A new data analysis has found that schools which make condoms readily available for student use saw a 10% increase in the teen birth rate.
Looking at the effects of in-school condom distribution programs from the 1990s put in place in an effort to combat the AIDS epidemic, the analysis is the first to just consider condoms-only programs. The majority of previous research has found access to free contraception reduces teen birth rates.
The study, “The Incidental Fertility Effects of School Condom Distribution Programs,” looked at schools who handed out condoms alongside mandatory counseling about proper condom use separately from those schools that simply offered students condoms without any additional instructions. Pregnancy rates were tracked both before and after the condom programs were put in place in the schools, with these results being compared to the pregnancy rates at schools that did not have condom programs, as well as the pregnancy rates of young women between the ages of 20 and 24 in the same areas as the schools. Doing so allowed researchers to control for societal shifts that could have been causing an increase in the pregnancy rates in schools that offered free condoms.
The 10% increase found at schools that distributed condoms was mostly found at schools that did not require their students to participate in additional training on condom use. Study authors report schools that did offer counseling “may have seen no change or perhaps a decline” in teen birth rates.
Around 18 out of every 100 regular condom users end up getting pregnant each year. The majority of this is due to incorrect usage.
A previous study of male college students found 40% did not leave space at the tip of the condom at least once within the last three months, while 15% had removed the condom before finishing having sex. Christina Cauterucci for Slate suggests that high school students that did not receive any counseling on condom use would most likely not have better results.
The report suggests a few explanations as to why the birth rate was higher at schools that offered their students condoms without training. They say that while the teenagers may have been too shy to purchase the condoms but did not want to have sex without them, so offering free condoms resulted in these students having sex more than they would have otherwise. However, a previous study found that although school condom programs do increase condom use, they typically do not change the frequency of vaginal intercourse or students’ attitudes about sex.
The authors also suggest that students began to use condoms in place of other contraceptive measures such as birth control pills or implants. While these other methods are more capable of preventing pregnancy, the authors argue that because they require a trip to the doctor, some students may not want to, or are unable to, discuss having sex with their parents.
The last suggestion offered says that staff members may view the condom program as a substitute for education. “Programs without mandated counseling thus may have created a moral hazard problem in that they unintentionally disincentivized school personnel from promoting contraceptive use or other conduct discouraging conception,” the authors write.