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“If I can get cereal easy, why can’t I get condoms like that?”

The D.C. Council’s Committee on Health recently completed a survey of about 250 District high school students’ thoughts on sex ed. The results reveal some interesting rifts between the male and female sex ed experience. Below, differing perspectives on sex ed—-from condom use to LGBT acceptance—-from the District’s young men and women. (You can read the full study here [PDF]).

According to the study, young women expressed a greater interest—-and perhaps difficulty—-in speaking openly about personal sexual issues:

[Y]outh asked for information about how to engage a partner in a discussion about his or her sexual history. Some female participants also want to be able to discuss more personal issues with health educators and used the focus groups to ask questions such as, “What do you do when sometimes when you’re having sex and it hurts, but at the same time, you know what I mean—-it feels good?”

Young women also voiced an increased difficulty in speaking with their parents about sex:

Youth reported speaking to their parents about sex, but many said the experience was uncomfortable—-though male participants reported an easier time talking about sex with their parents than the female participants. Youth also believe that their parents “may not know what to say.”

Additionally, the girls in the study were more likely to desire an increased visibility for GLBTQ issues in the sex ed curriculum:

Many youth also admit that GLBTQ youth face greater ridicule in school and in the community, especially from heterosexual males. When asked why, many youth simply responded, “they just do.” Some believed that heterosexual males view male-to-male relationships as a threat to one’s manhood. There did not, however, seem to be the same feelings among young heterosexual women. Overall, heterosexual female focus groups participants expressed a greater acceptance of GLBTQ youth. Several young women stated that “[gay males] are good friends because they’re less catty than women.”

The girls who participated in the study expressed shame in carrying condoms:

Youth participants reported that while both males and females should be responsible for having condoms, social mores can make women feel uncomfortable with carrying condoms. One youth expressed, “If I see a condom in my boyfriend’s wallet that is fine, but if I see my sister with one then it’s a problem . . . I am aware this is a double standard but that’s how society has branded her.”

Another young female explained, “I don’t carry a condom and don’t plan to because for one I don’t hvae anywhere to put it. I sometimes don’t take a puse and I don’t want to be at the store pulling cash out my pocklet and a condom out at the same time.” Young women are afraid that they will be judged as promiscuous by others or misunderstood by their partenr if they carry condoms. To avoid misperception, some female focus groups participants reported leaving the responsibility to their boyfriends.

While locked drugstore condoms produced shame and frustration in both male and female respondents:

Many youth also reported feeling uneasy when purchasing condoms, citing store employees as a primary source of their discomfort, embarrassment, or shame. Focus group participants discussed being uncomfortable when going into a store and having to ask for condoms from an employee, or having to retrieve them from inconvenient locations such as a click box or closed glass case with a “red button that makes a loud noise.” They described this experience as “annoying” and that it alerts everyone to their “business.” One youth stated, “the CVS machine to get condoms is loud and difficult to get condoms—-if I can get cereal easy, why can’t I get condoms like that?”

Obviously, the absence of condoms affects young women differently than it does men:

While all youth reported having knowledge about how condoms can protect against STIs and pregnancy, some reported knowing several peers who do not use condoms because either “it feels better without a condom” or “slip ups happen in the moment.” For example, one young woman described her experience with a slip-up, saying, “it only took a few minutes to forget—-30 seconds and now I have kids.”

Photo by Darrow Montgomery