Trick or Treat? Oregon Couple Handed Out Condoms to Mixed Reviews

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Kathleen and Daniel Harris of Silverton, Ore., had a surprise for some trick-or-treaters this Halloween: prophylactics and a stern talking-to about safe sex.

Kathleen told her local paper, the Statesman Journal, that she’s been handing out condoms to teenage revelers on Halloween since the early 1990s, at the height of the national AIDS epidemic. Kathleen’s husband, Daniel, meanwhile, is a doctor at Silverton Hospital; he says he delivered 140 local babies between 2005 and 2007 (though he does not deliver babies currently), about 10% of them to teenage mothers. (More on Study: What the Risky Sex Lives of NYC Teens Reveal).

The couple also handed out chocolate bars and toothbrushes, but not everyone was impressed with their mom-and-pop public-health initiative. “It is hard for me as a parent to imagine any justification for giving children condoms without parents’ consent,” one father told the Statesman Journal, after discovering the paper bag containing three condoms in his 14-year-old daughter’s stash of candy.

A psychologist quoted in the article tended to agree with him, noting that condom hand-outs can “force” teens to address sexuality before they are ready. The Harrises admit that giving a 14-year-old a condom was a mistake, according to the paper; they say their usual practice is to ask kids’ age and distribute condoms only to those 16 or older. (More on Study of American Sex Habits Suggests Boomers Need Sex Ed).

But, frankly, I think at 14, it’s about time to get ready to confront sex. By that age, most kids are well into puberty. And even though Dad may not want to see his daughter as a sexual being, plenty of other people probably already do — including said daughter.

Many schools offer sex education in junior high school, so by age 14 many children are already familiar with sex, and should be familiar with how to have safe sex. But many kids that age also don’t feel comfortable talking with their parents about sex or birth control — especially if their parents are in denial about their kids’ sexuality. In situations like that, isn’t the Harrises’ Halloween hand-out kind of a godsend? (More on 5 Little-Known Truths About American Sex Lives).

In an ideal world, all parents would engage in open dialogue with their young teens about sex. That doesn’t always happen. But when parents clam up or refuse to acknowledge their teens’ sexuality, it can put their children in danger. The Guttmacher Institute reports that 20% of sexually active teenagers whose parents did not know they used birth control say they would continue to have sex without contraception if a law were passed requiring kids get parental consent for contraceptives. Further, Guttmacher finds that a sexually active teen who does not use contraceptives has a 90% chance of getting pregnant within the year.

So parents of Silverton, you might have been better off seeing Dr. Harris as a helpful neighbor, however intrusive, than as your daughter’s obstetrician.

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