Just outside the Vatican walls sits the Keplero High School. This week it sent shock waves through the Vatican and the Italian community when it announced it would be installing 6 condom vending machines in the girls and boys bathrooms. The Headmaster, Antonio Panaccione, says that the move is "about prevention and education" of students against the risks of HIV and pregnancy. The Vatican and numerous other critics say the school's action is trivializing sex and according to the newspaper L'Awenire, sex has been reduced to "mere physical exercise."
Although a novelty for Italian schools, with only one other school based in Turin ever trying the move, condom machines in school has become quite common in Europe. According to the Associated Press
, almost 96% of French high schools have machines in their bathrooms. The machines are also used in British, Dutch and German schools, again as a method of practicing safe sex.
However, in Rome critics of the idea are coming out of the walls. Not only is the Catholic Church, long a crusader against sexual protection, speaking out against the plans, but also the National Association of Catholic Pharmacists and the Doctor's Association. The pope's vicar for Rome, Cardinal Agostino Vallini, has flatly refused to approve of the decision, an expected opinion from the Vatican.
Piero Uroda, the head of the pharmacists association, gave the suggestion that condoms are responsible for increased rapes and violence, telling Radio 24 II Sole 24 Ore "We're giving sugar to the diabetic."
His stance was strengthened by the head of Rome's doctor's association, Dr Mario Falconi, who voiced his condemnation of the idea.
"This is like recognising you can have sex at school. I would not want a scholastic use of the condom to be authorised in this fashion, especially considering there is no problem of availability of prophylactics in our country."
Meanwhile, the Italian students union has supported the decision, pointing out how common the machines are in other western countries. High school student Elena Buccinelli told the AP
that she approved, stating that "We young people are the most vulnerable to the risks of unprotected sex. Schools and families are the best places to receive this kind of information."
The machines would sell condoms in packs of 3 for €2, lower than the market-price
in order for students to be encouraged to buy them when contemplating having sexual intercourse.
A small survey of students at the University of Exeter in South West England has given mixed results with many believing that it is a smart move but also wondering if it will encourage sex at the same time as educating the teenagers. Anne-Sophie Alland, a French citizen, was surprised at the move but thought if combined "with sexual education classes, it could work well."
According to SIGO, a group of Italian gynecologists and obstetricians, on average, Italian women have sex for the first time at age 16 and almost 4 in 10 have unprotected sex the first time
. This is higher than in New York, United States where a poll conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International found that 3 in 10 13 to 16 year-olds
were engaging in sexual intercourse, and similar to Britain
The Catholic Church has come under scrutiny in relation to their stance on sexual prevention, with Pope Benedict XVI criticised for his statement that HIV/Aids would "cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which can even increase the problem."
The Catholic leader recommended a "spiritual and human awakening" as the answer to the epidemic.