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Wednesday, May 1, 2013 - 11:34am
SAN DIEGO, CA (CNN) — With just a few clicks of a mouse, kids as young as 12 can have free condoms delivered to their doors in California.
News of the program's expansion to two new counties comes as the federal government approves the "morning-after pill" without a prescription for girls as young as 15.
The development has garnered mixed reactions.
"I would ask parents the question, 'Who should be making decisions for the best welfare of your child -- you as a parent, or the state, who has no direct connection, has no understanding, has no relationship with your child?'" San Diego-area pastor Chris Clark told CNN affiliate KSWB.
"If I was 12 and hearing this 'news' and looking at my Lego blocks, I would feel like such a loser. 'Is everyone doing it but me?' Talk about pressure!" CNN commenter Song Sing Sing posted.
Commenter bare_necessities "couldn't disagree more." Having received free condoms during a fifth-grade health class, bare_necessities says classmates usually used them to make balloons.
"Most, if not all, of us hadn't even become interested in the other sex at that age, but I'd like to think that the experience prepared us better for when we did. Condoms don't make children more sexually active."
The alarming rates of sexually transmitted diseases among teens call for immediate action, health officials say.
The Condom Access Project has been around for a year. Late last month, it expanded to San Diego and Fresno counties, bringing the number of counties it serves to seven.
As part of the project, anyone between 12 and 19 years old in those counties can confidentially request a pack of 10 condoms online, up to once a month. It's similar to Planned Parenthood programs that offer free condoms to teens who come to the organization's health centers.
With each order, teens also receive personal lubricant to reduce breakage as well as educational information, said the California Family Health Council, which runs the Condom Access Project.
So far, the program has sent nearly 30,000 condoms to youths via home mailers in the past year.
"Despite broad retail availability, teens continue to face many barriers to accessing condoms," such as embarrassment, cost and confidentiality, the council said.
The mail-order program targets counties that the council has designated as "STD hot-spots."
"California is experiencing a near public health crisis with STD rates among teens rising to alarming levels," said Julie Rabinovitz, the council's president. "By providing sexually active teens and their parents with the tools they need to prevent STDs and unintended pregnancy, we are hoping to move the needle in the right direction."
While teen pregnancy rates in the state have declined steadily over the past decade, rates of sexually transmitted diseases among California teens ages 15 to 19 are rising, the council said.
In 2011, more than 42,000 cases of chlamydia and 4,800 cases of gonorrhea were reported in that age group, according to the California Department of Public Health.
Out of California's 58 counties, San Diego and Fresno counties are among the highest for both chlamydia and gonorrhea cases.
The program runs on a $5,000 annual budget supported by federal tax dollars, CNN affiliate KSWB reported.
The health council says it operates the country's largest Title X system in the country, providing sexual and reproductive health care for more than 1 million Californians a year. It also receives support from grants and individual and corporate donations, the group said.
The federal Title X Family Planning program, enacted in 1970, provides contraceptive services and preventative health care. By law, priority is given to people from low-income families, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.