Hey, Kids: Put on Some Damn Condoms Already

Here's some 90's nostalgia we can all get behind: back in those halcyon days, the condom use of youths was on the rise. A decade ago, condom use amongst 15-19 year-olds reached its peak at around sixty percent. Since then, the rate has stalled; alarmingly, its even declined in certain demographics. Although a study from 2011 shows that the percentage of teens using condoms during their first sexual encounter with a person has risen all the way to 80 percent, it also finds that that number quickly drops in subsequent sexual encounters.

The good news: this information, coupled with the recent data from the CDC that show teens are having fewer babies than ever, indicates that teen girls are using birth control effectively. The bad news: obviously, birth control does not prevent you from contracting STIs. If you take a condom precaution once with a person, that doesn't magically exempt you from contracting the clap from your following sexual encounters with that same person. So — youths (and everyone): if you or your partner has not been tested, put on a damn condom. The end.

According to a CDC estimate, half of new STI infections occur among young people. While we're on the topic of "half of young people," a new study from the Public Health Agency of Canada has found that only 51 percent of 1,500 sexually active college students surveyed say they've used a condom in the past year. Of those who use condoms, 54 percent say their main motivation is birth control. Only 38 percent are equally concerned about birth control and STI prevention. A mere six percent were worried about STI prevention alone. Tellingly, rates of gonorrhea and chlamydia have increased in Canada over the past decade; as of now, 80 percent of reported cases of chlamydia and 70 percent of gonorrhea fall in the 15-29 age range. In America, things are pretty much the same: according to the CDC, Americans aged 15-24 contract those STIs at four times the rate of the general population. (Let's hear our favorite refrain one more time: PUT ON A DAMN CONDOM IF YOU HAVE NOT BEEN TESTED, YOUTHS!)

This lil' mantra is far less common than it should be, though. According to data from the Guttmacher Institute, 93 percent of teens aged 15 - 19 report receiving formal instruction about STIs and 89 say they've been formally taught about HIV. However, one-third of teens haven't received any formal instruction about contraception (although 84 percent have been taught all about the wonders of abstinence). Since 1995, the number of teens who received abstinence education without any form of instruction about birth control has more than doubled: it's gone from 8 to 9 percent to about one in four (23 percent of females and 28 percent of males). Likely as a result, 46 percent of male teens and 33 percent of female teens report not receiving any instruction about contraception before first having sex.

The obvious solution to this problem is to focus on teaching students to — oh, I don't know if I've mentioned this idea, but — put on a damn condom if they have not been tested. Comprehensive sex education needs to affirm that condoms are the best way to protect against STIs, not just to avoid pregnancy. Another important thing that schools and communities should do: work to make sure that sexual health resources (including readily-available information about contraception, access to STD tests, and prophylactic handouts) are easily accessible. Seeing as almost half of young men have sex without receiving any formal sex ed, it's quite difficult to argue — as many pro-abstience advocates have — that doing so will lead youths to the sex-devil, in front of whom they shall copulate.

Condoms, people. Wear 'em.

"Why Young People Aren't Practicing Safe Sex" [TIME]
Image via kaarsten/Shutterstock.