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Study: Condoms in school do not promote sex
Very few high schools offer condoms, however
A recent study of student behavior in high schools where condoms are available suggests that the mere fact of having condoms in schools does not increase sexual behavior among students.1
Researchers found that in schools where condoms are available, condom use was significantly higher among sexually active students, with 72% of those students reporting using condoms during their most recent sexual encounter. Among sexually active students who attended schools without condoms available, 56% reported having used condoms during their most recent sexual encounter, says Susan Blake, PhD, associate research professor at the School of Public Health and Health Services of George Washington University in Washington, DC.
The study also found no evidence of increased risk of sexual activity in schools where condoms were available; and in fact, the opposite proved to be true, she adds.
"In schools with condoms available, 42% of all kids reported ever having sexual intercourse," Blake says. "In schools where condoms were not available, 49% reported ever having sexual intercourse, and that difference was significant."
In 1991, the Massachusetts state board of education established a policy that encouraged local school districts to consider making condoms available in high schools, according to some policy recommendations, she says.
The policy suggested that local school districts bring up this topic for public discussion, Blake points out. "They were to encourage a public dialogue between board members, superintendents, school administrators, faculty, parents, and others."
Researchers looked into the program to see how many school districts had adopted the program, how the public discussions had been conducted, and how the program was implemented. The second part of the research involved assessing student behavior in both schools with condoms and those without condoms, and this was done through the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), she says.
"So we segmented the YRBS data from high schools with and without condoms, as opposed to doing a separate study," Blake explains.
Nationwide, condom availability in high schools is rare. Various studies estimate between a fraction of 1% to about 8% of high schools make condoms available, and 42% of the school districts that made condoms available were in Massachusetts, she says.
Under the Massachusetts program, 10% of the school districts approved having condoms available in high schools, and 65% of the school districts held at least one public meeting to discuss the issue, Blake says.
About 45% held discussions with the school board, as suggested by state policy, and 28% of the districts developed explicit policies related to condom availability, she adds.
"There’s a message here in terms of when you open up a sensitive issue to public discussion, and when more constituencies are involved, the probability of parents and policy-makers approving programs for sexually active teenagers increases," Blake says.
When a state makes such a policy to open discussion on a controversial topic, such as condoms in schools, that gives local school boards and administrators the freedom to hold public discussions on topics they might otherwise be afraid to address on their own, she explains.
"When you have a state policy that encourages discussion of sensitive issues, you open the door to public dialogue that otherwise might not be addressed," Blake adds. "And given a choice or voice in these matters, many parents will support programs that protect their children from harm, including condom availability programs."
1. Blake SM, Ledsky R, Goodenow C, et al. Condom availability programs in Massachusetts high schools: relationships with condom use and sexual behavior. Am J Pub Health 2003; 93(6):955-962.