Giving out free condoms to more Philadelphia high school kids is the right response to an alarming HIV health crisis among teens.
Beginning next week, dispensers will be placed in 22 city public high schools whose students had the highest rates of sexually transmitted diseases. The pilot program represents a logical next step for the district, which has been distributing condoms for years at some schools.
With teens accounting for 25 percent of new HIV infections in Philadelphia, according to Donald F. Schwarz, the deputy mayor for health and opportunity, dispensing condoms is clearly needed. The city will pick up the cost of the expanded program.
Parents, who have the ultimate responsibility for teaching their children about sex, can opt out of the program if they don't want their kids receiving condoms.
Health advocates hope teens will make better decisions that will reduce the danger of disease and pregnancy when condoms are easily available in dispensers at school.
About a dozen city high schools already have health-resource centers that dispense free condoms. The Health Department also provides them when it goes to schools to do testing for sexually transmitted diseases.
Since April 2011, the city has distributed about 4 million condoms, which Schwarz credits for a decline in STDs.
Abstinence should still be the core message for teens to avoid potentially deadly diseases, and they should be encouraged to refrain from having sex. They also need to learn about being in a monogamous relationship with a disease-free partner.
But statistics show that urging teens to wait until marriage to have sex doesn't always work. That approach is not only ineffective, but it has also proven to be a costly drain on social and health services.
A study released in July by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that nearly half of high school students reported having sex. About 60 percent of them said they used condoms during their last sexual encounter That's down from 2003, when condom use reached a high of 63 percent.
Teens need to know about the consequences of risky behavior. They also need to be able to protect themselves.