Condom Availability in High Schools Does Not Affect Amount of Sexual Activity, Study Says
High school students are not more likely to engage in sexual activity if condoms are made available at their schools, according to a study published in the June issue of the American Journal of Public Health, the AP/Washington Post reports (Meckler, AP/Washington Post, 5/29). Susan Blake of the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services and colleagues analyzed sexual risk behavior data from 4,166 students who participated in the 1995 Massachusetts Youth Risk Behavior Survey to see if students were more likely to be sexually active if condoms were made available at their schools, AP/USA Today reports (Meckler, AP/USA Today, 5/29). Massachusetts Department of Education officials in 1991 recommended that school districts develop condom-availability programs, and Massachusetts is the only state with such a policy, according to Blake, the Boston Globe reports (Redd, Boston Globe, 5/29). Approximately 21% of students surveyed said they could obtain condoms at their schools (Health Behavior News Service, 5/28). Most schools required that students obtain condoms from school staff, including the school nurse, gym teachers or the assistant principal, while only 10% of schools permitted students to obtain condoms from "barrier-free" sources, such as vending machines, Reuters Health reports.
Researchers found that students who attended schools with condom availability programs were less likely to be sexually active and more likely to use condoms if they were sexually active than students who attended schools without such programs (McCook, Reuters Health, 5/28). The researchers found no differences in pregnancy rates between students in schools where condoms were available and students in other schools, which could be attributed to the students' use of other contraceptives at schools without condom access (Lasalandra, Boston Herald, 5/29). The study also showed that 25% of sexually active students at schools without condoms used other forms of contraception, compared with 13% of students at schools with condoms (Health Behavior News Service, 5/28). The researchers also found that students did not perceive that access to condoms was enhanced if condoms were available at school (AP/USA Today, 5/29). Blake said that "because accessing condoms was likely to result in embarrassment, students did not perceive that access to condoms was greater" (Health Behavior News Service, 5/28).
'Highly Positive Result'
Blake and colleagues noted that the study does not prove whether condom availability changed behavior because the study did not compare teenage sexual behavior before and after the programs were implemented (AP/Washington Post, 5/29). However, Blake said that the results "suggest that making condoms available, a clear indication of social and environmental support for condom use, may improve HIV prevention practices" (Health Behavior News Service, 5/28). Approximately half of the students in grades nine through 12 said that they were sexually active, and 60% said they had used a condom the last time they had sex, according to Reuters. Blake concluded that "[c]ondom availability was not associated with greater sexual activity among adolescents but was associated with greater condom use among those who were already sexually active, a highly positive result." Blake added that condom availability in schools can be an effective means of preventing HIV/AIDS, other STDs and pregnancy, according to Reuters (Reuters, 5/27). But Ken Connor, president of the Family Research Council, said, "If you look behind the headlines, you'll see this study is much ado about nothing," adding that condom availability programs "sen[d] kids the wrong message and giv[e] them a false sense of security that they will be protected" (AP/Washington Post, 5/29). Larry Kessler of the Boston-based AIDS Action Committee said that the study findings show what advocates "have long been preaching," according to the Boston Herald. He added, "There's a whole new generation at risk. But the school boards lack the courage to take on the conservative parents and scuttle programs that might protect some lives" (Boston Herald, 5/29).