According to the Centers for Disease Control teen pregnancy is an epidemic in our country. According to the CDC, there are many ways of attacking this “winnable battle,” but several of them are controversial, creating contrasting opinions of the methods. These methods can be so controversial that most of them have never been tested and conflicting arguments are based solely on hypothetical situations rather than fact. For example, schools that give out condoms generally do so through a school-based health center. Schools without these centers use HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) as a reason why they cannot discuss their practices. They do so to prevent the loss of trust and privacy within the school environment, they explain.
Delanna Muse of the CT Department of Public Health’s STD Control Program, praises the idea of giving out condoms in schools. One reason she and others agree with this practice is it reduces the rate of accidental pregnancy among teens. “It’s a way of being proactive rather than reactive,” states Muse. Studies show that teens will use condoms if they are readily available. A study of public high schools in New York City and Chicago conducted by the Guttmacher Institute found that condom availability programs in schools resulted in more teens using them when having intercourse. Both cities had similar sexual activity with regards to their senior class (NYC, 59.7 percent; Chicago, 60.1 percent). Sexually active seniors in New York, “where there is a condom availability program, were more likely to report using a condom at last intercourse than were those in Chicago, where condoms are not available in school (60.8 to 55.5 percent).” In an interview with Connecticut station WTNH Eyewitness News in 2012, Tashema Tann of New Britain explained her views about the topic: “I think [condoms] should be passed around because in the school [there’s] a lot of pregnancy going on and I feel kids should be protected.” Muse said in an interview that she recently “advocated for condom use” in New London High School. With the partnership of Vanessa Reid, the head nurse at New London High School, the school recently received approval to distribute condoms through their school-based health center. On March 1, 2012, birth control, as well as STD testing and pregnancy testing, were permitted in New London High School, according to NBC News. In school-based health centers, giving out condoms and other contraception can be an opportunity to teach children about STDs and pregnancy. Mrs. Giulino, a health teacher at Naugatuck High School, said the sexual health unit at the school is about two to three weeks long. She said while she thinks that she has a “decent amount of time” to complete her health curriculum, she feels that students should “take health more than once, [possibly] later in their high school career.” According to the Delana Muse and the CDC, giving out condoms in school can be a great opportunity to remind teens how to use protection and educate them about STDs. Giving out condoms in schools encourages teens to make good choices and helps them develop good judgment.
Central High School in Bridgeport does not distribute condoms through their nurse’s office, however, there is an SPPT Program (Support for Pregnant and Parenting Teens) located within the school. Also, according to Jan Saam, principal at Naugatuck High School, there is tutoring available for pregnant students, but condoms are not distributed at the high school. Jason Begin, a student at Naugatuck High School, commented: “It seems really strange that [the administration] want[s] to support these students but not try to prevent the problem at the core.” Muse argues that giving out condoms in schools reduces the rate of accidental pregnancy and it is a good opportunity to teach about the effectiveness of condoms and what they prevent.
Although many people praise giving out condoms in schools, there is still opposition to their distribution in schools. Some say that giving out condoms encourages teen intercourse. In an interview, Giulino voiced her concerns, saying she tries to prepare students to be healthy adults and that “adults don’t come to school to get birth control.” Another issue involves the cost of pregnancy prevention. “If you can’t afford birth control, then you can’t afford a child if something goes wrong,” Giuliano said. She worries that students will take receiving condoms in school as a joke rather than a help.
Roseann Bilodeau, a parent of a student at New Britain High School, said, “Nobody wants to think of their kid as being sexually active,” in an interview with WFSB TV. The school district, who has since allowed condoms, struggled with the issue because parents and administration thought that the new policy would conflict with teachings of abstinence. Some also say that condoms, while they prevent most pregnancies and STDs, are not always effective. According to Planned Parenthood, condoms are 98% effective when always used correctly, however they are only 88% effective when not always used correctly. A study done by The Kaiser Family Foundation found that teens who were not spoken to about condom use prior to their first sexual encounter had a higher rate of misuse. But does pregnancy prevention and condom distribution serve the purpose of high school? According to Leela J George of auburnpub.com, the purpose of high school is to learn how to construct logical arguments, learn self-management skills and learn collaborative problem solving skills, which are imperative for both college and careers.
Research conducted for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy in 2001, has “identified highly effective sex education and HIV prevention programs that affect multiple behaviors and/or achieve positive health impacts.”Abstinence-only-until-marriage programs have not been shown to help teens delay the initiation of sex or to protect themselves when they do have sex. Yet, the U.S. government has spent more than $1 billion supporting abstinence-until-marriage programs. Adolescents have a fundamental human right to accurate and comprehensive sexual health information according to Advocates for Youth. Columbia University research has found that abstinence pledge groups actually increase teens’ risk of pregnancy and STDs. In fact, 88% of pledge takers admitted to having sex prior to marriage. Pledge takers were also less likely to get tested for STDs or use contraceptives when engaging in sexual activity because they were afraid of giving up their pledge in front of their peers.
Providing adolescents with a formal sexual health education program has proven to be an effective way to encourage safe sex. In a study released in the Journal of Adolescent Health, researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analyzed responses from more than 2,000 teenagers between the ages of 15 and 19 on the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth. They found that males attending school who had received sex education were almost three times more likely to use birth control the first time they had sex while such a program had little effect on girls. There is no national requirement, however, for schools to provide sexual education to students. In 2008, New Mexico had the highest statewide teen pregnancy rate. New Mexico is also one of the only states that do not require that all sexual health information given to teens is medically accurate. The study, done by Guttmacher Institute, also found that only 60.5% of sexually active students in New Mexico were using contraceptives as compared to the 75% national average. Other states with high teen pregnancy rates were also not required to provide sexual education. If it was provided, then it had to follow the states mandated guidelines of abstinence-only teachings.
On the contrary, others believe that providing abstinence-only sexual education to students is a must for preventing teen pregnancy. Abstinence is the only 100% effective way of preventing STDs and unwanted pregnancy. Naugatuck High School Health teacher Mrs. Minutillo says that at NHS, more time is spent on contraceptives, but abstinence is stressed throughout the entire course. “Hopefully they can at least make a healthy decision knowing their options,” said Mrs. Giulino. According to About.com, another argument for abstinence is that teens who abstain are less likely to experience a physically or emotionally abusive relationship, dropout of high school, abuse drugs, or feel pressured to have sex. All of these are risks for teens who explore and become sexually active at an young age. According to the National Conference of State Legislators, only 40% of teen mothers graduate high school and less than 2% finish college by the age of thirty. Abstinence is the only way to completely prevent pregnancy and optimize opportunities to finish school and pursue careers.
In conclusion, teen pregnancy is an epidemic in the U.S. The CDC calls this outbreak a “winnable battle,” but the inconsistent availability of birth control and sexual health information across the nation puts teens at risk. School-based health clinics are able to offer condoms to students because of their independent status rather than as an entity of a board of education. Comprehensive, accurate information about sexual health and pregnancy prevention also decreases the teen pregnancy rates across the nation.
But can giving out condoms in schools really lower teen pregnancy rates? “It’s possible. It’s another resource and avenue for [teens] to have and use,” said Muse.