Mr. Hartigan is a semi-retired corporate attorney with a variety of civic and religious interests.

The argument advanced for condom distribution is that it will protect students against pregnancy and AIDS infection by enabling them to engage in sexual activity without exchanging body fluids.  However, that theory has been put to the test in dozens of school systems all over the country, and it has never proved successful.

According to an article in the July/August 1988 issue of the Alan Guttmacher Institute’s Family Planning Perspectives, 138 U.S. schools as of that date had set up onsite clinics that offered students various forms of pregnancy prevention counseling.  About 25 per cent of these clinics dispense condoms.  After studying the clinics for several years, here’s what the research director of the Center for Population Options was forced to conclude in a report to the 1988 meeting of the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association:  “We find basically that …there is no measurable impact…upon pregnancy rates or birth rates.”

Unanimous conclusion

With a sole exception, that’s the unanimous conclusion of all the studies I’ve been able to find on the subject.  And the solitary dissent – in a 1986 study about a clinic in Baltimore – can hardly be taken seriously because the alleged pregnancy reduction it reports was computed by disregarding all pregnancies among girls in the 12th grade and girls who dropped out of school before graduating.  Without the help of that dubious statistical adjustment, it appears that the supposedly successful Baltimore program actually produced an increase in pregnancies instead of a reduction.

If school-based condom distribution programs don’t reduce teen-age pregnancies, then there are only two possible explanations.  Either the teen-agers don’t use the condoms, or the programs produce an increase in teen-age sexual activity that offsets any increase in condom use.  One way or the other, it’s obvious that the programs don’t bring about any net reduction in exchange of body fluids.  That no only means no reduction in teen-age pregnancies, but also no reduction in teen-age AIDS infection.

Given these realities, school officials should forget about experimenting with condom distribution and start looking at an effective way to achieve their ultimate goals.  The Henry W. Grady Hospital in Atlanta has demonstrated that way in the highly successful sexual abstinence program designed for inner-city students who have to grow up under the same harsh conditions that teen-agers face elsewhere.

Grady program

As explained in a report in the January/February issue of Family Planning Perspectives, the Grady program was established in 1983 when results of an existing sex-education program proved disappointing and a survey of more than 1,000 girls aged 16 and younger revealed that 84 per cent of them wanted their schools to teach them how to say no to sex “without hurting the other person’s feelings.”  Responding to that plea, Grady devised a series of supplementary lessons concentrating on a single message – how and why to postpone sexual involvement.

Move important, Grady arranged to have these lessons presented by carefully trained teen-agers slightly older than the students receiving them.  This was the key to the program’s success.  Besides presenting the course material in a way the younger students could understand, these older students also served as living proof that it is possible for a teen-ager to say no to sex and still be admired and liked by others.

After presenting this program to 4,500 students in different schools, Grady tested the results by means of a careful survey.  Grady researchers for that:

  • By the end of the eighth grade, students who not had taken part in the program were five times more likely to have begun engaging in sex than those who had taken part in the program (20 per cent vs.  4 per cent).
  • By the end of the ninth grade, just 24 per cent of students who had participated in the program begun having sex, compared with 39 per cent of those who  had not participated in the program.

Reprinted with permission of the Wall Street Journal. C.1990