Doctors urge adolescents should have access to condoms

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The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is urging pediatricians to promote and provide condoms for their adolescent patients.

Although the organization still stands by the fact that abstinence is the best way to prevent sexually transmitted infections (STI), they are acknowledging that condom use has the ability to cut down disease rates.

The policy statement -- which was last updated in 2001 -- now says that pediatricians and other clinicians should increase the availability of condoms to adolescents by providing condoms in their offices and support condom availability in their communities. It also called on medical professionals to encourage the correct use of condoms and other forms of birth control for sexually active patients, as well as those who are considering initiating sexual activity.

"Since the last policy statement published 12 years ago, there is an increased evidence base supporting the protection provided by condoms against STIs," the authors wrote. "Rates of acquisition of STIs/HIV among adolescents remain unacceptably high."

The AAP suggested that condoms should be available in schools, and sex education programs should continue to teach adolescents about proper sexual health behavior.

The authors mentioned that condom availability has actually been linked to more adolescents waiting to initiate sexual activity. In the studies that were reviewed for the policy statement, 42 percent found that sexual initiation was halted for at least six months when condoms were available. Fifty-five percent of the studies found that education alone had no effect on the age sex was initiated.

"I think one of the main issues is the idea that if you provide condoms and make them accessible, kids will be more likely to have sex. But really, that's not the case," Amy Bleakley, who studies teen sexual behavior and reproductive health at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, told Reuters.

"Getting over the perception that giving condoms out will make kids have sex is a real barrier for parents and school administrators," Bleakley, who was not involved in the study, added.

The AAP also encouraged medical professionals to promote communication between parents and adolescents about sexual education, and pointed to their AAP Bright Futures Initiative for ideas on how to have that conversation. In addition, medical professionals should have education programs directed towards helping parents teach their adolescent-aged children about STI prevention and condom use.

"The interventions that increase availability or accessibility to condoms are most efficacious when combined with additional individual, small-group, or community-level activities," the authors wrote.

The teen birth rate has dropped to less than half of the peak numbers recorded in the 1970s, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in September. The CDC also previously said that almost all states have reported declines in birth rates, with numbers rapidly going down in the Mountain states and among Hispanics.

However, rates of infection of syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia have increased during the past 10 years among adolescents and young adults, the authors noted. Among the studies they reviewed for the statement, they found that 15 to 24-year-olds account for nearly half of people newly infected with STIs. In addition, 20 percent of new HIV infections in the U.S. in 2011 were in young people between 13 to 24. Young women are especially affected by increased rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea.

Teens may also be more prone to contracting herpes because they are having less exposure to the cold sore and STI-causing virus during adolescence compared to previous generations, a study in the Journal of Infectious Disease revealed.

The policy statement was published on Oct. 28 in Pediatrics.

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