A study of sex education outcomes finds that sex education programs that distribute condoms to high school students without the proper counseling increase teen fertility by about ten percent. This is important information for students and administrators of sex education.
The study also found that schools that provided counseling services did not see the same increase in teen fertility rates. In fact, schools that required students to undergo safe sex counseling in order to access condoms saw a decrease or reverse in teen fertility rates. Clearly, it is time (and it has been time) to talk about sex with teens instead of just using free condoms, abstinence language and simply hoping for the best..
The study provides two main reasons that providing condoms without appropriate counseling could be harmful.
First, condoms are most effective when used correctly, and providing them without information could lead to misuse. Condoms have a failure rate of 12% from typical use, and that rate could decrease even further if teens are not aware of how and when to properly use a condom. Further, schools that only provided condoms only saw an increase in gonorrhea rates among teen girls. Access to condoms alone is obviously not the answer.
Second, providing condoms without counseling could prevent teens from seeking other, more effective forms of contraception, such as the Pill, an IUD, or the birth control implant. Relying on condoms is not nearly as effective as using these forms of birth control either alone or in conjunction with condoms. Increasing this access without increasing attention to and information about other forms of contraception, or discussing pregnancy prevention with teenagers, could result little knowledge about other, more effective forms of birth control.
Despite these findings, the study cautions sex education critics: there is no evidence that supports a link between condom provision and condoning or encouraging risky sexual behavior.
Increasing access to both reliable contraception and accurate information about sex is good for teenagers, as this access reduces teen pregnancy and reduces STD rates. In addition, since the implementation of the 1990s era sex education programs in the study, access to various types of contraception, including hormonal birth control, IUDs, and implants, have increased, allowing young women to take control of contraception and sexual health themselves without relying on either their partners or condoms alone.
Importantly, this study points to the necessity of information in conjunction with methods of contraception. Talking to teenagers about their options when it comes to safe sex is crucial for their health outcomes. Knowledge is always power—especially regarding sex and contraception.
Photo Credits: Al Greer, Flickr