Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Sisters and the Traveling Condom

The girls and I watched “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2” last night. They had already seen part 1 at their other mom’s – where they have a tendency to watch things that are a little beyond my comfort zone. But part 1 seemed like a harmless movie, even though the girls made a point of telling me there was kissing in it. And part 2 was largely harmless, too

Until the condom broke.

To be fair, the scene between a couple of college freshman – who were played by and looked like and had the maturity of people in their late 20s – was pretty innocent. And actually well-acted by Amber Tamblyn – a name that I have heard in the ether, but have never connected to a face or a talent. And it really was mostly just kissing.

This is where I love watching things through my children’s eyes. The characters kissed. She hesitated, then nodded to him. He got excited and tore off his shirt. And they kissed some more. End of scene. It was all subtext. And my 8-year-olds were going, “Why is he so excited? What’s going on? Are they having sex?”


“Yes. She just said she’d have sex with him and I think it might be their first time.”

This is my philosophy – answer questions honestly as they come up. The girls know how women get pregnant. They know that most people have sex in order for the sperm to get into the woman and fertilize the egg. They know that’s not how they, themselves, were made. And they know that Finn from “Glee” wasn’t very smart in believing that sperm can travel in a hot tub and get a girl pregnant.

They know to be smart.

Which is why it pissed me off when the condom broke.
Let’s be clear here: condoms work 99% of the time. The rare times they fail, it’s usually when they’re damaged before they go on. Most of the time when people talk about condom “failure” it’s because they forgot to or didn’t want to stop and take the time to use one.

But it’s not dramatic for the condom to work 99% of the time. And the writers needed to have a “pregnancy scare” storyline. So they made it break.

I am of two minds about this. First, I’m glad they used a condom to begin with. Great, positive message for teens watching the movie. And I’m glad they showed a montage of Tamblyn’s character acutely observing the lesser joys of parenthood. But by having the condom break, they’re simply perpetuating the erroneous idea (but one pushed by an irresponsible minority) that condoms aren’t affective contraception, because they break too much. This will not encourage teenagers to use condoms. Nor will it encourage them to not have sex. It will just encourage them to not bother using condoms because they don’t think it’s going to work anyway.

I want to teach my children to be safe, to protect themselves. And, while I know that messages like “smoking and drugs will kill you” and “everybody goes to graduate school” sink in deeper the earlier children start to hear it, I didn’t really plan to enlighten them about condoms or the specifics of sex at 8 ½

But the male character came out of the bathroom worried and scared. And when he said the condom broke, Tamblyn’s character became worried and scared. And, so, of course, the viewers were supposed to be worried and scared.

“Mom, what’s a condom?”


I paused the DVD player.

“A condom is... OK, you know how men and women have sex and that’s how the sperm gets from the man to the woman to fertilize the egg?”

“Yeah, yeah, we know that. But what’s a condom?”

“Well, a condom is something made of rubber or stretchy plastic that the man uses so that when the sperm comes out, it will be trapped in the condom, instead of going into the woman. If the condom breaks, then the woman has a chance of getting pregnant. This character’s only 19. She’s in college. She doesn’t want to get pregnant.”

But, of course, I couldn’t stop there. I had to explain to them that condoms don’t usually break and that another reason to use them is so you don’t get diseases. I felt compelled to dispel the message the movie was giving. I also told them that the character’s worrying was kind of needless, since she could have simply gone to the NYU health clinic and gotten a prescription for the morning after pill.

But that would have totally negated the storyline.

At that point, the girls had had enough, and wanted to watch the movie again. Great. That went well.
Then came the scene where another character came to terms with her mom’s suicide. Luckily, the characters in the movie never uttered the word. It was all in the subtext. And luckily, even though my children are as fascinated as any about how living things die, I don’t really know that they understand that some people do it on purpose. In any event, they never cottoned on to exactly how the mother died. At that point, I was happy to let my children not understand.


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