Teens Need More Access to Condoms and Education, Says AAP

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has recommended that while abstinence should be encouraged as the best way to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, teens also need to be given more access to free or inexpensive condoms, and sex education. The AAP says that in order to prevent teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, condoms should be available to teens in healthcare settings like pediatricians’ offices, but also in schools and other places teens frequent.

The AAP’s Committee on Adolescence, which authored the updated policy statement, points out that while teen pregnancy and birth rates have declined in the U.S., the rate is still higher here than in other developed countries. Each year, almost 850,000 adolescent girls in the U.S. become pregnant, says the AAP.

Another huge area of concern is the alarming rate of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among teens. In some areas of the U.S., the problem has become “near public health crisis,” with teens and young adults accounting for the highest rates of STIs like chlamydia and gonorrhea.

Contrary to what many parents fear, studies have shown that giving teens both comprehensive sex education and access to condoms doesn’t make them have sex earlier–in fact, it may make them wait longer, said University of Pennsylvania researcher Amy Bleakley, who studies teen sexual behavior and reproductive health. Making condoms available to teens doesn’t increase sexual activity in teens, but it does increase the rate of condom use in teens who are already sexually active.

“Getting over the perception that giving condoms out will make kids have sex is a real barrier for parents and school administrators,” Ms. Bleakley, who is not part of the AAP’s Adolescent Health Committee, told Reuters Health.

The committee also said that doctors need to support consistent and correct use of condoms, and encourage parents to discuss condom use and prevention of STIs with their adolescent children.

It’s kind of hard to wrap my head around the idea that condoms aren’t accessible enough to teens. I mean, they sell them at Walmart and CVS and the grocery store. They’re cheap, especially compared to the cost of other birth control methods and/or having a baby. And when you’re talking about a generation that publicly documents the most minute details of their lives on social media, it’s hard to believe that teens would be embarrassed by anything, let alone buying condoms.

And yet, according to the latest CDC numbers (2011), only 60 percent of sexually active high school students said they used a condom the last time they had sex.

In a separate report on teen use of contraception in general, the AAP cites several reasons why teens don’t consistently use condoms or other methods of birth control, most of which boil down to the general problem that teens are, in fact, teens.

  • Issues related to adolescent development, such as reluctance to acknowledge one’s sexual activity, belief that one is immune from the problems or consequences surrounding sexual intercourse or pregnancy, and denial of the possibility of pregnancy.
  • Lack of education and misconceptions regarding use or appropriateness of contraception.
  • An adolescent’s level of knowledge about how to use contraception effectively does not necessarily correlate with consistent use.
  • Adolescents may not use or may delay use of contraception for several reasons including lack of parental monitoring, fear that their parents will find out, ambivalence, and the perception that birth control is dangerous or causes unwanted adverse effects such as weight gain.

The mom in me wants to scream at all these teens that weight gain from taking the pill is nothing compared to weight gain from pregnancy. That buying condoms might seem embarrassing, but finding out you have a sexually transmitted disease is going to be much, much more awkward. I want to tell them that if they’re not mature enough and responsible enough to go buy a box of condoms, they’re not mature and responsible enough for sex.

But I’m pretty sure screaming at teens and calling them irresponsible isn’t going to help the situation.

Like all education, sex ed needs to start in the home, when kids are young, and in a way that works for your family’s values. And while I don’t have a problem with schools making condoms available, I know a lot of parents do, because they feel that providing condoms to teens implicitly condones teen sex.

The thing is, whether you condone it or not, teens are having sex. The CDC’s 2011 report found that 47 percent of high school students said they’d had sex at least once. And 15 percent of them said they’d had four or more sexual partners in their lives. Not providing sex ed, birth control, and disease prevention to teens is the parenting and education equivalent of sticking our heads in the sand.

(via: NBC News)

Read more from Joslyn on Babble and at her blog, stark. raving. mad. mommy. You can also follow Joslyn on FacebookTwitter, and Pinterest.

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