Thacher’s Best Kept Secret: Condoms on Campus

“They will never make condoms available.” “The school isn’t allowed to distribute condoms.” “That would contradict Thacher’s Intimacy Policy.” “Thacher should provide the necessary protection on campus to protect us from STD’s.” “There needs to be a way for Thacher students to shamelessly pick up condoms on campus.” “What kind of message do we send if we don’t distribute condoms?”

These are just some of the responses received to a recent survey asking Thacher students whether condoms should be made available on campus. Of the 143 students who responded to this survey, an overwhelming 96% of students felt that condoms should be made available to students. Students wrote of the school’s “responsibility to lower the risk of unplanned pregnancies, unsafe sex, and the spread of STD’s”, argued that “health and safety should be one of the school’s top priorities”, and offered potential methods by which Thacher could make condoms available.

But what if I told you condoms are already available on campus to students?

In discussion with the Dean of Students Sabina McMahon, McMahon revealed that “condoms are available at the Health Center after a confidential consultation.” McMahon disclosed that students can arrange confidential appointments at the Health Center, without the need for parent permission, in order to obtain condoms.

Mrs. McMahon provided the following statement concerning the school’s position on intimacy and condoms. “While the School does not grant students the freedom to engage in intimate sexual activity as there are difficult physical, emotional, social and legal consequences that can result as an outcome, we do feel it is of the highest priority for students to be informed and have access to resources for their questions and curiosity about intimate sexual activity. The School’s goal is for our students to make safe and healthy decisions at all times. The School’s policy is that students must refrain from intimate sexual involvement as a protection from behavior that may lead to sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy, and physical or emotional distress.”

McMahon’s statement continued “The Health Center is a helpful resource available to students in regard to sexual activity. Students in California have the right to obtain information about contraception options (condoms, birth control pills, diaphragms, etc.). The Health Center can provide confidential information and appointments for students by request. These appointments can be arranged without parent permission. The Health Center does provide counseling and information in regard to contraception, including the availability of condoms. We encourage students to use the Health Center and/or the School counselors for any issues they have concerns about.”

Despite the fact that students are technically able to obtain condoms from the Health Center, nearly the entirety of survey respondents are unaware of this resource. The Thacher student handbook does not specify that students have the ability to obtain condoms through the Health Center. Instead, the handbook states that “The Health Center can help provide confidential information and appointments for students by request.” This vague language does not make it clear that condoms are available in the Health Center.

The results of the survey indicate that students remain largely unaware of the availability of condoms in the Health Center. Although the Health Center may technically have the ability to provide condoms to students, if students are not made aware of this health service, how can students be expected to make use of this resource? By omitting this essential information from the Student Handbook, Thacher is quietly meeting the letter of the law but is doing so without informing students about an available and valuable resource.

Sexual health is of the utmost importance for adolescents. Supported by respected medical institutions such as The Institute of Medicine and the American Medical Association, the distribution of condoms to adolescents in high schools is considered to be appropriate health policy. The distribution of condoms in high schools not only decreases STD’s, HIV, and unplanned pregnancy but also does not increase overall sexual activity. However, the benefits are lost when students are not made aware of the availability of condoms.

In response to the lack of clarity, the Thacher Notes is publishing the below guide on how to obtain condoms on campus.

How to Get Condoms at Thacher:

  1. Schedule a confidential appointment with the Health Center. Parental permission is not needed for this appointment.
  2. After confidential consultation and during your appointment, the Health Center will provide you with condoms.
  3. If you elect to use these condoms, remember to use proper judgment and decision-making skills.

Students may be surprised to learn, due to a lack of communication and direction, that condoms are already available at the Health Center. Thacher is a leader in dedicating significant effort, through programs such as Human Relations and Sexuality, to educating students about personal responsibility and making informed choices. Thacher’s policy prohibiting intimate sexual involvement is clear and making condoms available does not negate that position. Students are taught that sexual behavior is a very personal decision and if a student decides, after counseling and reflection, to engage in sexual behavior than knowing how to obtain condoms on campus will help limit the related health risks.