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Talking to Adolescents About Condoms

Excerpts from an online dialog on Nigeria-AIDS eForum

June 2002

A note from The field of medicine is constantly evolving. As a result, parts of this article may be outdated. Please keep this in mind, and be sure to visit other parts of our site for more recent information!

The Question

There is an issue I would like us to address in this forum. This has to do with talking to adolescents about and offering them condoms. The question I would like to ask is: "Would you in all honesty offer condoms to your 11-year old or 13-year old sister or brother? If you were counseling him/her about his/her reproductive health/sexuality, at what stage would you bring in condoms?"


Helen Knox

I think the time to show them is the time they ask about them, without hiding the truth from them. By showing them a condom you are not telling them to go out and HAVE sex. You are answering questions with honesty and openness from a young inquiring mind. If you don't tell them the truth they will hear rumors from friends and the whole cycle of mistrust, confusion and misinformation perpetuates. It has also been proven, and well documented, that young people who are better informed about contraception and sexually transmitted infections actually delay the onset of first intercourse rather than the other way around.

I did this with my niece when she was nine because she came across my teaching kit in the back of the car one day. She already knew what condoms were for since she has older siblings and overheard all sorts of conversations as the youngest in the household -- but she was "out to test" and see if she could embarrass me. We sat down and I explained them to her in a way she could understand for her age, but answering her questions rather than telling her "put it away, that's not for you to see, you are too young, etc."

She picked up other things in my teaching kit and we chatted openly about anatomy and physiology as well as the various methods of contraception she was picking from the box in fascination. Her curiosity was satisfied because she was treated with respect. Her parents were thrilled because they knew I would have answered her questions professionally and that she would have someone she could ask her probing questions of, who would not get embarrassed and turn her away when more inevitable questions arose. She was years ahead of her peers and when their time came to ask questions she was able to act as an informed resource for them as well, for they knew that she has an auntie working in the field of contraception and sexual health. My books did the rounds of her peers without any prompting from me.

Other people may have a different view but my view is honesty and openness, with respect for the person asking the question, whatever their age and whatever their question, at all times. We each mature at different rates and children with an inquiring mind will seek out an answer from somewhere. In my view, it is better they get the truth than being treated with contempt for asking to learn something, whatever their age or reason for asking.

Holo M. Hachonda IV

I can't really say that there is a standard age for introducing condoms to young people. I guess it's really dependent on the person you are dealing with. Eleven and 13 year olds are still very young and any normal person should think twice about introducing condoms.

But then I think of the number 15-year-olds with babies that I have met while working in the field in rural Zambia and I think of the number of STD cases among 13- to 15-year-olds that I just saw at one rural health post about two weeks ago. I also think of the number of friends and cousins (between ages 20 to 28 years) that I have personally lost over the past 12 months.

Then I say, talk to them about condoms as soon as the need is seen and appreciated. I am saying appreciated because many times we see our young brothers, sisters and children indulging in risky behaviors and most of us choose to look away or convince ourselves that they are still young and are probably not doing it.

The fact that you think or feel that they need counseling means that you have seen a need that has to be met. I am not saying that we should promote condoms among 13-year-olds but that we should treat different situations as they arise.

Thirteen-year olds in one setting may not have the same reproductive health needs as those in another. Young people are not a cluster. So, I am saying that if I saw the need, I would give my brother or sister condoms after a lengthy talk about other options, as this is the only way I think they could be safe.

Zacch Akinyemi

I do not think that age should be the main determining factor for offering condoms, but rather, the sexual behavior of the individual adolescent. If a child is 13-years-old and very sexually active, he/she should be given a condom and perhaps encouraged to abstain from sex if he/she can. I will encourage a 17-year-old child to continue to abstain if he/she is currently not sexually active.

If you are dealing with a group of adolescents where only a few are sexually active, emphasis should be on abstinence but where the majority are sexually active, then the emphasis should be on condom use.

Adama Ibrahum

I strongly believe the HIV issue in Nigeria is great and that school-age children before they reach sexual age is the best target for any long term health promotion.

It is a sad state of affairs that we have to offer condoms to our very young but I believe your question cannot be answered universally and should be considered carefully.

Ask yourself, how the offering of condoms can be a solution if the sexual decision making is not understood. Empowerment with information and the ability to understand that they have choices to say no to sex or to use condoms seems a more effective option for me to choose. There is also the aspect of the parent's opinion and a church's position -- How would they feel if you hand out condoms? Think about obstacles and work around them. Handing out condoms to prostitutes and other very high-risk groups might also be wise to control transmission.

Joe Manciya

Make no mistake, 11 year olds are mature enough to digest the basic and accurate information on sexuality issues. I say this from a personal and a practical point of view. I have been doing Life Skills Education to the local Communities, Schools, Churches and Tertiary institutions in South Africa for the past five years. Kids are very knowledgeable about sexuality issues at very early ages far less than 10 years.

Nine-month old kids have been raped, abandoned, sodomized and so on. That tells you that it's not only the matter of knowing, but they have personal experiences of these atrocities. They have cried but are never helped. They have been intimidated but no one came to their rescue. They have been starved to death; no one came with food for their relief. Kids grow with a lot of information kept silent because parents do not create an atmosphere conducive for discussion.

As a young adult doing life skills education, kids have found it very easy to identify with me. Secondly, kids who have been fortunate or unfortunate enough to be exposed to various kinds of media such as TV, radio, magazines or Internet surfing and find it very easy to adjust to the sexuality discussions, even though they are at their sixes and sevens of years old.

I would rather hear of a child with a condom in hand pleading with the rapist to use it than waiting until the child is old enough -- because rapists do not wait until children are older. Also, most of these children I have managed to talk to were raped by family members -- so it's no point to say you will always keep a child at home, because the enemy may be right in front of you, under the same roof. Religion or no religion, I have colleagues who are now living with HIV, who were raped by the most reliable and respected members of their religious communities.

Gone is the time when we were told that children are brought by aeroplanes to this mother earth. That was then, but now it is time to implement all the theories that we discuss in our forums and seminars.

Catherine Phiri

If your country has statistics anything like mine, Zambia, where kids as young as 10 years old are having sex, then yes I would give my younger brother and sister condoms. I would show them how to use them and then tell them the dangers of having sex and why they shouldn't be having sex. I would then encourage them not to have sex and let them know that the decision is theirs and only theirs to make.

Then I would pray that they don't have sex at that age, but console myself with the knowledge that if they do decide to have sex then at least they will be protected because they have condoms and know how to use them. That is what I think I would do because I work in this field, but in all fairness I don't have a sibling that young. I would do it for my cousins, though.

Adedoyin Onasanya

I will not repeat what has already been said. What I would like to point out though, is that the question in my opinion points to a bigger issue -- that of our conflict between what is moral and what is ethical, and brings to the fore, our own biases about providing young people with reproductive health and sexuality information.

Providing young people with sexuality education still remains a very controversial issue in Nigeria, and many professionals and educators are yet to reach the point where they are able to work with young people without letting their own values influence the kind of services they provide. As professionals, our duty is not to advise young people based on our personal convictions, but to present them with the facts in an unbiased and non-judgmental manner. We need to guide them in making the decision they feel is best for them, drawing on the facts they've been presented and their own values and convictions.

Until we clarify to ourselves what our moral and ethical obligations are, our efforts to deal with incidences of unwanted pregnancies, STDs and HIV/AIDS among young people will continue to yield very little fruit. Thank you.

Busola Babalola

Whether the society likes it or not, we cannot shy away from the use of condom. Like I told a Christian friend, some can abstain while some cannot. Compared to what the society was like when we were growing up, the fear of parents and the teachers has disappeared in the society today. As technology is increasing, so also the wild life. If we are interested in controlling HIV/AIDS, then we need to lay more emphasis on the use of condom.

Paul Udoto

I am overwhelmed by the responses on talking about condoms to adolescents. I would certainly talk to them about condoms but ensure that they have values to live up to and give them information and skills to resist the pressure to engage in premature sex.

I would also support moves to punish those that sexually abuse the young or lure them into sex.

I would also back campaigns to offer them life skills about decision making, negotiation and respect for women. Above all, I would fight poverty that has led many to risky sex.

Materials reproduced from the Nigeria-AIDS eForum, the E-mail discussion forum of Journalists Against AIDS (JAAIDS) Nigeria. To subscribe, send an E-mail to: or visit:

A note from The field of medicine is constantly evolving. As a result, parts of this article may be outdated. Please keep this in mind, and be sure to visit other parts of our site for more recent information!

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This article was provided by Gay Men's Health Crisis. It is a part of the publication GMHC Treatment Issues. Visit GMHC's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.
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