Controversial program sends teens free condoms

FRESNO, Calif.

The non-profit agency, California Family Health Council, has teamed up with the state department of health to launch this new mail-order condom program. It's being paid for by $250,000 in federal funds set aside by the Centers for Disease Control -- an investment the organization estimates will support the project for about 18 months or until supplies run out.

"The best way to prevent STDs and unintended pregnancies is abstinence, but if young people are going to be sexually active, this project seeks to help them be safe and responsible," said Amy Moy from the California Family Health Council.

Right now teens can easily buy condoms at drug-stores or get them for free at certain health clinics like Planned Parenthood. But now they have another option - a new website called allows 12-19 year olds to order free condoms online and have them delivered straight to their homes.

"Research shows barriers such as embarrassment or concerns around confidentiality or affordability are present for teens, so we want to be able to break down those barriers," added Moy.

While teen pregnancies are down in California, Moy said the number of STD cases including chlamydia and gonorrhea are up, especially among 15-19 years olds. That's why the mail-order program is targeting counties with the highest rate of STDs, she said. Counties like San Francisco, Alameda, Sacramento, San Joaquin and Kern.

One person we talked with was surprised several counties in the Central Valley were left off the list.

"Fresno and Tulare counties have very high teen birth rates and its sometimes uncomfortable to go in and ask for that kind of protection so being able to go online and very discretely order it would be very smart," said Amber Montiero.

Smart because Kern County has some of the highest instances of teen pregnancy in the state with 13,861 cases in 2011, compared with San Francisco's 2,387.

But some parents and abstinence advocates don't support the plan -- which sends a package of condoms, lubricant and an educational pamphlet to teenagers' homes in a nondescript envelope.

"I think it's very wrong and should not be allowed," said 17 year old Fresno county high school student, Michelle Seibert. "I don't think it should be up to the teen to have the free will to do that. You shouldn't be active like that until you 're bonded to someone in marriage."

Pastor Jim Franklin of the Cornerstone Church in Downtown Fresno agreed.

"Statistics show us 17% of all condoms fail, so when we have a website that says this is free to you, this will help you - it's not the right message we want to send our kids," he said. "The right message is abstinence because we know it works 100% of the time, keeps our kids healthy and really provides the proper atmosphere that parents can be involved in this."

A second component to the website shows teens, from all over the state, locations where they can pick up free condoms. Since it launched February 14th, 550 orders have been placed online. The CFHC said it has no plans to expand the mail-order condom program to other counties right now, but it could expand later depending on whether the funding is there.

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