Free Condoms, Not Free Sex CARROLL COUNTY

June 03, 1993

The proposed distribution of free condoms by the Carroll County Department of Social Services should not be seen as a dramatic change but as an extension of current county policy to prevent unwanted pregnancies and the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases.

For the past four years, the county Health Department has successfully operated its "Three for Free" condom program, allowing people to obtain free condoms at its Washington Road office. It makes sense for the Department of Social Services to do the same.

Under its proposal, clients visiting Social Services offices in the Barrel House in Westminster would be able to obtain free condoms from dispensers in the waiting room or public bathrooms there. The proposal still needs approval from the county to install the machines and money from the state Department of Human Resources to buy the dispensers and stock them.

If the local health agency already distributes condoms, why add Social Services?

There are several good reasons. First, many DSS clients don't have transportation. If they have to make a special trip to the health department, they may not bother to obtain condoms at all.

From a public policy perspective, increasing the availability of condoms makes sense and is cost-effective. Condoms can help reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies for which society must pay, the number of additional children living on public assistance and other assorted social pathologies that can be traced back to a lack of effective birth control. Readily available condoms also help curb the spread of sexually transmitted diseases that pose a danger to society at large.

Carroll's commissioners are uneasy about an unintended, yet implicit, message they believe this policy sends: That easy access to condoms means the government encourages pre-marital or extra-marital sex or other promiscuous behavior.

In reality, the condoms are being distributed because those inappropriate behaviors already exist. The consequences to society of ignoring such destructive behavior are worse than whatever interpretations people may be placing on the distribution of free condoms.

We hope that the commissioners approve this initiative and allow DSS to proceed with its plan.

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