By Jennifer Gauck
A new study published in the American Journal of Public Health contends that distributing condoms in school does not increase rates of teen sexual activity but does increase the use of condoms.
The study, jointly conducted over three years by the Academy for Educational Development, the Hunter College Center on AIDS, Drugs and Community Health of the City University of New York and the Department of Health Sciences of New York University, evaluated HIV/AIDS Education and Condom Availability programs in 12 New York City public high schools and compared them to Chicago high schools which did not distribute condoms.
Of the 59.7 percent of New York students who were sexually active, 60.8 percent used a condom during their last sexual encounter. In Chicago, of the 55.5 percent of the sexually active, the percentage of those using a condom was slightly less - 60.1 percent.
New York's high-risk students, defined as teenagers who had three or more partners in the last six months, were also twice as likely to use condoms as their Chicago counterparts. Critics of the study, however, do not necessarily see this increased condom use as a positive indicator.
"The bottom line is this: You teach kids how to have sex and they'll have sex. You teach them how to have sex with condoms and they'll have sex with condoms," said Patrick Fagan, FitzGerald Fellow in Family and Culture Studies at the Heritage Foundation. "The big message that's out there that most kids are getting is that teenage sex is acceptable."
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation was the primary financier of the study, which involved 13,000 students in both cities and is the largest evaluation, thus far, of school condom programs. Nationally, only 431 public schools in 50 school districts make condoms available - 2.2 percent of all public high schools and 3 percent of districts.
Surprisingly, a companion survey of 716 parents revealed that 85 percent believed that increased condom availability did not equal increased sexual activity and 69 percent thought condoms should be made available in schools. Only 2 percent of parents chose to remove their teenagers from the program.
For most, this is potentially positive news to offset daunting statistics of the 40,000 new cases of HIV infection that crop up each year. Twenty-five percent occur among 13-to-21-year-olds. Furthermore, 20 percent of adult cases of AIDS hit the 20-to-29-year-old age group, most of which were likely contracted when they were teenagers. Including HIV/AIDS, 3 million teenagers are infected with a sexually transmitted disease annually.