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AIDS: a Chilling New Chapter in Sex Education

May 21, 1988|JAN HOFMANN | Jan Hofmann is a regular contributor to Orange County Life

Heard the one about the two 5-year-olds?

They're busy playing together with their toy trucks or whatever, when one of them happens to look out the window.

"Oh, look," the first boy says. "There's a condom on the veranda."

Hearing a word that isn't familiar, the other child naturally asks for an explanation: "What's a veranda?"

Maybe the upcoming sequel to "Gone With the Wind" will change things, but nobody says much about verandas these days. The same cannot be said for condoms, however.

The other day I was browsing with my children in a video store when I happened to notice the television in the corner, right next to all the Disney movies. A couple of other children already had their eyes fixed on the screen, nothing unusual for a Saturday morning. But instead of cartoons, they were watching a news report on how condoms are manufactured and tested.

Poof! Rows of condoms filled with air and pointed straight at the ceiling. Whoosh! They all collapsed as the air was turned off.

Where's Mighty Mouse when you need him?

I've never been a sheepish mom when it comes to talking with kids about sex. I've demonstrated the use of contraceptive foam to a stepdaughter I knew was sexually active. I remember rushing home from an interview with sex education pioneer Dr. Mary S. Calderone and telling my children much more than they were ready to hear over dinner about where babies come from.

I've also lost a dear friend to AIDS.

So how did I react to the condom report? I blushed, headed for the exit and was relieved that the kids didn't mention it.

This week I compared notes with other moms on what we tell our children about sex and AIDS. Even if our own parents set the perfect example years ago when they sat down with us for that birds-and-bees talk, we're into territory they've never explored, telling our children not only about birth control but also about death control.

In the next week or so, every household in the nation is expected to receive a pamphlet, "Understanding AIDS," through the mail from U.S. Surgeon Gen. C. Everett Koop. Some families are bound to toss them out without reading a word. In other homes, they'll be placed prominently on the coffee table in case anyone wants to take a look, openly or discreetly. And some parents already are planning to go over the information with their children.

"If this is important enough to be mailed to every single household in the nation, it's got to be important enough for us to talk about," said Colleen, an Anaheim mother of sons ages 13 and 11.

"I tell my children about other things that could cause their demise," she said. "So I also tell them about AIDS. It's something they need to be aware of for their own safety."

Although she and her husband have always answered their sons' questions about sex "very matter-of-factly" as they came up, the couple sought outside help when it came time for The Talk. The whole family attended an all-day sex-education seminar at their church. "The boys had their sessions, we had ours, and then we came together in the evening.

"We were fortunate," Colleen said. "I'm glad my husband didn't have to do it alone. That's an awful responsibility (to put) on a father."

Colleen never considered not talking to her sons about AIDS. "They have to know about it," she said. "The transfusion stuff is hopefully under control, so they just need to be aware of the other ways it's transmitted. Everybody has their feathers in an uproar about this, and I'm sure that's because a lot of people feel very uncomfortable about homosexuality."

Colleen said she's grateful that the church course covered homosexuality, but not because she's uncomfortable with the subject. "What my husband and I have tried very hard to do is explain things when the boys ask, and not pass judgment. As far as we're concerned, choosing that life style is just like making a political choice."

As her sons grow up, "I just want them to understand that as they become sexually active, not only do they sleep with that one person, but everybody that person ever slept with.

"I'm afraid they'll have some of the joy taken out of making love because of AIDS," Colleen said. "But there's no alternative. They have to know.

"We don't know anybody now who has AIDS. But in their lifetime, they are going to come across someone who has it. I want them to understand that it's certainly not their fault if they have it. I don't want them to be afraid, just the same way I wouldn't want them to be afraid of someone in a wheelchair."

Mary, a mother of three who lives in Yorba Linda, isn't looking forward to getting the surgeon general's pamphlet.

"What good are the pamphlets going to do?" she said. "Every day in the paper, they tell you what causes it, how it's transmitted. They've had all these TV shows in which characters got AIDS. I think we're hearing enough about it."

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