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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

More Evidence That Condom Giveaways Work continued...

Kirby, senior research scientist for ETR Associates, a non-profit California company that does research on sex and health education programs, also conducted another study that evaluated all previous research -- some 73 studies in all -- measuring how giving out condoms in schools, along with other sex-education programs, affected patterns of teenaged sexual behavior.

"In every study, these programs did not increase sexual behavior," he says. "In some, but not all, the rates of sexual behavior actually decreased when condoms were made available to students. And in some, but not all, these programs led to increased condom and contraception use in teens who were already having sex."

When he collected that data, published in May 2001 for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, there were "hundreds" of schools in the U.S. that had condom-availability programs. But it's hard to determine how many schools still have them; there is no national clearinghouse that collects these statistics. "And some schools are beginning to make them available that didn't before, some that once did no longer do," says Kirby.

Better as Part of Overall Program

But how programs that give out condoms in schools are operated or integrated into other sex education initiatives seems to impact their effectiveness at lowering sexual activity and rates of unprotected sex, says another expert.

"You can see the most positive effects when condom-distribution programs are part of or integrated with a broader sexuality and sex education program," says David Landry, researcher at the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit organization that conducts sexual and reproductive health research, policy analysis, and public education. It also publishes the peer-reviewed medical journal, Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, where much of this research is published.

In other words, it's not enough to just give out condoms in schools. Teens are more likely to use them -- and often, are less likely to have sex altogether -- when they are also taught how to use them and the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancy.

It also matters how condoms in schools are distributed, adds Kirby. "There is tremendous diversity in these programs," he tells WebMD. "In Seattle, which has a very successful program, the schools actually had health clinics and students could walk into these clinics to use the bathroom, which had a big basket of condoms for the taking. It was anonymous. But in other schools, you have to get the condoms from a teacher or the principal, or get their parents' permission, or the students only get a few at a time. As you would logically guess, programs that have barriers like that give out dramatically fewer condoms."

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