Do free condoms actually help teens stay safe?
Free condoms may not help to reduce teen pregnancy rates after all, according to a new study.
In the early 1990s, a number of US states introduced programmes that gave students access to free condoms.
A new study states that within a few years, 22 districts across 12 US states had programmes in around 484 schools. Students had to undergo counselling in order to receive condoms in two-thirds of the schools.
It was found that the rate of teen pregnancy didn't reduce in the schools that had free condom schemes. In fact, there were actually more teen births.
The researchers estimated that the free condom programmes were possibly responsible for an extra two teen births per 1,000 teens. It seems that this rate was even higher when students didn't have to undergo counselling in order to get condoms.
According to the study, if all US high school students had access to free condoms, there would have been five more pregnancies per every 1,000 teens.
It may not have actually been the access to condoms that was the problem. Instead, the issue may well have been a lack of information on safe sex and how students could protect against STIs and pregnancy.
The researchers noted that the counselling given to students seeing free condoms often included the message that the safest form of protection was abstinence.
Some programmes also forbid counsellors from showing how condoms were correctly put on, as there were concerns that this would encourage risky behaviour.
However, overall findings show that teen birth rates in the US have fallen since 1990, reducing from around 62 births per 1,000 girls aged between 15 and 19 to roughly 24 per 1,000 girls in 2014. Abortions among teens have also fallen from 44 out of 1,000 in 1988 to around 14 out of 1,000 in 2011.
This suggests that better sex education is helping to curb teen pregnancy and could help reduce the spread of STIs among teens.