When health experts talk about unprotected sex and STDs, most recognize that the biggest area of concern is young people, who account for a disproportionate number of STD cases in the United States.
According to CDC statistics, about 66 percent of all STDs occur in people 25 years of age or younger.
The numbers look more startling when you examine specific diseases. Teens ages 15-19, for example, make up more than 40 percent of the cases for chlamydia in the U.S.
Health advocates have begun to take notice. One of their latest efforts, called the Condom Access Project, provides free condoms by mail to teens in several California counties, including parts of the Bay Area and San Francisco.
The program, a joint effort between the nonprofit California Family Health Council and various levels of government, aims to not only reduce the rate of STD transmission, but also to cut the sky-high rate of teen pregnancy in the area.
San Francisco teens in zip codes 94124, 94134, and 94107 — roughly Visitation Valley, Hunters Point and Potrero Hill — are eligibile for the free condom-by-mail program.
There are detractors who feel that offering condoms will encourage teens to have sex, but the California Family Health Council has cited research that shows that these concerns aren’t based in fact.
Of course, sending condoms to teens isn’t a magical solution. The program would provide only a 10-pack of condoms per teen per month, sent by mail in a plain yellow envelope. Ten condoms every 30 days might not be enough for a highly active sexual individual, but it’s better than nothing.
And many teens would still have unprotected sex even if they had a mountain of condoms at their disposal. Heck, so would some adults.
But Denis Smith, a director at the Kern County Department of Public Health, sees it as the lesser of two evils:
“It’d be best if teens didn’t have sex, but if they’re going to do it anyway, they need to protect themselves. We have an obligation to provide education and tools [to help them].”