Why do we do this, anyway?

When we saw the headline, “D.C. gave away 200,000 condoms at public high schools last year – 16 per student,” we have to admit – we were impressed. For one thing, it’s indicative of a job well done on the part of all our Wrap MCs. And it reminded us that we hope to do even more next year – distribute more condoms, teach more students how to use them properly, and do more to fight the stigma that still surrounds condom use.

The tone of the article, however, was not exactly celebratory (to say nothing of the comments). To this reader, the piece seemed to emphasize two things: the author’s perceived lack of appropriate barriers to students’ accessing condoms and the fact that taxpayer dollars go toward this program.

For a news organization that concerns itself so overtly with addressing “bias by omission” in the media, it allows the article to be slanted by leaving out something pretty important: why the Wrap M.C. program exists in the first place, and why condom availability is so important for young people in D.C.

Just the facts, now:

  • Almost 1/2 of DC’s cases of chlamydia and over 1/3 of its cases of gonorrhea are in people under 19 (HAHSTA Annual Report, 2010).
  • The city’s School-Based STD Screening Program, which screens students who opt-in for chlamydia and gonorrhea, finds an average positivity rate of 9-14% (HAHSTA Annual Report, 2010).
  • Nearly 60% of DC high school students are sexually active (YRBS, 2009).
  • In the year 2000, the United States spent an estimated $6.5 billion on treatment of STDs in youth (ages 15-24) who were newly infected with an STD that year (Chesson, et. al., 2004).
  • Condoms, when used consistently and correctly, are highly effective at preventing chlamydia, gonorrhea, and HIV (UNAIDS, WHO & UNFPA, 2009).
  • “The main reason that condoms sometimes fail is incorrect or inconsistent use, not the failure of the condom itself” (AVERT).

There are many other reasons, but we’ll stop here for now. To those who were quick to judge the Wrap M.C. program harshly, we hope this sheds a little more light on why we think it’s so important for young people to know how to use condoms correctly. It’s true that reasonable people can disagree, and when we talk about young people’s sexuality in this country, it tends to become less of a conversation and more of a shouting match. I think it’s important to point out, though, that for us, this isn’t ideological – this is about promoting and protecting the health of D.C. residents every way we can, to curb the city’s high rates of STD and HIV infection, and to create a healthier place for us all to live.

So, thanks, Wrap MCs. We’re looking forward to kicking off another great school year with you!

(And, for the record, “peers” has always been spelled correctly on our About page.)

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