Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=190380
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As more teenagers use contraceptives during sex, many health organizations offer free condoms to help young people practice safe sex.


CDC: Safe sex becoming more accepted by teens

by Sarah Eberspacher
Oct 13, 2011


The number of teenage boys using a condom during their first sexual experience increased by nine percent, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Wednesday.

The CDC released the most recent study on “Teenagers in the United States: Sexual Activity, Contraceptive Use, and Childbearing, 2006-2010.”

Some 85 percent of males age 15-19 surveyed reported using some form of protection during their first sexual experience, said Gladys Martinez, study author and researcher in the CDC’s division of vital statistics. The ongoing National Survey of Family Growth interviewed 2,284 teen girls and 2,378 teen boys for the most recent data results -- the largest sample of teenagers undertaken since the project began in 1973.

Teenage males could also report relying on protection based on a female partner’s method, such as the birth control pill or non-pill hormonal birth control. Six percent of teen females in the latest survey reported using a non-pill hormonal method at their first sexual experience, up from two percent in 2002.

“The fact that condoms are the most commonly used method doesn’t really surprise me,” Martinez said. “It likely stems from the fact that condoms are one of the most readily available methods for males.”

An important distinction is that the pill or hormonal contraceptive methods prevent pregnancy, but they do not guard against various sexually transmitted diseases – condoms do.

Still, even condoms do not always protect against STDs such as the human papillomavirus, herpes or syphilis, to name a few, said Kai Tao, associate medical director and vice president of clinical operations of Planned Parenthood Illinois.

“The male condom only covers the penis shaft, so if there is a wart or canker anywhere else in the genital area not covered by the condom, you aren’t protected from that,” she said.

Cari Romm is a senior at Northwestern University and co-chair of events for the school’s Sexual Health and Assault Peer Educators – SHAPE, for short. The organization hosts events each quarter inviting students to an open dialogue about sex and sexual health.

Free condoms are often offered, and students sometimes laugh, but most still grab a few as they leave. Whether or not teens use the condoms afterward should be a conversation between the two consenting parties, she said.

“We emphasize communication,” she said. “It’s important to know what you want but also know how to communicate that to a partner – whether that’s a certain activity or how you’re going to protect yourself.”

Thanks in part to Rahm Emanuel’s focus on health initiatives for youths in Chicago, Tao said she has seen an increase in open dialogue about sexuality over the past few months. The CDC’s report is heartening, but it is not cause to think the work of educating youths on safe sex is complete, either, she said.

“It’s great that more teens are reporting using a condom for their first experience,” she said. “But what about their second experience, their third, their fourth? Consistent use is the only way to help prevent pregnancy and STD transmission.”