimes results in partners showing up empty handed and risks being taken a young person otherwise would not be taking if they had their own stash.
Even for those who do have some kind of income and transportation, many young people are just barely getting comfortable with their own sexualities, or with sexual partnership, if that's in the picture, but aren't yet at the point where they feel comfortable sharing that that's part of their life with strangers, like people working the counter at a pharmacy or grocery store.
Having most of these items right in the home makes their access much easier. It may be that they're totally comfortable being open with you about using them. It may be they sneak little bits of the items at a time, perhaps even with effort to try and make it look like they aren't taking things: that's okay, too, and it'll be up to you, and your own parenting style, how and if you address that if that happens. And if you're putting this drawer in in advance of them engaging in any partnered sex of any kind, they'll know, well in advance, where they can get what they need to be safe, and will probably be much more likely to start their sexual lives with others safe right from the start. That not only best protects their health then, starting safer sex practices right from the start helps them form healthy habits they'll be more likely to keep throughout their lives.
It's up to you, and what timing feels right, as to whether or not you talk directly to the young person or people you parent about the drawer and the fact that they're welcome to use what is in it. If you have children who are very young -- not pre-teens or teens, or are either, but seem like they're pretty far off from needing most of these items -- and already have a drawer like this or are setting one up, you'll probably just want to leave it for now. If they find it, and ask you questions about it, then by all means, you can answer them, letting them know those things are for , and they're just for whoever needs them in the house.
If they are older, and either are or are potentially exploring or getting close to exploring dating or sexual activity with partners, and you're just setting this up, then letting them know about it explicitly is probably the way you'll want to go. You don't have to make a major production out of it, letting them know about this can be as relaxed as just saying something like, "Hey, just so you know in case you ever want or need it, I added a bunch of safer sex things to the drawer under the sink. They're there if you need them, and you're certainly welcome to talk to me or ask for help with things you need, but I also understand wanting to keep some things private or not to talk about them all the time. So, if you do want to just take some things and use them, let's just both keep an eye on what's in there and make a note of when we need to refill anything, okay?"
You might also make clear, especially with the Plan B, that if they need to take it for a friend, that's okay. (Assuming that is an offer you can afford to make: Plan B can often be accessed very cheaply through public health, or if you've insurance that covers it, but if you're having to pay full price for it, that may well be a pricier option than you can afford to extend.) Just so you're aware, in most areas, Plan B is lawful for young people to obtain, and usually without a prescription, so if you've concerns about legal issues, that's not likely an issue. That said, it is also understandable if you don't want to make that offer because your community feels volatile around any of these issues, and you have concerns about your family or your child winding up in hot water for sharing Plan B.
Having even this short conversation, especially if you're relaxed about it, and sending a clear message you want to support their sexual health and a healthy sexuality, is also potentially another great inroad for staying connected around their sexuality, and for having open conversations about it. Making these items openly accessible, and talking about how they are, can also be something that sends a clear message that they don't need to be sneaking around, or hide sex if and when it's part of their lives. That's a biggie when it comes to keeping them safe: safer from abusive or coercive partners who can get away with abuse more easily in hidden relationships or sex, safer from doing sexual things in riskier ways than they want to, or should when it comes to protecting their health, safer from unplanned pregnancy, safer from going all of this alone, disconnected from your help and support.