Remember that one "Friends" episode where Rachel tells Ross that she's pregnant and Ross gets mad because they used a condom and he calls the manufacturer and yells at them?
Now, granted, a sitcom isn't the best, or even in the top fifty best, ways to learn about sex, but I still thought that episode was one of the least responsible things a sitcom had said about sex since Seinfeld said pastrami was the sexiest of the salted, cured meats.
The truth is that condoms are highly effective -- a less than 2% failure rate, compared with 4% pregnancy rates for people who use "withdrawal" method, and way better than not using condoms at all.
Plus, condoms -- unlike other birth control methods -- help reduce the risk of getting a sexually-transmitted disease, and no matter how well you know or think you know the other person, you can't be sure they are disease-free until they've been tested and proven that they're trustworthy and aren't fooling around on you.
Which is why I got so upset at the Friends episode: Seemingly responsible (Ross and Rachel used a condom!) it actually was irresponsible (But they still got pregnant!) thereby continuing the idea in some people that condom use is ineffective and therefore not necessary.
That, combined with the "if you tell kids about condoms you're encouraging them to have sex" is one of the most pernicious lies around.
Saying that "telling kids how to have safe sex" encourages them to have sex is like saying "telling kids fried food isn't good for you" encourages them to eat: Sex, like eating, is a basic drive people have and they're going to do those things, whether or not you parents want them to. Nobody says anything like "we shouldn't tell kids how to eat healthy, because that will encourage them to eat more!", and the truth is that since kids will have sex in their life at some point -- 15, or 18, or 47 -- they ought to learn how to have it safely.
And emphasizing that condoms fail (rarely) would be like emphasizing that helmets fail. Some people die in accidents even though they had a helmet on; would you tell kids don't wear a helmet when you ride a bike because of that? No.
We've always been upfront about sex with our kids: We've answered their questions, and emphasized to them that sex is a big decision that's best left for when they're adults and in committed relationships -- but that whenever they have sex, they use protection like condoms.
And now condoms are easier to get than ever -- there are even companies that sell them over the Internet, delivering them discreetly and privately, so kids don't have to worry that the cashier at the grocery store will embarrass them. (The links in this post will lead you to the premiere Internet source for that.)