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Modern Parenthood

Condom distribution at prom: Ummm…does it encourage teenage sex?

Mom, Dad: How do you feel about high school condom distribution at prom? Does the safety effort actually encourage teenage sex? Is it worth it?

By Correspondent / May 25, 2012

Condoms will be distributed at a Brooklyn school prom this year, but will it encourage safer teenage sex? Protesters demonstrate outside Philadelphia's City Hall on March 10, 2004. Public health advocates staged the rally to criticize President Bush's plan to expand abstinence-only education, which protesters said actually hurts sexually active teens.

George Widman/AP

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So parents, how do you feel about this one? 

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Correspondent

is a longtime Monitor correspondent. She lives in Andover, Mass. with her husband, her two young daughters, a South African Labrador retriever and an imperialist cat..

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A Brooklyn high school has announced that it will be handing out condoms to students leaving their June 7 prom.

Officials at Bedford-Stuyvesant Preparatory High School say the move is part of a safer-sex education program it is planning for students in the weeks leading up to the big day. It’s apparently the only school in the area to take up an offer by condom manufacturer NuVo to give out free condoms for prom.

Which, as any mom or dad desperately trying to forget the movie American Pie knows, is considered a big day for teen sex.

(Anyone else out there shuddering?  And I’ve got 16 years before my daughter goes.)

The reaction to Bedford-Stuyesant Prep seems to be falling along the predictable contraception debate lines:

Some parents say handing out condoms sends the wrong message to teens already facing a lot of hype about sex and prom. (As if ill-fitting tuxes do wonders for romance.) Free condoms given by school officials will encourage sex, they believe.

Others say that teens are going to have sex one way or another.  Especially on prom night, with its later-than-usual curfews, peer pressure, and expectations. Therefore, it’s better to help them make safe any sexual experience they’d have anyway.

Others just cover their ears, squeeze their eyes shut, and look forward to graduation.

But here’s some good (and bad) news for parents.

Seventeen Magazine and Centers for Disease Control surveyed 12,843 students about prom. Only 14 percent of girls said that they had sex on prom night.  And only 5 percent surveyed said they had lost their virginity that evening.  (The number is even lower for boys – 3 percent said they lost their virginity on prom night.)

Compare this to other CDC research, which has found that nearly half of all high school students have had sexual intercourse.

Which means, parents, prom is not your problem.  At least as far as sex goes.  That conversation – whatever your values and feelings about contraception – should be happening far earlier and far more often than in the weeks leading up to prom.

The real concern, according to that Seventeen survey, is alcohol. Fifty-three percent of students told researchers that they had more than four drinks on prom night.  And the number of teens who die in alcohol-related accidents on prom night is in the hundreds.

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