Should Public High Schools In America Have Condom Availability Programs?
“In many settings, condom use among adolescents has been increasing. However, adolescents may have difficulty obtaining condoms and knowing how to use them.” (Best 66).
What did you learn in Sex Ed? You learned about relationships, the human body, and STDs, right? What about condoms? Did your teacher ever lecture about condoms and how they are 98% effective for protection against HIV, STI/STDs and pregnancy when used correctly, or even demonstrate proper use of condoms? This information is crucial for adolescents.
Essentially, it is the parents’ job to educate their teens about sex and its risks, and proper protection. If parents don’t take responsibility, who’s next? Well, that’s what health class in high school is for. Though, yet again, there is still a problem. Some schools enforce “abstinence-only” and teach Sex Ed. accordingly, and many who educate their students about protection do not offer condoms. Year after year more teens fall victim to STIs and STDs due to lack of protection during intercourse.
If high schools would teach proper protection and offer condoms to their students, it would have many positive results. A survey from 1986 concluded that teens would be more influenced to use condoms if they were free, easy to get, and if they were guaranteed confidentiality. Also, a study in 1997 that compared students with access to condoms to those without (New York City vs. Chicago), concluded that having such access to condoms didn’t increase the sex rate, but the use of condoms. With more teens using condoms every time they engage in sexual activity, teen STI/STD rates will decrease, as will teen pregnancy. Even further, less teen pregnancy will decrease high school drop-out rates and even increase the amount of students going to college. Making condoms easily accessible to high school students is an excellent investment.
Religion and morale seem to be a big determinant of how many adults feel about Condom Availability Programs. One individual, the minister of a lutheran church and father of three children, voiced his own opinion on the subject. He was upset that his children, two 8th grade girls and one sophomore boy, were being taught how to use condoms and were able to obtain them from school. “They are undermining me to my children,” he said. He did not want them exposed to such things on account of it being against their religion. “If kids really want them, they can go buy them, they told me that kids are too embarrassed to buy them, I rebutted that if they are too EMBARRASSED to buy condoms, they are too immature to be having sex.” Although he has a point, his judgement is clouded by his religion. The reality is that not everyone is religious, and not all teens are going to listen even then. Many of the minister’s forum respondents ridiculed his argument. They made a point to pull him into reality, telling him that his girls do know about condoms and sex, and that if he didn’t want them exposed to it he should have home-schooled them or put them in a Lutheran private school (FreeAdvice Legal Forum).
The minister’s argument is the same for many, if not all, adults/parents of other religions. The reality is that church and state are kept separate, so in a sense, his argument is invalid. The state is responsible for all students in public schools. If the schools choose to invest in a Condom Availability Program with no “opt out”, parents need to realize that it is for the best. If a parent tells the school that they do not want their student to be able to receive condoms from them, that student is more likely to neglect to use contraception, therefore risking STDs or pregnancy.
Not only are Condom Availability Programs controversial, but so is teenage sex in general. When citizens in society know of teens engaging in sexual intercourse, they tend to look down on them. In fact, many sexually active teens that attempt to buy condoms are met with negativity in stores.
Today’s media does not help the problem of teenage sex. A 2001 Kaiser Family Foundation study, Sex on TV, reported that about 84% of “situation comedy” television shows contain sexual references (Media Awareness Network). Considering how common comedy television shows are on any television channel, the minds of teens everywhere are already doomed. Add on the influence of the music many teenagers listen to, movies they watch and books they read, and you’ve got a world that spells out one single word to them: SEX.
A RAND Corp. study shows that the amount of exposure teens have to television shows containing sex or sexual reference increases their likelihood of sexual activity, leading to pregnancy since condoms are rarely ever mentioned on television (CNN Health). Well, in the popular CBS television show, Two And A Half Men, there is not a single episode that doesn’t contain sex or some kind of sexual reference. In addition, there are millions of other television shows that contain sexual activity or sexual references, including some television shows geared specifically toward teens. With all of these show on the air, sex seems pretty hard to escape. On the other hand, shows like Degrassi, which is a show for teens, shows the consequences of sexual activity (along with consequences of the use of drugs and other adolescent problems). This show is not only popular among teens, but also serves a bit as a public service announcement.
The problem doesn’t end with television. A vast majority of today’s music also contains sexual references. While the more obvious genre would be rap music, genres like country music are just as much to blame. Ask any teenager about music, and more often than not you’ll hear “Music is my LIFE!”... and they’re not joking. It’s a huge part of our culture. We often associate music with different experiences in our lives, so we can relate to it. That is what makes music so powerful. Often times we listen to music that matches our mood. Angry? Listen to angry, loud music. Happy? Listen to some fun, happy music. In love or heartbroken? There’s a Taylor Swift song for that! There are millions of songs out there for each mood you could possibly be in, and listening to those songs assure us that we aren’t alone in whatever we feel. And whether we like it or not, there are plenty of songs about sex. “Teenage Dream”, “Lollipop”, “Barbie Girl”, “Thinking of You”, “When The Sun Goes Down”, “Bad Romance”, and “E.T.” are just a few of the significantly popular songs about sex. With this music infecting our radio stations and store shelves, how are we to escape? Even more... Do we want to?
Condom Availability Programs are neither illegal or required. In the Supreme Court case Curtis vs. School Committee of Falmouth, the parents of students enrolled in Falmouth, Mass. schools claimed that the voluntary condom availability program at the schools intruded upon their rights as parents. Their reasoning was that “the fourteenth amendment prohibits government from unnecessarily intruding on parental decisions about child rearing. The Supreme Court has ruled that a government program is unnecessarily intrusive if it “causes a coercive or compulsory effect” on parents’ choices about how to raise their children.” In the end, the ruling was: “Public secondary schools may offer voluntary programs to their students that contradict individual parents’ moral or religious beliefs” (Legal Research and Writing).
Although they prefer to stay out of cases such as Curtis vs. School Committee of Falmouth, the government does make many decisions surrounding the topic. In 1996 the government began funding abstinence-only education. Then, in 1999, a poll stated that most adults support comprehensive sex education and about 60% felt they should be required. This is much different than the 2003 National Public Radio and Harvard University poll that stated 15% of the public thought abstinence-only education should be taught versus the 36% that said students need to learn about contraception (Issues & Controversies).
With all of these polls reporting that the majority of the public support sexual education and in schools and say that teens should learn about contraception, it is hard to understand why President Bush would propose to double the funding for abstinence-only education. In his State of The Union Address he said, “We will double federal funding for abstinence programs, so schools can teach this fact of life: Abstinence for young people is the only certain way to avoid sexually-transmitted diseases. Decisions children now make can affect their health and character for the rest of their lives. All of us -- parents and schools and government -- must work together to counter the negative influence of the culture, and to send the right messages to our children.” (Online Speech Bank).The truth is, abstinence is the only certain way to avoid sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy, but this is not the right way to teach America’s teens. Chances are, only a small percentage of the teenage population will listen, and the others wouldn’t know enough about contraception to use them properly.
High school isn’t just where we learn the things we need to be able to get a job or go on to college, it’s also the place that helps prepare us for the rest of our lives. We can’t be expected to go into adulthood not knowing a thing about contraception, or having limited education and knowledge of resources. The best choice would have been to begin funding comprehensive sexual education in schools instead of doubling funding for abstinence-only education. President Bush was correct when saying “All of us -- parents and schools and government -- must work together to counter the negative influence of the culture, and to send the right messages to our children.” We do need to work together, but abstinence-only won’t work. Abstinence should be enforced, but contraception should be enforced even more.
Public high schools in the United States should have Condom Availability Programs with a structure. This means that condoms would be available in the nurse’s office upon request, but students would be asked to visit the guidance counselor and only if the student is still intent on engaging in sexual intercourse will they be provided condoms, with confirmation from their guidance counselor. “Opt out” options should be the decision of the individual school boards. Also, students would be taught comprehensive sex in their health classes. This process and structure would ensure that students actually think before just going out and having sex, and an adult’s advice would be given. Also, the students that ask for condoms and talk to their guidance counselor are more mature than those that are too shy to ask for any help obtaining condoms or buying condoms themselves.
The government should pass a law stating that all public high schools in the United States are required to have Condom Availability Programs with some kind of structured process to obtain them, and that they are required to teach comprehensive sex in health classes. The freedom to construct their own programs should be granted to the state or the regions within the state, so as to ensure that there is not one school trying to get around the law with the program the contruct. On the other hand, many parents may be opposed to a law like this - particularly religious parents. This is another reason why the states or regions should be able to construct their own programs. They could hold meetings and have citizens speak their part. The “opt out” option, which would allow parents to sign a form stating that they do not want their student to be able to obtain condoms from the school, is a good option, but may be less effective because some students may not want to talk to their parents about wanting to have sex. Instead of an “opt out”, the state or regions may decide to have the parents’ voices heard in another way. This can be done by allowing the parents to sit in and speak in the meeting that a student has with a guidance counselor, or having the guidance counselor talk to the parent alone after their visit with the student. Although how they run their programs would be the school’s business, the parents play a big role in the lives of the students when sexual activity is the concern.
Making school Condom Availability Programs required by the law is better than making them optional because it will ensure that all high school students in the United States are getting the facts, and have access to the resources they may need. Also, it can help eliminate or decrease the debates over the issue. Also, the parents who value their religion and are not pleased with the programs would either have to endure it or enroll their children in religion-based private schools.
It is the parent’s job to teach their teenagers about life, including sex. The reality is that these talks may not be the most informing, or may not happen at all. School is the next best informant for teens. Making Condom Availability Programs required by law is the best idea because it will ensure that students get the facts. A program like this will not necessarily increase sexual activity, but will [hopefully] increase the use of condoms among sexually active teens. Abstinence-Only Education is not effective because it does not teach teens about contraceptives and how to use them, therefore resulting in teens neglecting to use condoms and risking pregnancy or STD/STIs.
Making condoms free and easily accessible results in teens using condoms more often, according to the 1996 survey. Also, a Condom Availability Program would not be too expensive, given that all that would need to be purchased is condoms and maybe examples of other contraceptives and anything else needed for sexual education lessons for health classes. Making Condom Availability Programs required in all public high schools is much better than thousands of young girls becoming mothers each year who haven’t had a chance to be a teenager. If those thousands of girls went to schools that offered condoms, maybe they’d still be teenagers. Also, with all the support from the public about comprehensive sexual education, it’s a wonder that not all public high schools have comprehensive sexual education or Condom Availability Programs. It’s a mystery that will hopefully soon be solved.
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