While teens should be encouraged to abstain from sex, not all adolescents will follow that advise. The American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP) would like to see free or low-cost condoms made available for teenagers, along with sex education programs, in schools.
Research has shown that easy accessibility to condoms and sex-ed classes does not increase sexual activity in teens, but there is still resistance by some to providing teens those options, said researchers.
"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 said.
"Getting over the perception that giving condoms out will make kids have sex is a real barrier for parents and school administrators," she told Reuters Health.
Bleakley studies teen sexual behavior and reproductive health at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia but wasn't part of the AAP committee.
Bleakley also noted that there are some studies that show that when teens have access to condoms and comprehensive sex education classes, those teens actually wait longer to start having sex than peers who don’t.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), teen pregnancies are down in the U.S. In 2011, there were 31 births for every 1,000 U.S. women aged 15 to 19. In 2012, there were 29 births per 1,000 teens.
While the decrease in teens having babies is an improvement, that number is still higher than in other developed countries.
Rates of many sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including Chlamydia and gonorrhea, are highest among teenage and young adult women.
The new policy statement, an update to the AAP's 2001 statement on condom use by adolescents, was recently published in the journal Pediatrics.
"The biggest difference is that we have more evidence about how effective they are against sexually transmitted infections," Dr. Rebecca O'Brien, the policy statement's lead author, said.
That's especially true for viruses like herpes and HIV, she added.
Are condoms 100 percent effective in preventing pregnancy? No, the committee said. Even when used exactly as they are supposed to be, 2 percent of condoms will fail when used all the time-every time- over a year. In reality, the failure rate is about 18 percent during a year of typical use, the committee said.
Using condoms along with another birth control method, such as the Pill or an intrauterine device, may be the best way to prevent pregnancy and STIs.
In its recommendations, the committee said doctors should support consistent and correct use of condoms. They should also encourage parents to discuss condom use and prevention of STIs with their adolescent children.
Still, the committee said, abstinence should be encouraged as the best way to prevent STIs and unintended pregnancy.
Bleakley echoed the importance of communication between parents and teenagers.
"Parents really need to be proactive about communicating with their adolescents before their kids engage in sexual activity," she said.
"Really parents who talk to their kids about sexuality, about contraception, about condoms - their kids have much better outcomes," like fewer unintended pregnancies, Bleakley said.
If you’re not sure when to begin discussing sexuality with your child, talk to your pediatrician. It’s probably a lot earlier than you think.
Source: Genevra Pittman, http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/10/28/us-teens-condoms-idUSBRE99R03N20131028