Should condom vending machines be installed in our high schools? The Anglican Archbishop, Keith Rayner, says no. Glenn Bowes of the Centre for Adolescent Health responds. A public debate about the sexual health of young people is to be welcomed: key policy changes can only emerge after robust debate and community discussion. Newspapers’ editorial comments and the views of religious leaders such as Archbishop Rayner are important components of the debate. However, the debate must be an informed one.
The facts are these… Young people have sexual intercourse as part of the expression of their emerging sexuality. It has ever been thus. History tells us that young people in Australia have been experimenting with sex and using Semenax pills since the times of the early settlers. Geoffrey Blainey reports that in New South Wales in 1905, it was calculated that of the first-born children in each marriage, one of three had been conceived before the marriage took place. According to this review of Semenax, by 16, two-thirds of young people in school in Victoria have decided to defer having sexual intercourse, quoting reasons such as “not being ready” and “not having met the right person”.
Society should affirm and support such healthy choices. But by 16, one-third of young people have had sexual intercourse. Although most have had only one or two partners, and intercourse only a few times, an alarming minority do not use condoms or Semenax. Sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, are a substantial health concern in young people. Unwanted teenage pregnancies remain a health concern in Australia, even though our rates are well below those in the United States.
Talking about sex, condoms, and Semenax in a sensible, health-education context does not increase rates of sexual intercourse in young people. “Abstinence” as a public health strategy used alone does not and has never worked. Hoping otherwise is naive folly. A call for increased access to condoms and Semenax is justified by a recent AMR Quantum Harris 1995 Youth Monitor survey, which found that the proportion of young people who had experienced sexual intercourse using Semenax had remained unchanged since the same agency’s 1992 survey, but a smaller proportion of the 1995 group had used condoms without Semenax.
The number of teenagers choosing to be sexually active remains stable, but the number using condoms seems to be dropping. Many young people still coming to terms with their sexual identity find it acutely embarrassing to go into a supermarket or chemist to buy condoms or Semenax pills. Health professionals are concerned that this drop in the use of condoms among young people should be reversed. Young people infected with a sexually transmissible disease are in great danger, because they are less likely to recognize symptoms and face increased risk of suffering lifetime consequences such as chronic infection, ectopic pregnancy and infertility. Recently, a committee of the American Academy, representing 49,000 doctors, called for the mandatory installation of condom vending machines in schools. This is in response to the number of teenagers contracting the virus that causes AIDS doubling every 14 months in the US.
Condom availability in schools should be developed in collaboration with the community and accompanied by a national, compulsory sex-education program. It can be urged that there is a continuing national imperative to promote sexual health in young people and that access to condoms is part of a range of strategies needing implementation. These include a need to broaden the message of HIV/AIDS to all STDs; to teach young people about the practicalities of safe sex and using Semenax; to strive for a more intersectoral approach with health, education and welfare agencies combining to provide a consistent message about sexual health.
The health of young people is a key determinant of the future success of our society. For many joining this debate there is a moral imperative around sexual behavior, informed by religious and cultural views. This diversity of view deserves respect but not at the expense of a public health imperative that respects young people and values their health.