This study compares two groups of adolescents: those who did and those who did not use a condom the first time they had vaginal intercourse. Researchers wanted to know if these two groups differed in their condom use at most recent sexual intercourse, total lifetime number of sexual partners, and infection with a bacterial sexually transmitted disease.
To test this hypothesis, researchers analyzed data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health). Add Health includes data collected from over 14,000 adolescents in grades seven–twelve who participated in three waves of interviews beginning in 1994. Researchers gathered a sample of 4,018 adolescents who had completed all three waves and reported having had vaginal intercourse by Wave II. In addition to answering questions, at Wave III, participants were screened for gonorrhea and Chlamydia.
Taraneh Shafii, MD, MPH, Katherine Stovel, PhD, King Holmes, MD, PhD, “Association Between Condom Use at Sexual Debut and Subsequent Sexual Trajectories: A Longitudinal Study Using Biomarkers,” American Journal of Public Health, 97.6 (June 2007): 1090-1095
- Young people who used a condom during their first sexual encounter had, on average, no more sexual partners than those who did not use a condom during their sexual debut.
- Young people who used a condom the first time they engaged in sexual intercourse were 36 percent more likely to have used a condom during their most recent sexual encounter than those who had not used a condom during their sexual debut.
- Young people who used a condom during their sexual debut were half as likely as those who did not to test positive for gonorrhea or Chlamydia, even though the two groups reported similar numbers of sexual partners.
- Generally, condom users tended to be more highly educated, have a higher socioeconomic status, and engage in fewer high-risk behaviors than those who did not use condoms at their sexual debut. However, between the two groups, there was no difference in the number of sexual partners or the frequency of sexual intercourse during the past year.
Many people have feared that teaching young people about condoms is tantamount to giving them license to have sex and will result in irresponsible teenagers who have more sex, more partners, and more sexually transmitted diseases. Research into sexuality education has shown time and time again that this is not the case. By looking at the issue from a slightly different angle—behavior rather than education—these researchers have yet again shown how important it is to educate young people about condoms before they become sexually active.
The researchers found that adolescents who use condoms the first time they engage in vaginal intercourse do not report more sexual partners, are more likely to engage in subsequent behaviors that protect themselves and others, and experience fewer sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) than their peers who did not use condoms the first time they had intercourse. Specifically, those who used a condom at their sexual debut were half as likely to have a positive test for either a gonorrhea or Chlamydia, two of the most common STDs in the United States. The researchers suggest that early condom use in and of itself may “help establish health and protective sexual habits among adolescents.”
Though they are not often given the credit they deserve, teenagers understand that condoms are not a license to have gratuitous and wanton sex but an important tool in protecting themselves and their partners against STDs and unintended pregnancy. This study shows, as previous studies have also shown, that adolescents are capable of making responsible decisions regarding complex issues and should be treated as mature individuals who deserve all the facts.