Coinciding with the onslaught of the new millennium, schools are beginning to realize that the parents are not doing their job when it comes to sexual education. The school system already has classes on sexual education; these classes are based mainly on human anatomy. Most schools do not teach their students about relationships, morals, respect, self-discipline, self-respect, and most importantly contraceptives. Everyday students engage in sexual activity, many of them with out condoms. This simple act jeopardizes these students’ futures and possibly their lives. An increasing amount of school systems are starting to combine messages involving abstinence from sexual activity, and expanding availability of contraceptives, especially condoms. Schools are now stepping in to further equip their students for life. The distribution of condoms in public high schools will lower the rate of pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases among teenagers.
About one million teenagers become pregnant each year in the United States. There are more then 16,000 pregnancies in the State of Maryland alone. Ninety five percent of these pregnancies are unintended, and nearly one third of them will end in abortion or miscarriage. Miscarriages are caused by of lack of medical attention. According to a report by the general Accounting Office, teen mothers and their children cost the United States 34 billion dollars a year (J.A.N., page 1)
Eighty percent of teen mothers end up in poverty for long periods of time due to the fact that they never finished high school. They become financially dependent on programs such as Welfare and WIC (Women, Infants, and Children). Welfare provides money and food stamps for low-income families. WIC provides milk, cheese, eggs, cereals, fruit juices, dried beans or peas, peanut butter and infant formula for all participants. WIC also provides nutritional education and health care referrals at no cost. Programs such as these help millions of families every year.
Among all age groups, teenagers have the highest rate of sexually transmitted diseases. Every year one in four teens that have had sex contract a sexually transmitted disease. Common diseases among teens are chlamydia, gonorrhea, and HIV. Chlamydia can cause pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility in women. "The only risk factor found for chlamydia infection was being a teenager" (John Hopkins researchers). Students that are sexually active need to have access to condoms to protect themselves against sexually transmitted diseases. Teens have problems with birth control for several reasons, and because of this lack of birth control teens are more susceptible to pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
The problem with birth control today is obtaining it in the first place. For most teens getting birth control is an intimidating experience. Girls must have a complete gynecological exam, which most have never had. Girls must also speak with a doctor about wanting birth control. "Even if it's only a male going to the store to get condoms he has to put up with comments like, 'I'll have to charge you an entertainment tax.' A female goes in and she hears, 'Hey honey, you're not the one whose supposed to be buying these.' She gets embarrassed" (health clinic worker). When free condoms are offered to students, they are less embarrassed to receive them. Students with condoms are more likely to use them during sexual activity.
Experts say the lack of knowledge on how to use a condom correctly and the lack of motivation to use a condom every time means that condoms fail more often. This could result in pregnancy or the contraction of STD's. Teenagers reuse condoms or they use it with a petroleum-based lubricant which can dissolve the condom's latex. Birth control products are only effective if used properly. Rates of failure for condoms are between 2 percent and 14 percent. Inexperienced users make up a larger percentage of failure rates because of improper use. This failure rate is also due to inconsistent use among teenagers. With the proper knowledge and training students can effectively use a condom to protect themselves.
Today’s sex education programs are failing to meet the needs of sexually active teens. “Any sex education program is doomed to fail” (Kevin Ryan, page 1). Schools should start their sex education program early ~ even in kindergarten ~ and provide a realistic course of instruction (Kevin Ryan, page 1). Children that are given enough information about sex will act responsibly. It is ridiculous to believe that a comprehensive sex education program will suppress the sexual passions of the youth. [It is often with the belief that teens can be taught the basics of sex and file the information away for future use, then they are to ignore the massive amount of messages they are receiving from television, popular music, the latest movie releases and magazines. “If sex education is going to be successful, it has to be character education as well” (Kevin Ryan, page 2).]
Considering the fact that the majority of teens will participate in sexual activity, Sex Ed should focus more on methods of contraception and less on abstinence. “There are no studies that well demonstrate that abstinence-only [approaches] have an impact” (Jo Anna Natale, 4). Giving adolescents more information about sex and making condoms more available are ways to cut the risk of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. The condom is the only type of birth control that protects against the transmission of STD's when properly used. Although condoms should be available for students, schools can't just throw condoms at teens and tell them to be careful. "Teaching kids the facts of life isn't enough, you have to teach them respect, responsibility, and self-discipline as well" (Kevin Ryan).
The overwhelming majority of teens say that other teens should wait to have sex, but if a teen is sexually active, that teen should have access to some form of birth control. Sixty percent of adults say teens should have access to a form of contraception. Low-income families are unable to provide their teenage children with condoms. Younger teens may also have trouble finding a way to a store to purchase condoms. If teens are unable to provide condom’s for themselves, they are unable to protect themselves.
Health Resource Centers, or HRC's are centers located in middle and high schools promoting safe sex. HRC's provide reproductive health information, condoms, and general health referrals to students. All students in the participating schools are taught about the importance of abstinence, but they are provided with condoms if they choose to be sexually active. Trained staff members and volunteers ~ including health professionals, educators, nurses, psychologists and graduate interns ~ provide counseling for students upon request. Students attending the junior high school also have access to condoms; however; counseling is mandatory for these students before they can receive condoms. Informational brochures can be obtained in the nurses’ office. Students are also able purchase condoms from vending machines located in remote places through out the school. The HRC's have large levels of administrative and staff support for its objectives. Students who used the program generally viewed the services they received favorably. Expanded condom availability, when accompanied with the proper education and information about safer sex, will increase the amount of protected sexual encounters.
The Family Planning Council works with health care providers to establish counseling procedures, to train staff, collect data and develop counseling standards. The Council holds monthly meetings to share information, strategies for educating faculty and students, problems, and tactics for distributing and encouraging the use of condoms among teens who are sexually active. Data collected in 1991 and 1993 suggests that the presence of the condom availability plan did not increase the rates of sexual activity among students, although it may have contributed to safer sex. Schools without the program had a two-percent increase of students who had sex in the previous four weeks. Schools with the condom availability plan had a three- percent drop of students who have had sex in the previous four weeks. This is believed to be a result of the information provided by the school about sex and harmful effects it can have on a teen and their future. In the schools with HRC's, 34.8 percent of the students had used the HRC, only 22.7 percent of the students received condoms. A total of 35 percent of all students who visited the HRC used it only to gain information.
The condom availability program requires "passive parental consent" (Frank F. Furstenberg, Jr., Lynne Maziarz Geitz, Julien O. Teitler and Christopher C. Weiss, page 124). Parents have the right of withholding their child from acquiring a condom through the center by signing and returning a letter sent by the school administration. Parental consent is not needed for a student to obtain health referrals or counseling through the center. Most parents don't know what is being taught in their child's Sex Ed class. Parents generally do not talk with their children about sex. If more parents talked with their children, programs such as these would not be needed. Parents claim that the program imposes upon parental rights, and the freedom of religion. Most likely, parental consent will continue be a tough issue that school officials will need to address.
In 1991 the Board of Education for Philadelphia adopted Policy 123. Policy 123 was created to expand access to condoms and to establish a phase-in condom availability program in schools with classes in grades 9-12. In 1992, nine Philadelphia High Schools opened HRC's where students could obtain condoms, general health referrals, and reproductive health information. Philadelphia schools have an opt-out choice for parents who choose to exclude their children from the program. Currently there is a challenge underway in Philadelphia. The case was first dismissed for lack of legal standing. Plaintiffs had denied their children access to the program, legally, it could not be deemed harmful. There is a firm history of legal support for minors to receive medical services related to sexuality and reproductive health; there is a high chance Philadelphia may win this case.
In Falmouth County, Massachusetts, there was also a condom distribution program created. Parents claimed the program infringed upon their parental rights, and denied their religious liberties. The parents requested that the courts prevent any further operation of the distribution program. The Massachusetts Supreme Court, upholding the lower court ruling, rejected the parents’ claims that the program violated their rights. A five-judge panel ruled that the existence of the program did not infringe upon students or parents’ rights. The Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled "[The] students are free to decline to participate in the program. No penalty or disciplinary action ensues if a student does not participate.......[and] the plaintiff parents are free to instruct their children not to participate. The program does not supplant the parent's role as advisor in the moral and religious development of their children. (Karen Mahler page 1)"
In 1991 the New York City Board of Education created a program to make condoms accessible to all high school students upon request. The program caused parental disagreement and the school board was taken to court. Parents claimed that making condoms available to students was a health service and could not be provided to students. The board argued that the condom plan was not a medical service. They explained it was one part of a comprehensive educational program that did not require direct parental consent. The school board lost the case. The program may have survived had the case been heard by the New York State Supreme Court "Massachusetts is the most significant, it is the highest court to address the issue, and it rejects,...... the claim that condom availability interferes with parental liberties" (Karen Mahler). In 1977 the United States denied a New York State Law prohibiting the distribution or sale of non-prescription contraceptives to teens under the age of 16. The United States Supreme Court seems to have support for the condom availability program.
The United States Supreme Court declined to review the Curtis vs. School Committee of Falmouth case. In this case, the Massachusetts Supreme Court upheld the lower courts’ ruling to support the condom availability plan. The Supreme Court's refusal to hear the case is encouraging for schools who wish to create programs to make condoms more accessible to the high school students.
Bill Clinton requested more money and effort put into teen pregnancy programs. Clinton wanted these programs to inform kids about contraceptives, but to emphasize abstinence as the only infallible way not to become pregnant. Congress is currently considering a Republican plan to deny welfare benefits to unwed teen mothers (J.A.N. page 1). If this plan passes, the majority teens that become pregnant will have no way of supporting themselves or their children.
School districts are eager to create programs that will effectively protect the health and safety of their students. This is due to the rising levels of concern over sexual activity among teens and the rates of sexually transmitted diseases. At least 64 percent of school superintendents would like to look into programs of condom distribution for their school district. School systems are moving away from the message that abstinence is the only way to protect yourself from pregnancy and STD's. They are beginning to inform their students about the use of contraceptives and working to expand the students access to condoms. Hopefully their efforts will not go unrewarded.
If the school has to take action to prevent pregnancies and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases in school then something is not being done at home that should be. Parents should be glad that the school their teen child attends cares enough to try and help them. A program that distributes condoms spends a lot of time and money, not to mention the effort put into it by teachers, administrators, counselors, health professionals, the school nurse and the local health department. Students who have access to condoms are likely to use them. In past cases, the program did not promote sex among the students of the schools. It did, however, provide important information to its students, and may have contributed to safer sex. The distribution of condoms in public high schools will promote safe sex among teenagers.
Furstenburg, Frank , Mariarz, Geitz , Teitler, Julien , Weiss, Christopher “Does Condom Availability Make a Difference? An Evaluation of Philadelphia’s Health Resource Centers” Family Planning Perspective Volume 29, Issue 3 (May-Jun.,1997), 123-127.
Kreiner, Anna Learning to Say No to Sexual Pressure New York: The Rosen Publishing Group
Mahler, Karen "Condom Availability in the Schools: Lessons from the Courtroom" Sexuality Volume 4, Article 63 1993-1996
Natale, Jo Anna “The Hot New Word is Sex Ed” School Volume 5 Article 30, 1994-1996
"Sex education: Anything goes." Washington Times 1 Nov. 2000
Stewart, Gail B. Teen Parenting. San Diego: Lucent Books 2000
"Teens Regret Having Sex." Maryland Abstinence Education and Coordination Program. Summer 2000