A new study in the American Journal of Public Health reports that teens can expect a 50% reduced risk of developing chlamydia and gonorrhea if they use condoms from their very first sexual experience. Starting to use condoms later on can certainly protect against disease – but it seems that there is something important about using them from the beginning. In other words, people who use condoms from day 1 are more likely to keep using them regularly, and are therefore less likely to contract sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
I could enter into some awkward speculation about why this is true (maybe it’s easier to get used to the sensation of wearing a condom if it’s all you’ve ever known? Maybe using condoms from the start is more likely to make it a habit?) but more importantly, a 50% reduction in sexually transmitted infections is an incredibly huge margin of success. Sadly, sex education programs for youth have had mixed success in increasing consistent condom use. This study seems to suggest that for those students who receive the message, and use condoms from their first experience, there is a much greater chance of avoiding STIs. Early sex education, therefore, may have more benefit than sex education offered after an adolescent is sexually active.
Of course, like Dr. Stryer, I feel a bit concerned about over-exposing elementary school kids to sexual messaging. But since kids are already exposed via TV, the Internet, and various other media, it behooves us to arm them with age-appropriate information at the earliest point possible. Abstinence is the only 100% guarantee of an STI-free adolescence – but since ~50% of teens are sexually active (regardless of beliefs, sex education, or parental controls) it might be best to teach them that condoms are an inextricable part of all sexual intercourse. Sexually transmitted diseases can mean the difference between fertility and infertility, long life, or earlier death for our kids. With stakes this high, consistent condom use should be our mantra.
This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at RevolutionHealth.com.