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Elizabeth Boskey, Ph.D.

Protecting the City of Brotherly Love

By January 2, 2013

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Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love, is making progress at making that love safer -- at least for students who attend some of its high schools. The city is installing condom dispensers in the student health offices of 22 city schools, which cover approximately one third of the student population in the city. I applaud their decision, as providing condoms in schools has been shown to increase the proportion of young people who have safe sex - without encouraging any new teens to begin engaging in sexual activity. In other words, it's an effective and safe intervention to decrease STD and pregnancy risk among high school students, and hopefully more schools around the city, and around the nation, will follow their lead.

That said, I am forced to roll my eyes about the fact that parents can sign a form to opt-out of the program - and by doing so theoretically prevent their kids from accessing condoms in the schools. I know that such opt-out options help make condom distribution programs more palatable to school boards and administrators, but they always seem both futile and counterproductive to me. Preventing kids from easily accessing condoms isn't going to stop them from having sex. All it's going to do is make it slightly more difficult for them to do so safely. It can also, depending on how such opt-out lists are implemented, make accessing condoms slightly more difficult for everyone, since their existence means that nurses will presumably have to check whether a kid is allowed to have a condom rather than simply giving condoms to anyone who asks.

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