I write in reference to the recent debate regarding the distribution of condoms in schools to combat adolescent sexual activity, pregnancies, and sexually-transmitted diseases. It seems that those who oppose the measure base their misguided philosophy on the false notions that: (1) preaching the gospel of abstinence is effective; and (2) the distributing condoms to adolescents will advance the onset of their sexual activity.
The scientific evidence overwhelmingly supports the contention that condoms, when properly used, reduce the incidence of pregnancy and sexually-transmitted diseases. In an ideal world, the encouragement of abstinence would be the most effective policy. However, there is no practical justification to suggest that this is a sufficient response. The advocacy of abstinence can only serve as a primary defense because it is inevitable that adolescents, regardless of the strength of an abstinence message, will still engage in sexual behavior. Therefore, condom availability would have a positive impact by decreasing the negotiation necessary to get a partner to use a condom. It would also decrease in the amount of resources spent on supporting unwanted and unplanned pregnancies, abortions, as well as associated diseases.
I am puzzled as to how one can believe in the effectiveness of abstinence programmes in a country characterized by such rampant sexual irresponsibility and ignorance. Denunciating teenage sex is futile when it is already a dominant practice. The gospel of abstinence seems unable to match culture, ignorance, peer pressure and message dissemination via the mass media encouraging sexual behaviour. Therefore, we must deal with the facts of sociology and demographics, rather than mindless philosophy.
The issue of condom use, safer sex and sexual responsibility is an integral part of comprehensive sex education for adolescents. Sex education must be a part of the curriculum in schools. The distribution of condoms to the target audience of such programmes can only be described as logical and effective. Public schools should distribute condoms, as well as other educational materials on sexual behavior, teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. However, the Education Ministry shirks its responsibility. It must be acknowledged that schools are secondary agents of socialization. In an illiterate nation, leaving the matter to dysfunctional homes is irresponsible. Condom distribution in schools should not be seen as endorsing or encouraging adolescent sexual activity as the norm.
A more pragmatic approach is to deem such programmes as encouraging safer sex and wiser choices for those adolescents who have already decided or will decide to be sexually active. The appropriate action must be to encourage safer sex as part of the mix of viable options. Unfortunately, the reality is that if teenagers are too embarrassed, poor, ignorant, immature or inconvenienced to acquire condoms, pregnancy and disease, rather than abstinence will be the result.
Adolescents who are having sex are exposed to the same risks as adults. Therefore, the reasonable standard should be for adolescents to use the same precautions and protective mechanisms as adults, which would include condoms. However, I would suggest that there is a lot of misplaced anxiety because condom distribution would probably encourage sexual intercourse to the same degree that encouraging one to wear a seat belt would encourage careless driving.
The truth is that the decision to have sex is often not based on the availability of a condom. However, the proper use of a condom will prevent pregnancy and disease. Accordingly, sound public policy must include the distribution of condoms to make them readily available for those who need them.