LOS ANGELES -- A free condom program at a Los Angeles County high school has increased sexual safety without any corresponding increase in sexual activity, according to a study being reported today by researchers at the RAND Corp.
The percentage of sexually experienced males using a condom each time they had intercourse rose by a third, from 37 percent to 50 percent, at the unnamed high school, according to a report in the journal Family Planning Perspectives.
But, rebutting the fears of condom distribution critics, the study found that the number of males and females who had ever had sex remained constant at 55 percent and 46 percent, respectively.
"This is just one study in one school district but it is very encouraging," said Dr. Mark A. Schuster, a senior researcher at Santa Monica-based RAND and a pediatrician at UCLA. A study in New York recently obtained similar results, he noted. "It looks like these programs really can have the desired effect."
Response to the study was tepid, at best, however. Condom distribution "ceased to be controversial a couple of months after we started doing it," said Shel Erlich, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Unified School District. A condom distribution program was begun in 1992 in high schools in the school district and in the nearby Culver City and Santa Monica districts.
Although neither the school nor the school district were named, the study was conducted in a 2,500-student high school "that serves a racially and socio-economically diverse community in Los Angeles County," the report stated.
In the program, which began in April 1992, plastic packets containing two condoms were placed in baskets in four classrooms and outside the nurse's office. Students did not need permission to take them, and no counseling was required. A sign requested a quarter for each packet, but few students left any money. Between 1,800 and 2,000 packets were taken each month.
Schuster and his colleagues conducted an anonymous survey of the students about their sexual practices before the distribution began and one year after it started. Parental consent was required for the students to fill out the forms, and more than 40 percent did not complete the second form because of lack of such consent.
The study found almost no increase in condom use among experienced female students and a one-third increase among experienced males.
The percentage of males who reported using a condom at first intercourse grew from 46 percent to 56 percent, while for those who had only recently initiated intercourse, the number rose from 65 percent to 80 percent.
Pub Date: 4/14/98