An Oregon school district is challenging the way we think about kids and sex by allowing teachers to distribute condoms to students in grade six and up.
Understandably, people are questioning whether or not 11-year-olds need access to condoms without their parents' approval. However, the district feels the plan is necessary. Just last year, 7 percent of Gervais High School's female students became pregnant—much higher than the national average of 34 out of every 1,000 teen girls. In addition, nearly half of the high schoolers admitted to seldom (if ever) using protection during sex.
But the school isn't just setting up vending machines or baskets of freebies by the door; their aim is to educate as well as protect. "If they want a condom, they would have to meet with a teacher—a designated teacher, the sex ed teacher, or some of our counselors and maybe some administrators. So there would be designated people for students to have a conversation with and then a condom would be distributed at that time," Rick Hensel, the Gervais School District Superintendent, told CBS News.
While this may be a tough sell for the general public, experts hail this as a good idea for teens. The average age for a first sexual experience is 17 in the United States, but many teens start experimenting much earlier. Several studies, including one done by the World Health Organization, have found that access to counseling and contraceptives does not encourage earlier or increased sexual activity.
“The simple truth is kids are curious about sex and, thanks to the information and digital stimulation available via the Internet, that curiosity is being satisfied and sometimes acted upon in-person at younger and younger ages," says Robert Weiss, Ph.D, senior vice president of clinical development for Elements Behavioral Health.
Jennie Berglund, a middle school health teacher, says she routinely fields these questions. "All kids need a safe, non-judgemental place to get birth control options and education," she says.
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Initially, the plan was to only distribute condoms in the high school, but since the middle school is only 40 feet away, administrators felt it would "evolve" to include the younger children anyhow, so it would be best to start the programs at the same time. The district plans on tailoring the education programs differently to the middle- and high-school students due to the age differences.
"It's probably disturbing to a lot of people that sixth graders will have free access to condoms," Weiss says. "But which is more disturbing—access to condoms or kids getting pregnant because they didn't have that access?”