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Condoms in Schools Don't Boost Teen Sex

Key is Making Condom Programs Part of Overall Sex Education, Says One Expert
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WebMD Health News

May 28, 2003 -- Despite fears that giving out condoms in schools may lead to more sex, a new study shows the opposite is true.

Researchers found that students at schools with condom-availability programs have sex less often than those at schools without these controversial initiatives.

This finding, published in the latest issue of the American Journal of Public Health, is based on a survey of more than 4,000 high schoolers in Massachusetts. About 20% of the schools studied had programs that distributed condoms to students.

But Susan M. Blake, PhD, and colleagues from George Washington University stumbled across another interesting finding. Although giving out condoms in schools led to greater condom use among already sexually active teens, this appeared to have no effect on rates of teen pregnancy. One explanation: Students in schools without these programs were twice as likely to use other forms of birth control, they report.

The new research comes on the heels of another study released last week by the Kaiser Family Foundation indicating that many teens -- and boys, in particular -- feel increased pressure to have sex while in high school, and that drugs and alcohol use often leads to these encounters. The Kaiser survey is based on interviews with 1,800 Americans under age 24.

Both new studies find that than more than half of high school students report having sex before graduation. But the Kaiser survey produced some other eye-opening findings:

  • Four of 10 sexually active teens, or their partners, have taken a pregnancy test while in high school.
  • One of five said they personally had unprotected sex after drinking or using drugs. And seven of 10 said their peers don't use condoms during sex after drinking.
  • One of six high schoolers believed that having sex occasionally without a condom was "no big deal."
  • One in three boys between ages 15 and 17 feel pressure to have sex while in high school, compared with one in four girls.

More Evidence That Condom Giveaways Work

The findings from the new study looking at programs that give out condoms in schools are similar to previous research on the effects of such programs. While some argue giving out condoms in schools promotes sexual activity among teens, the research hasn't backed that belief, says one expert who is arguably the nation's most prolific researcher on these types of school programs.

"Actually, multiple studies consistently show that making condoms available to students does not increase any measure of their sexual behavior -- whether the teens have sex, how frequently they have it, or the number of partners they have," Douglas Kirby, PhD, tells WebMD. "And some studies, including one that I conducted involving thousands of Seattle high school students show, as Susan's study does, that the percentage of teens having sex declined after condoms were made available to them."

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