For years there has been a debate regarding whether condoms or birth control should be available in high schools.
Those against such a policy worry this could send a tacit message to teens about the acceptability of sex and lead to more promiscuity.
Those for such programs argue that condoms available in high schools could lead to a reduction in STDs and pregnancies.
What does the research have to say?
While there has been a growth in school health services providing reproductive services, such as pregnancy and HIV tests, very few distribute condoms or other contraceptives because they are not allowed due to restrictions imposed by the school district, the school, or state law.
Since the number of high schools that provide birth control is very low, there are only a few studies that point to the potential impact of such a policy. Even with this qualification, research has consistently reported that the availability of condoms in high schools does not increase sexual activity.
In one study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, condoms were made available in 10Seattle high schools by placing them in baskets and/or having them available from the school clinic. When they compared answers to a survey both before and after the condom availability, they found sexual activity did not increase. However, they did not find the program had any effect on condom use by already sexually-active teens. The authors concluded that students did not increase their use of condoms, they simply obtained condoms from the school instead of from another source.
A study in Los Angeles county also used the same before-and-after comparison of the effects of condom availability. They also found no impact on sexual activity. However, unlike the Seattle study, this research found that condom use by boys who were already sexually active seemed to increase.
A slightly different design was based on a study of over 7,000 high school students. The researchers compared New York public high school students, where condoms were available, with a matched sample of students in Chicago. Again, there was no evidence that condom availability increased sexual activity. However, in this case, availability was again associated with an increase in the use of condoms among students that were already having sex.
In summary, condom availability in high schools is a low-cost way of preventing pregnancy and STDs without increasing sexual activity.