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Don't pass on the fear of buying condoms

I hope my 14-year-old son isn't having sex. If he is, I hope he's using condoms. And that's what I tell him. Frequently.

Oh, the lecture lasts a little longer than that. I tell him sex should be about making love, and that's what makes it special. And I tell him that even though I don't really believe he'll wait until he gets married to sleep with a woman, it wouldn't be a bad idea for him to wait until he's a man.

I list the ways one-night stands and short-term mistakes have a way of changing, if not ruining, lives. Babies have this funny way of competing with law school and corporate careers. And then we talk about AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases you don't read about in the newspaper every day, and how they have this funny way of competing for your life.

Sometimes, I think he hears me. Sometimes I think he hears the TV playing in the other room.

Next year, Ryan will enter the ninth grade at a Catholic high school. He'll have some great teachers there _ the best his father's money can buy. But he won't have a teacher such as Larry Wagle, a world-history instructor for the Longview (Wash.) School District. And that's a shame. Wagle was put on suspension recently for giving his students a chance to earn extra credit points by purchasing condoms.

The whole thing started when the class was discussing an article about teens who shoplift condoms because they're too embarrassed to buy them. Wagle said he'd give extra credit to anyone in the class who, after getting his or her parents' permission, purchased a condom from a store clerk of the opposite sex, brought along a witness and got a receipt.

"We are something like accessories to manslaughter when we do not educate about condom use," Wagle said. "Condoms are essential in the modern world."

Though the hearing examiner congratulated the teacher on his stance on condoms, he found him guilty of insubordination because he had violated state guidelines on AIDS instruction.

Well, following the rules is good when they're good. But if my son's teacher came up with an idea that might someday save his life, and he had to get my permission before he did it, I hope I'd see the validity of bypassing the red tape.

Besides, the stigma that goes with purchasing a package of condoms at the corner store has gone from being ridiculous to being deadly. Instead of snickering behind our hand we should be extending it to those who have the guts to make the crucial purchase.

Girls who used to put off taking birth-control pills because they didn't want to admit to themselves that they were really having sex, because that would mean they were "bad," found out how bad off they really were when they got pregnant. Girls and boys who don't use condoms because they're too shy to go through the check-out lane will suffer the same plight or much, much worse.

Bring me the receipt, Ryan. I want you safe.

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