Condoms in Schools: A Smart Move, But a Tough Sell


As RH Reality Check reported a few weeks ago, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has released new guidelines suggesting that condoms should be made available to teens in numerous locations, including schools. AAP based these guidelines on research that shows access to condoms does not increase sexual activity but does increase condom use, as well as research showing how well condoms can prevent sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Though no immediate proposal to follow these guidelines is on the table in San Antonio, Texas, one local television station took to the airwaves and the Internet to gauge how the community felt about the issue—and the results suggest condoms in school may be a tough sell in many areas, even with the support of the nations’ pediatricians.

A poll conducted by KSAT.com shows that more than 66 percent of respondents do not believe schools should make condoms available to students, compared to nearly 34 percent who do. The comments opposing condoms in school seem to make two basic arguments: sex discussions should be left up to parents, and if schools give out condoms they are essentially condoning sex among teenagers.

Here are some sample opinions:

The proposed policy is very misguided. It may cause some teens to become sexually active because young people will form the mis-impression that such behavior is a peer norm. Parents should not permit schools to usurp their proper role by manipulating the conduct of their children in such an outrageous manner.

School is for learning and education not about telling kids about sex. That is the parents job. If they give kids condoms thats basicly telling kids its ok to have sex and its not ok.

No! This is a parent’s responsibility. Whatever happened to teaching our children to abstain?! As a society, we are practically giving our children permission to do whatever they want, then we get angry with them when they do. Shame on us!!

Promiscuity is rampant now and having condoms in school will pour gas on the fire.

School should focus on educating the children, which it is clearly failing to do. Sex should not be promoted to children!

This idea that handing out condoms will make young people promiscuous is just one branch of a pretty common myth about sexual behavior. In fact, it’s been used as an argument against most aspects of sexual health. People have argued that access to emergency contraception would encourage unprotected sex, that the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine would give 11-year-olds ideas about sex, and that sex education is nothing more than a how-to guide to teen sex, which will make them go out and try everything they learned in school.

As RH Reality Check has noted in the past, these arguments have been disproven time and time again. A 2008 study by the Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health at the University of California, San Francisco, for example, looked at 16 studies on the effect of making emergency contraception (EC) available to adult and adolescent women. It found no evidence that access increased sexual risk-taking or sexual activity. Two studies on the impact of providing the HPV vaccine to adolescents found the same results—the first showed that young women did not perceive less need for safer sex after having gotten the vaccine, while the second compared young women who’d had the vaccine to those who didn’t and found no differences between the two groups when it came to indicators for sexual activity.

Sex education also does not increase sexual activity; in fact, numerous studies have found that young people who take highly effective sex education and HIV-prevention programs tend to delay sex and have fewer partners. More importantly, when these young people do become sexually active, they are more likely to use condoms and other contraceptive methods.

Condom availability programs have been researched numerous times with similar results. When schools that make condoms available to students are compared to similar schools that do not, it becomes clear that students who have access to condoms do not have more sex, but they are more likely to use condoms. The AAP statement also points to a recent meta-analysis of interventions to increase condom access, conducted both in the United States and internationally. The analysis found that these programs increased condom use, the acquisition of condoms, and condom carrying. They also delayed sexual initiation and reduced the incidence of STDs.

This should be reassuring to San Antonio residents. And indeed, some were on board with the idea of condoms in school. Whether they’d read the research or not, most of these supporters seemed to feel that condom availability wasn’t going to make teens have sex but would help teenagers protect themselves.

Here are some sample opinions in that vein:

The teaching of abstinence hasn’t worked. Here are the REAL two words: USE CONDOMS!

I don’t have a problem with schools supplying condoms. With the state of womens health right now in Texas, I hope those girls have access to condoms at this point. If they get pregnant they are screwed.

Kids don’t tell their parents they are active. It would decrease teen pregnancy as well as std’s.

Yes kids do not need to be having kids. We are not in the stone age and teens are having sex whether the parents like it or not. Teach you children morals and respect to themselves and other but also teach them about safe sex not just abstinence.

It’s nice to see that some parents support condom availability, but it would not be surprising if community debates on this issue flare up when San Antonio and other cities across the country start considering taking action on the AAP recommendations. We can only hope that as parents and other community members start to understand the research behind the suggestions they will come around, and that school administrators will also stand behind the guidelines.

San Antonio may be ahead of the game if it takes on this debate, because the city’s health director, Dr. Thomas Schlenker, is a member of the AAP who agrees with the organization’s opinion. He told KSAT.com, “It’s not a big change. It’s common sense, I think. [There is a] pretty wide consensus that teenagers who are sexually active need to protect themselves. We have very high teenage pregnancy rates and we also have high rates of syphilis in our community, which is especially worrisome.”

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