Teen Health 411
Teen Health 411

Condom Availability in Schools - or Maybe Homes

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Why is such an easy thing so hard? We know that some high school students are having sex; only about 60% of those students use any form of protection during sex; more than 3 million teens a year get a sexually transmitted infection; most unwanted pregnancies happen before women are 19; and teens are not great planners.

As adults, we might prefer teens not have sex, but we want teens to be healthy, avoid unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). So, wouldn't it seem smart of us to make condoms easily accessible, and encourage teens to protect themselves? Of course!

However, in spite of the fact that here has been research published for nearly 20 years that documents teens with private, confidential, and free access to condoms are more likely to use them, and that having condoms available does not lead to more sexual activity, schools keep struggling with this issue. The Oakland school board voted in 2005 to allow contraception distribution at high schools as long as it was provided by school-based health clinics or community organizations. Students asking for condoms received a "prescription" to be redeemed at certain drug stores, a practice students found cumbersome and embarrassing. Duh!

There is hope though - the Alameda Board of Education recently voted to make condoms available at health centers in Alameda and Encinal high schools - hopefully, in baskets with information privately located in restrooms or places where youth can access them privately versus on countertops in the middle of the health center. We shall see!

Of course, an alternative to students getting condoms at school would be getting them at home! I have to wonder what the impact would be on unwanted pregnancy and STIs if parents everywhere announced at the dinner table one night that there would be condoms available in the family bathroom from now on and that those condoms would be replenished without question during the weekly shopping trip.

What a great message that would be - parents care about prevention! We give you helmets, elbow and knee pads, seat belts, driver training, HPV shots, good eating habits, enough sleep, and condoms! Go forth sweet teens and live healthy!

Photo credit: Laubscher

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About the Author

Dr. Brown is a developmental psychologist specializing in adolescent health.

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