CONDOM DISTRIBUTION: High School Access Does Not Increase Teen Sexual Activity
"A free condom program at a Los Angeles County high school has increased sexual safety without any corresponding increase in sexual activity," according to a new RAND study.University of California-Los Angeles pediatrician and RAND researcher Dr. Mark Schuster said, "This is just one study in one school district ... but it is very encouraging." He added, "It looks like these programs really can have the desired effect." The Los Angeles Times reports that condoms are currently distributed "in the Los Angeles, Culver City and Santa Monica-Malibu school districts" (Maugh, 4/14).
The study, published in the current issue of Family Planning Perspectives, surveyed 1,945 Los Angeles County high school students in grades 9 through 12 just prior to the implementation of a condom access program. One year later, 1,110 of the same students were again surveyed to note changes since the program took effect. The study authors report "no significant change over time in the percentage of males or females who had ever had vaginal intercourse or who had vaginal intercourse during the year prior to the survey." Some 55.8% of male students had sex in the year before the survey. During the year in which the program was implemented, 55.0% reported having intercourse. Similar statistics were found among girls, with percentage of sexual activity going from 45.4% to 46.1% after program implementation. The frequency of sex was similarly unchanged, with sexually active males having intercourse 10.6 times the first year and 10.4 times the second; females 11.6 the first year and 12.0 the second. However, the "percentage of males who reported using condoms every time they engaged in vaginal intercourse ... increased significantly, from 37% to 50%." Females' condom use increased from 27% to 32%. Further, the percentage of virgins who reportedly planned to use condoms at first intercourse jumped from 62% to 90% for males and 73% to 94% for females.
What Does It All Mean?
The researchers conclude that the condom availability program they studied did not validate "fears of increases in sexual activity," nor did the students surveyed "develop more favorable attitudes toward vaginal intercourse." Further, the authors note the "apparent strong effect on students' intention to use condoms and on males' use at first vaginal intercourse suggest that such programs may have a particular impact on the least sexually experienced adolescents" (Schuster et al, Family Planning Perspectives, April 1998 issue). Schuster said, "The big change was that the (sexually active) boys were more likely to be using condoms, and virgins were much more likely to plan to use condoms when they have their first vaginal intercourse." Gracie Hsu of the Family Research Council was less enthusiastic. She said, "You are laying down a standard that says teen-age sexual behavior is fine so long as you use condoms. And clearly, sexual behavior, regardless of the use of condoms, has consequences, both emotional and physical" (Manning, USA Today, 4/14).