The American Academy of Pediatrics, a national organization of pediatric healthcare providers, recently issued a position statement that advocates pediatricians not only teach teens how to use condoms but also to dispense them in the office. Intuitively, this makes sense. Used correctly and consistently, condoms decrease the risk of acquiring sexually transmitted infections (STI’s) and unwanted pregnancies. Therefore, increased availability of condoms coupled with more education should lead to decreased rates of STIs and pregnancy among teens.
However, the reality is likely to be otherwise. This is why another national pediatric organization, the American College of Pediatricians, favors, instead of dispensing condoms, the aggressive forging of family connections throughout childhood and adolescence.
As America approaches nearly four decades of condom and contraception-centered sexuality education in schools and physician offices across the nation with increased availability of condoms and contraception to teens, how have American adolescents fared? The answer is: not well. Adolescents now face a growing three-part epidemic of STIs, teen pregnancy and depression.
Sexually active adolescents and young adults under age 25 account for 50 percent of the 19 million new cases of STIs annually in the United States. One in five Americans over age 12 is infected with genital herpes, and one in four sexually active girls over age 13 is infected with at least one STI. In short, America has failed to achieve a level of condom use among teens that would come close to eliminating those STIs for which condoms are most preventive (chlamydia, gonorrhea and HIV) let alone those for which condoms are least preventive (herpes and human papillomavirus, or HPV).
Equally concerning, one in thirteen high school girls becomes pregnant each year in America. Adolescent pregnancy results in decreased educational and vocational opportunities for the mothers, increased likelihood of the family living in poverty, and significant risk for negative long-term outcomes for the children.