While abstinence is the safest way of preventing sexually transmitted infections and unplanned pregnancies, the reality is that some high school students are sexually active.
Keeping teens healthy by making condoms more easily accessible is the goal of the Condom Pilot Project, an initiative of the district’s Health Promoting Schools. Coordinator Christine Balfour’s goal is to increase youth access to condoms by providing baskets of condoms for students to help themselves rather than having to ask for them.
“There is a barrier — they are available to students but they have to ask the counsellor and one of the goals is to increase the comfort level for kids,” said Balfour in a presentation to Vernon School District trustees last week.
The project began in March when Interior Health sent out a letter to schools to inquire if there was any interest in participating, with a goal of having six schools take part.
Balfour, who taught sexual health in the district for many years, said schools that already had an active condom distribution plan were excluded.
“VSS and Seaton were approached and the principals were quite receptive and PACs at both schools said yes, so I just want approval from trustees to go ahead with this,” she said.
The project’s purpose is to test if offering free condoms in schools increases youth access to condoms and results in a decrease in STIs and unplanned pregnancies.
“We want to reduce sexually transmitted infections — especially chlamydia, which is very prevalent, and it’s quite silent so it’s hard to get statistics, but we know it’s high in the North Okanagan particularly.”
The three-month pilot project will elicit students’ response to the project to see how well the condoms are received.
Condoms will be distributed in a brown envelops, with lubricant and a wallet size card, in a designated area in all participating schools. The card will include healthy sexuality links and a project URL and QR code for student survey response
Balfour said research has shown that access to condoms does not increase sexual activity among youth.
“It does not lower first time sexual activity but access does increase the use of condoms for those kids who are sexually active, which leads to a decrease in STIs,” she said.
Balfour said school staff project champions will be invited to attend a tele-conference this month, prior to the start of the project.
“And when our steering committee gets up and running, I will invite you to sit on it — we are not just throwing condoms at students,” she said. “Abstinence is always taught that it is the safest choice you can make — we provide that as a choice but we also provide the information for those who are sexually active.”
Balfour said currently, free condoms are available at Interior Health, the Primary Health Clinic, the First Nations Friendship Centre and North Okanagan Youth and Family Services Society.
“I think you are creating meaningful conversation and it’s great to see this topic destigmatized and that there are different ways for youth to manage their health,” said trustee Lisa de Boer.