High schoolers in P.E.I. are having sex, and they need condoms. That’s the message from Hep’d up on Life, a publicly funded health group fighting to reduce sexually transmitted infections among teenagers on the Island. Currently, no schools in P.E.I. have condom dispensers; only a handful offer counselling programs where students can obtain contraceptives. Hep’d up hopes that will soon change: it wants to place condom dispensers in every high school across the province.
According to Statistics Canada, about 30 per cent of Island youth have already had unprotected sex. That’s far too many, says Hep’d up program coordinator Pam O’Neill. “We’re trying to make condoms accessible to youth so they don’t have to go to [the local drug store], where, in a small community, you’ll probably know the cashier,” she says. “We’re more ready to grasp the concept of harm reduction. Making the community safer is going to help everyone.”
Dale McIsaac is the principal of Bluefield High School in Hampshire, P.E.I. He supports Hep’d up’s efforts to reduce STI transmission, but believes giving students unrestricted access to condoms is a bad idea. The dispensers, he says, will undercut sex education programs, like the one his school already employs. At Bluefield High, students can get free condoms, but first must speak with a youth worker about sex and relationships.
O’Neill disagrees. She says the dispensers will give students who aren’t comfortable talking with adults about sex access to protection. Hep’d up plans to bring its proposal before P.E.I.’s minister of education later this school year. O’Neill thinks the appeal has a good chance of success, and believes the condom campaign is already showing positive results. “The youth are learning from it, it’s a win-win all over the place.”