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Should We Distribute Condoms in High Schools?

By Rachel Segal
 Unsplash / Astryd_MAD
*Updated 2023
Sex education in school has always stirred debate. But sparks really start flying when discussing whether to provide free condoms in high schools. Proponents claim that making contraception readily available is a matter of safety, while opponents say that morality is at risk in doing so. With 54% of pre-teens, teens having been exposed to online porn before age 13, it’s safe to say that addressing sex education and – contraception – with high schoolers remains an important topic.
Here are three reasons why it’s important to make condoms accessible in high schools for students who need them and three reasons why doing so is a mistake.


Free Condoms Should be Distributed in High Schools


Condoms help reduce the spread of STDs

Among U.S. high school students surveyed by the CDC in 2021, 30% were sexually active. Of these, 48% of them didn’t use a condom during their last sexual encounter. The same study also showed that half of the 20 million new STDs reported in the United States each year are among 15- to 24-year-olds, and that people aged 13-24 accounted for an estimated 20% of all new HIV diagnoses in 2018.

These numbers emphasize the importance of condom distribution in high schools for sexually active teenagers. If consistently used correctly, condoms can be highly effective in decreasing the probability of STD transmission and preventing HIV transmission. Whether we like it or not, U.S. high school students are already having sex. As long as this is the case, schools need to help them stay safe.


Condoms help prevent teenage pregnancy

While abstinence is encouraged among high school students, parents aren’t naïve. The numbers above strongly suggest that expecting abstinence is not realistic. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Committee on Adolescence knows this, and therefore has long advocated access to condoms in schools as part of comprehensive sex education programs to mitigate cases of unwanted pregnancies (as well as AIDS and STDs).

Over the last 20 years, teen birth rates across the United States have been continuously declining. According to Pew Research, the birth rate among 15- to 19-year-old females in 2018 was less than half of what it had been in 2008. Many factors have been linked to this decline, but especially prominent is the increase in contraception use among teens. As teens spend the majority of their time at school, it is the most natural and convenient place for sex education, including condom distribution.


Condoms make teens more sexually responsible

As teenagers are beginning to discover their sexual identities, providing condoms in high schools can help them establish the concept of safe sex as the norm and gives them the mandate to be responsible. Research shows that 60% of high schoolers have had sex by the time they graduate. Therefore, introducing the idea of condom use into their conscience at such a formative age may help teens view contraception as second nature as opposed to something that either gender will have to continually negotiate with future partners. Also worth noting, with the Supreme Court’s overturn of Roe V. Wade, access to abortion is getting more limited across the US, which only emphasizes the need for more access to condoms.

Free Condoms Shouldn’t be Distributed in High Schools


It interferes with family and religious beliefs

By providing condoms to students, high schools are taking away the due right of parents to decide whether their own teenage children should have access to contraception. To begin with, many parents don’t think that their adolescent children are emotionally or physically ready yet for sex. So, having schools introduce condom use to their teenagers pressures both the parents and teens into having conversations about sex that may feel premature.

It may also interfere with a family’s values or religious beliefs. For instance, the Catholic Church and other conservative faiths oppose various forms of contraception. Parents who support the cause can provide condoms to their teenagers without having schools infringe on other families’ timelines of talking about sex and/or religious freedoms.


They’re not 100% effective, which gives a false sense of security

Condom distribution in high schools gives students a false sense of security when having sex. This is because most teenagers lack experience with condom implementation and use, causing the condoms to be extremely ineffective. When used perfectly every single time during sex, condoms are 98% effective at preventing pregnancy. But people, especially teenagers, aren’t perfect, so, typically, condoms may only about 85% effective. Not to mention the fact that vulnerable teenage girls still have less control over condom use.


Sends mixed messages and legitimizes sexual activity

In high schools that teach students about both abstinence and contraception use, these programs are sending mixed messages to students. If a school wants its students not to have sex, it shouldn’t provide them with condoms to use during intercourse. Furthermore, making condoms available in schools might send the erroneous message to students that their teachers and parents are expecting them to engage in sexual activity.


The Bottom Line: Is it the providence and responsibility of a school or of the parents to educate their teenagers about safe sex when they feel the time is right? Or, in the words of TV’s most iconic teen virgin, Donna Martin, from the original 90210: “It’s like if you have a swimming pool in your backyard, you can tell your children not to go in it, you can even build a fence around it, but if you know that they’re going to find a way in to that water, don’t you think you ought to teach those kids how to swim?”

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