Free Condoms Should Be Distributed to High School Students
Living in polite society deters the open discussion of sex, yet with the increasing incidences of AIDS, HIV infection and unwanted teenage pregnancies, it has not only become urgent, but also necessary to bring uncomfortable discussion to light. One of the long-standing debates on teenagers and sexuality is the distribution of free condoms to high school students, on top of better sex education.
I am of the opinion that high school students should gain free access to contraceptives. It is no secret that contraceptives save lives—both literally and figuratively, and with the issues of AIDS and teenage pregnancy, is a logical path to take.
The distribution of free condoms is increasingly prevalent now. For instance, in 2006, 1.5 million free condoms were distributed in a lot of New York outlets including barber shops, health clinics and even online (Birkner, online). However, it is not the free condoms that are available to adults that are under fire, but making them available to teenagers.
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One of the staunchest and most stubborn opponents of free condoms in American high schools is the Catholic Church. In 2004, school committee officials at Holyoke decided to distribute condoms to students in grades 6 to 12. Typical of the Church, Springfield Bishop Timothy McDonnell cried foul, saying that the officials were pimps and were acting as enablers and endorsers of the early experimentation and engagement of sex. Bishop McDonnell expressed his disappointment at the officials’ view that sex is merely self-gratification. Bishop McDonnell did not take into consideration that the school officials were acting an a recommendation of an advisory council that found that not only were Holyoke’s teens were having sex, 8.2 percent of them were getting pregnant higher than the state average of 2.3 per cent and that rate has been prevailing for more than two years. Additionally, Holyoke also had a problem with AIDS (Abel, Online).
What Bishop McDonnell and the Roman Catholic Church, in general, failed to provide was a solution or alternative to the problem. This is the problem with the Church’s involvement in the argument, whether it is about free condoms in high schools, premarital sex or abortion: they just say no, without offering a meaningful alternative. In effect, what Bishop McDonnell and the Church are saying is “Let these kids have kids, or let them die from AIDS, if they do not want to die, then they better keep the zippers closed”.
Should we be concerned that we are taking advice about contraception, sex, and pregnancy from men who vowed never to touch women? Further, why are we giving serious consideration to their advice about how to best protect our kids when they have also vowed never to have children? What’s next, getting motherhood advice from little girls or money-saving tips from gamblers?
Granted that the Roman Catholic Church opposes contraception—as it opposes everything else—because of its highly incorrigible and static beliefs. One has to remember, however, that Catholic doctrines are older than its leaders and dates back several centuries. What’s more, the Roman Catholic Church is specially famous or infamous for being abhorrent to change. Historically, it was the same Church that prosecuted enlightened men for saying that the sun was the center of the solar system, for a very, very, long time. How would you like to write a scientific paper basing from journals published in the 1920s? Or undergo a medical procedure with a doctor who refuses to update his skills, which he acquired in the 1940s? In this same manner, the Roman Catholic Church has been basing its beliefs on antiquated documents, and they have refused to change with the times.
What this story highlights is that children and teenagers are having sex. And no amount of fire and brimstone that church leaders threaten them with, even eternal damnation, and souls getting chained in hell, they will continue to have sex. Bishop McDonnell thinks that distributing condoms will encourage sexual activity, he’s dead wrong. The sad fact is that premarital sex is already a prevalent problem among the youth. As early as 1995, the Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that a little more than half of high school students have tried and experienced sexual intercourse, a fifth of high school boys have had sex at least four times, high school girls lagged behind a little, but not much. And out of those who were already sexually active, only half used condoms. The non-use of condoms contributed to 3 million adolescents getting STDs yearly, the spread of AIDS and HIV, and 1 million teenaged girls getting pregnant (Advocates For Youth, online).
More than that, people usually think that condoms promote promiscuity. They see teenagers as mindless animals who sees a condom and think, “Oooh, condoms, let’s do it.” It’s easy to equate condoms with a romantic date, the backseat of your car, and an instant “hard-on” (excuse the term). While most teenagers are hormonally active, condoms do not serve as pornographic materials, nor do they serve as roses and chocolates. Various research have found that in schools where condoms were made readily-available, condom use increased significant but not sexual activity. The World Health Organization also found that access to contraceptives and sex education did not encourage sex among the young, nor does it entice them to experiment with sex. Across borders, European and Canadian teens–seen as having freer and more anonymous access to both sex education and condoms–are not having more sex than their American counterparts (Advocates for Youth, online).
In my own research, I have found no studies that directly related condoms to feelings of intimacy, or arousal. What people got wrong is that condoms and sex is not a chicken and egg debate. Condoms do not promote early sexual activity; it is sexual activity that promotes condom use. In fact, with the increasing prevalence of HIV education in schools, condom use has increased 17 percent (Advocates for Youth, online).
In a study comparing New York and Chicago’s combined 13,000 high school students, it was found that New Yorkers were more likely to use a condom when having sex than students in Chicago, but both have the same level of sexual activity. It should be noted that while public schools in New York and Chicago provide sex, HIV and AIDS education, Chicago does not give out free condoms (Raab, online).
Besides, teenagers have already been engaging in afterschool sessions and backseat rendezvous even before condoms and other contraceptives became popular, so it’s safe to say that teenage sex predates condoms.
And so the debate goes that with teenagers feeling that they are safe from disease and pregnancy, they will be more reckless with their sexual decisions. Discussing the joys of sex, the implications and negative things about adolescent sex, the moral issues surrounding sex will take a lot of time or energy, and will not get us anywhere. For whatever reasons, more than half high school students are having sex. You can call them reckless, loose, promiscuous, immature, but you have to help them protect themselves. Again, studies seem to show that teenagers do not look at condoms and think of sex. The aim is to have them look for condoms when they think of sex.
This should be a simple as A-B-C, and requires no further explanations. However, to further muddle up the issue, people are saying that the effectiveness of condoms is greatly played out and exaggerated; that it is no guarantee teenagers will not become pregnant or contract STDs. That promoting its use in sexually-active teenagers will provide them with a false sense of security and safety.
The truth of the matter is that used properly and consistently, condoms have been found to be highly effective in preventing the spread of STDs and pregnancy. In fact, only two percent of condoms break during intercourse, and most of these breakages occur because it was inserted improperly, or was already past expiration date, or was initially damaged before use, or the package was not opened correctly, or was removed incorrectly (Mayo Clinic, online). What’s more a study of 123 couples where one was HIV-positive, showed that consistent and correct condom used was instrumental in protecting the non-infected partner (Advocates for Youth, online).
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There are still others who are more practical, saying that free condoms may be free to high school students, but someone has to pay for them. They are concerned that taxpayers money would be spent on these “rubber thingies”, when it could be used for other, better things, like the war in Iraq, or the upkeep and maintenance of Air Force One.
While these people should be lauded for their patriotic inclinations, they need to be reminded that our country already has a problem with healthcare, both in terms of expenditures and effective delivery. With the spread of STDs like HIV and AIDS, it will add more people to the ever-growing list of patients that need medical attention. This would add millions of dollars of Medicare spending, all of which had been easily preventable and unnecessary with the promotion of condom use and free availability of condoms.
They also need to be reminded that in today’s highly competitive business world, one would need at least a high school education to secure a job that would feed a family. Teenage pregnancy gives a girl an extra mouth to feed while making it more difficult for her to finish high school, and close to impossible to go to college. Because of the mother’s lower annual income, most of them find themselves on social welfare at one or various points of their lives. Dr. Stanley Swierzewski writes that in addition to the physical, emotional and health risks of teenage pregnancies, more than 60% of teenaged mothers drop out of high school, 80% of them end up on welfare, and many are more at risk of developing alcohol and substance abuse (Swierzewski, online).
About three million STD infections yearly and one million teenage pregnancies yearly can be prevented by having condoms available in schools. I do not think it would be a great idea to save taxpayers’ money scrimping on about 20 cents per condom, so that they could spend it on corrective and passive measures like healthcare and welfare. It makes less sense, especially when one takes into consideration that these expenditures are easily avoidable.
The debate on free condoms in high school seems like a simple one, but in reality, it is a very complex issue that touches on a lot of other related issues and could hurt sensibilities.
If one should oppose handing out free condoms to high school students, it is not enough to bring up moral (or otherwise) arguments and stop there. One needs to outline alternatives. One of the most offered alternatives to condom use is nothing, which in light of all the benefits outlined above—from disease prevention, to a brighter future, to less teenage pregnancies, to higher empowerment—is a cruel thing to offer.
Another alternative is abstinence. Malcolm Friedberg writes that handing out condoms to 11 year olds is inappropriate. That instead of handing out condoms, the government should be more concerned with effective abstinence programs.
This would no doubt elicit a lot of snickers from the people in my age group. Tell a sexually-active teenager to stop doing it, and you’d get back an incredulous stare as if you’re some alien from outer space. It is tantamount to telling a child not to eat candy.
Sadly, the child and candy analogy does not stop there. The average teenager would be psychologically made up and pressured by his or her peers to start experimenting with sex at a time when he or she is not ready for it, or its consequences. The child eating the forbidden is lucky in that he only have to contend with toothache. Teenagers often feel the effects for the rest of their lives.
Abel, David. (2004). Bishop attacks school condom plan. Boston Globe. Retrieved on 28 June 2008. <http://www.boston.com/news/local/articles/2004/10/26/bishop_attacks_school_condom_plan/>
Advocates for Youth. School Condom Availability. Retrieved on 28 June 2008 <http://www.advocatesforyouth.org/publications/factsheet/fsschcon.htm>
Birkner, Gabrielle. (2006). Distribution of Free Condoms Soars in Recent Months. The Sun. Retrieved on 28 June 2008. <http://www.nysun.com/new-york/distribution-of-free-condoms-soars-in-recent/45411/>
Friedberg, Malcolm. (2007). Sex, Condoms in Schools. The Huffington Post. Retrieved on 28 June 2008. < http://www.huffingtonpost.com/malcolm-friedberg/sex-condoms-in-schools_b_69023.html>
Mayo Clinic (2005). Condoms: Effective birth control and protection from sexually transmitted diseases. CNN. Retrieved on 28 June 2008. <http://www.cnn.com/HEALTH/library/HQ/00463.html>
Raab, Marian (1998). Condom availability in high school does not increase teenage sexual activity but does increase condom use. BNET. Retrieved on 28 June 2008. <http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3634/is_199801/ai_n8793448>
Swierzewski, Stanley. (2000). Teen Pregnancy. Women’s Health Channel. Retrieved on 28 June 2008. <http://www.womenshealthchannel.com/teenpregnancy/index.shtml>