Roundups Sexual Health

Sexual Health Roundup: School to Give Out Condoms at Prom and Studies Look at Loud Music and MTV Shows

Martha Kempner

Sexual Health Roundup: A Brooklyn high school agrees to distribute condoms at the prom though the company sponsoring it found no other takers; a study finds that whether you see MTV's 16 & Pregnant and Teen Mom as cautionary tales or unfortunate glamorizations has to do with what your parents taught you about sex; and another study out of the Netherlands finds that Tipper Gore was right—young people who listen to loud music engage in other risky behaviors.  

Brooklyn School Will Make Condoms Available at the Prom

My high school prom was held at the Ramada Renaissance on Route 18. In order to attend we had to sign a promise that we would not rent a room in the hotel.  This apparent attempt at preventing us from having sex on prom night struck even 17-year-old me as ridiculous. The idea that sex was more likely on prom night than say on a random Monday after school seemed like a movie-myth to me and the idea that this high-rise hotel was the only (or even the best) place we could find to do it was just silly. Besides, drunk driving was a bigger risk — you’d think they’d want us to stay put. 

Twenty years later at least one school has changed this tune of “forbidding” teen sex and is instead making condoms available at the prom. The principal of Bedford-Stuyvesant Prep, a small public high school for students who have had academic or disciplinary trouble at other schools, says making condoms available makes sense. He explained:

“…the first thing that should roll off your tongue when you say Bed-Stuy Prep is college. We are trying to prepare you for college and for life. [Getting pregnant] is self-sabotage. It makes it more difficult to move forward and life becomes a struggle.” 

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He added that this decision was simply built on the school’s commitment to teaching about safer sex as well as on New York City’s commitment to making condoms available to students.

In fact, New York City schools were part of one of the peer-reviewed studies that found that making condoms available did not increase the share of students who were sexually active but did increase the share of students who used condoms when they did have sex. Perhaps because of studies like that one the American Academy of Pediatrics says:

schools should be considered appropriate sites for the availability of condoms, because they contain large adolescent populations and may potentially provide a comprehensive array of related educational and health care resources.”

Not everyone agrees. Valerie Huber, the executive director of the National Abstinence Education Association believes that making condoms available sends a mixed message and “further normalizes teen sex.”  Perhaps more telling though is that the company that is supplying the condoms at Bed-Stuy Prep’s prom, NV-Healthcare, a year-old company that makes Nu-Vo condoms, made the offer —which included a safer sex assembly before the prom—to many other schools and had no other takers. 

Take Away Messages from MTV’s Teen Pregnancy Shows May All be in the Eyes of the Viewer

There has been some debate about MTV’s popular shows 16 & Pregnant and Teen Mom. Though the producers insist the shows were created, at least in part, as extended public service announcements about how hard it is to be a parent as a teenager its subjects have become stars who are not only seen on TV but grace the covers as gossip magazines as well. Critics have argued that this glamorizes teen pregnancy. As the author of a new study about the shows explains:

“On one hand, the programs do show many of the difficulties teen mothers face. But on the other hand, they sometimes seem to send the message that getting pregnant was all for the best.”  

His study found that which side of this argument one falls on seems to be based on the messages about sex that viewers heard in their own home. 

For this study, researchers surveyed 313 female undergraduates at two universities in the southwestern United States. The study focused on their attitudes about the show, their own sexual behavior, as well as their communication with their parents about sex when they were growing up. It found that: “frequent viewers of the programs whose fathers often communicated about sex with them while they were growing up were the least likely to have recently had sex.” In contrast, frequent viewers whose fathers rarely communicated about sex were the most likely to have recently had sex.

The study also proved its hypothesis that family background determines whether students focused on the positives or negatives portrayed in these shows. The study’s lead author explains that fathers who talk to their daughters tend to emphasize the consequences and those young women who grew up with these messages “should be especially likely to attend to the negatives of being a young mother depicted on 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom.”

Of course, the study didn’t look at my particular pet peeve with the programs which is that they allow the subjects to insist that their birth control (usually condoms) failed rather than pushing them to admit that they weren’t using any or using it right. An admission that could serve as a public service announcement to viewers about the importance of correct and consistent use of contraception.  

Tipper Gore was Right; Study Links Loud Music to Other Risky Behavior

A new study out of the Netherlands found that kids who listen to loud music are more likely to engage in risky behaviors such as smoking pot and cigarettes, binge drinking, and having sex without condoms. When I read of this study I couldn’t help but imagine a curmudgeonly old man with a heavy Brooklyn-Jewish accent saying “Kids today with their long hair and loud music, they’re punks, punks I tells you.” But there is some public health value in the research which found links but does not suggest causality. 

Researchers surveyed 944 low-income students ages 15 to 25 at two vocational schools in the Netherlands. They defined students who demonstrated risky music-listening as those who listened  “to music at 89 dBA for at least an hour per day.” Previous research has linked this kind of music listening not only to noise-induced hearing loss but also to “increased feelings of isolation, depression, loneliness, anger, and fear.” In this study researchers compared young adults with risky music-listening habits to those who “listened to music responsibly.” They found that those who frequently listen to loud music through ear-buds on a digital music player were:

  • 1.99 times more likely to say they had used marijuana in the last four weeks;
  • 1.19 times more likely to smoke cigarettes daily; and
  • 1.10 times more likely to have sex without using a condom every time.

In addition, they compared students who attended noisy concerts and clubs to those who listened to music more responsibly and found that they were

  • 5.94 times more likely to have consumed five or more alcoholic drinks in a row at some point in the last four weeks;
  • 2.03 times more likely to have sex without using a condom every time; and
  • 1.12 times more likely to smoke cigarettes every day.

Before we dismiss this as adults just not understanding the lives of today’s teens, the researchers were quick to point out that they weren’t suggesting that loud music was a gateway to these other behaviors or blaming it for causing these behaviors. Moreover, they noted some practical uses for this information suggesting public health experts could use it to “design practical interventions, such as handing out condoms along with earplugs at concert venues, or by printing messages about alcohol abuse on concert ticket stubs.”  Finally, they suggest that this data can be used by manufacturers to create digital music players that produce high quality sound at lower dBA levels. 

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