Condoms. They’re known by many colorful names – rubbers, love gloves, sheaths, and numerous other, sometimes more vulgar, terms.
They’re also a subject of great debate – should teenagers be given ready access to condoms and be shown how to use them correctly? Or does doing that simply give teens even greater encouragement to engage in sex?
Regardless which side of this issue you come down on, there are some facts to be considered.
First, obviously not all teens will abstain from sex. And second, among sexually active teens condoms are effective, though not foolproof, in preventing pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV. (1)
Teen Condom Use Statistics:
A survey in 2000 of teens aged 15 to 17 by The Kaiser Family Foundation and Seventeen magazine found that:
- More than one-third of teens surveyed (38 percent) said they have had sexual intercourse.
- Nine out of 10 teens who’ve had sex said they use birth control all, some, or part of the time.
- Virtually all teens who have had intercourse (98 percent) have used condoms.
- But half also admitted they’d had sex without a condom. (2)
A Massachusetts statewide survey in 2005 among 3,500 high school students showed teen condom use is increasing among teens in that state. About 45 percent of teens surveyed said they’d had sex at least once. And of those, nearly two-thirds (65 percent) said they use condoms, a rate similar to the national average, and up from 57 percent in 2003.
For the past 11 years, Massachusetts has allowed high schools to distribute condoms to teens. The state also administers a health and safety survey, which includes questions about condom use, to high school students every two years. (3)
How Effective is Teen Condom Use?
The data are quite clear. For preventing the spread of HIV and other STDs and in reducing unwanted pregnancy, condoms are very effective.
- Condoms are 98 percent effective in preventing pregnancy, when used properly and consistently.
- In a year, only two couples out of 100 who use condoms will have an unintended pregnancy. (1)
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that condoms have been shown to be effective in the preventing HIV infection. In a two-year study of couples in which one partner was HIV-positive and the other HIV-negative, no HIV-negative partner was infected when condoms were used correctly and consistently. Among couples in which condom use was inconsistent, 10 percent of the HIV-negative partners became infected. (4)
Massachusetts, where condoms are distributed to students in some high schools, had a teen pregnancy rate in 2004 of 22 per 1,000 teenage girls, far below recent national averages of more than 80 pregnancies per 1,000. The state had only 11 HIV diagnoses among teens in 2004. (3)
The CDC also reports condoms are effective in preventing some STDs and in reducing the risk of HPV, the virus associated with cervical cancer.
But despite the data on condom effectiveness and programs to educate teens about HIV, condom use among sexually active teens is often not a priority. The Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that 56 percent of teens, both makes and females, agreed with the statement, “Having sex without a condom every now and then is not that big of a deal.” (2)
But it may, in fact, be a big deal, because the rate of STD infection is on the rise, and 25 percent of people diagnosed with new infections are teenagers. (5)
When parents frankly discuss the use of condoms with teens, teenagers are three times more likely to use condoms and less likely to be infected by STDs or involved with an unintended pregnancy. (4)
Timing of these parental discussions is critical. Condom use was found to increase only when parents talk to their teen about condoms before the teen’s first sexual encounter. A discussion after a teen’s first sexual intercourse was found to have no effect on the rate of condom use.
Teen Condom Use Statistics Sources:
- Advocates For Youth [online]
- Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States [online]
- The Boston Globe [online]
- Centers for Disease Control [online]
- Planned Parenthood [online]