IN THE CANDID CORNER: Not in my school!
If the hammer is your only tool, you will perceive every problem as a nail. – Sue Tomlinson
Very recently in both the print and broadcast media, the issue of making condoms available in our schools was hotly debated. Virginia Albert-Poyotte, who is a regional co-ordinator of Educational International, was reported to have started the condom-in-schools controversy. As alluded to in On Reflection by Ricky Jordan on March 7, “we have thrown the same plaster at sex in prison, sex at Kadooment, homosexuality and general promiscuity”.
Mr George Griffith, who is director of the Barbados Family Planning Association, evoked the wrath of many of his countrymen when he reiterated the call for condoms to made available in our secondary schools in New York recently. By George, no!
I followed with keen interest the Carol Martindale focus on the subject in the Nation Talkback online. In an article entitled School No Place
For Condoms, reference is made to an unscientific and unrepresentative survey in which the views are mixed but instructive. There is strong contention that children should be taught that sex is not something to be given away to the first person who whispers the words “I love you!”
For my own purposes I talked with some senior students on the issue and one very articulate female dismissed the proposal as madness. She insisted she was not about anything but getting an education and endorsed the findings of research that placing condoms in schools “plants a subconscious message” in the minds of those students who might not even be contemplating sexual intercourse during their school career. (www.oppapers.com)
Once again I wish to caution against our tendency to import lock, stock and barrel systems that fit the culture and psyches of other countries. I wish to draw attention to our tendency to contemplate implementing programmes without research evidence to suggest that such work.
In the 1980s and 1990s there was considerable concern across the United States with respect to rising unwanted pregnancies and levels of sexually transmitted infections, including the human immunodeficiency virus. It was against this backdrop that the Los Angeles and New York City districts mandated that high schools make condoms available to students. By January 1995, 431 public school districts had followed suit (www.guttmacher.org/pubs/journals).
Unfortunately there are no published studies of the impact of condom availability programmes on sexual behaviour. According to research by David Kanouse, et al., “while making condoms available in high schools has caused much debate . . . evidence of the actual effects of such programmes is very sparse”. Some school-based clinics that provide condoms revealed that the presence of a clinic was not associated with greater sexual activity and not significantly associated with greater condom use.
In Massachusetts, condom availability programmes were seen by some groups as an unconstitutional infringement on parental and religious rights and much litigation resulted. Research done in Los Angeles County with 1 945 ninth to 12th graders on their sexual behaviour and related knowledge and attitude, and followed up a year later with 1 110 students, proved instructive. There was no significant change among students who had had vaginal intercourse, but it increased dramatically among those who had never had sex.
The students’ attitude toward sex and condoms remained the same. While there was evidence that it leads to increased condom use among males, condom availability had a strong effect on intention to use and on male use at first vaginal intercourse. The research seems to suggest that its greatest impact was on the least sexually experienced adolescents. (Family Planning Perspectives 1998. 30(2) 67-72 & 88.)
As an educator of over 38 years, as a father of three girls, and as a citizen of this little rock, I vehemently and vigorously oppose any move to insert condoms into the minds of our minors, many of whom are not interested in being sexually active while in school.
As adults we might have mistaken the increased sexual knowledge among today’s youth as indicative of increased sexual activity among them.
Instead of making condoms available in our “institutions of nurture”, I would advocate broad-based health and family life, and sex education programmes, including training in sexuality education, the provision of school nurses, peer counsellors and links to family planning clinics. This approach has been undertaken successfully in South Carolina.
In addition, a shift from the glamorization of sex in the media to the promotion of more healthy images of human sexuality in television programming, in association with civil society, including the church and community entities, would be my recommendation. In this scenario it seems that the condom is our only tool by which we are trying to nail all the problems of human sexuality.