A new study by researchers at George Washington University shows that making condoms available to high school students does not result in increases in sexual activity, Health Behavior News Service reports. Instead, having condoms available served only to protect those who were already sexually active from infection with HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, the researchers said. "When condoms are available in schools and are successfully used by sexually active adolescents, they may be an effective means of preventing potentially harmful outcomes such as HIV/STDs and pregnancy," said lead researcher Susan Blake.
The researchers analyzed data from a 1995 survey of more than 4,000 students attending high schools in Massachusetts. About half of the students reported having had sex, with nearly 60% of those using condoms during their most recent sexual encounter. Responses also were broken down by schools that made condoms available to students and those that did not. Adolescents at schools where condoms were available actually were shown to be less likely to report being sexually active, but those who were engaging in sex were more likely to use condoms than students at schools where condoms weren't available. "It may not have been making condoms available per se that was associated with greater rates of condom use," Blake says, "but rather the fact that the adoption of such programs reflected broader community mores, communicated positive social norms and environmental supports, and facilitated communication of family values and norms promoting condom use." The full study appears in the June issue of the American Journal of Public Health.