Sunday, January 8, 2012

Teens Conservative About Sex - Yeah Right

Here's a story good for LOLs, Family First has come up with the conclusion that Kiwi teenagers are conservative on sex and abortion. Not just a statement to show how out of touch Bob McCoskrie and his gang are, but how gullible the media is. Today, there is an article on Stuff, a release in Scoop, and it's being covered by Newstalk ZB

The Findings
The release from Family First says they've analyzed an investigation from "a nationwide poll of 600 young people aged 15-21" to draw the conclusion that "[adolescents] hold conservative values on sex issues – which are significantly similar to the views of parents." They've got this conclusion from a few 'statistics' in their investigation:

On safe sex...
"When asked “Do you think sex education in schools should teach values, abstinence and consequences such as pregnancy, or just teach safe sex?” only 19% supported just the ‘safe sex’ message currently being taught in schools, with one in three (34%) wanting ‘values, abstinence, and consequences such as pregnancy’ taught instead, and a further 42% asking for a combination of both – especially amongst older teens."[…]A poll of parents in 2010 found that three out of four parents of young children want the abstinence message taught in sex education – with 69% of kiwis overall supporting the ‘wait’ message.
On parental notification on abortion…
When asked “Provided it won't put the girl in physical danger, should parents be told if their school-age daughter is pregnant and considering getting an abortion?” 59% of young respondents thought the parents should be told. 34% disagreed. More young men than women agreed, but both had majority agreement.[…]When parents were asked a similar question in a 2010 poll, 79% responded yes - only 12% said no.
On abortion…
When asked “Do you believe an unborn child or foetus has a right to be born?” 56% of youth respondents said they believed an unborn child or foetus has a right to be born. Slightly more young women than young men agreed – 58% to 55%. Those aged 15 to 17 were strongest in support – 66%.
The research was prepared by Curia Market Research, the one owned by Kiwiblog's David Farrar. The poll was conducted between 4 and 6 December 2011 and has a margin of error of +/- 4.1%.

The Absurdity
To come to the conclusion that teenagers are coy and conservative about sex means that the wrong questions have been  asked, giving the wrong numbers back. Anyone with any knowledge of adolescents, since every adult has been one before; will know that this is rarely the case. While different values are possessed by different individuals and groups, the overall message from  teenagers is that they are quite liberal about sex.

The research is most likely to affirm Bob McCoskrie and the gang that the 'liberal' message and tactics coming from the groups promoting safe sex are failing, as the press release quite gleefully tries to point out. To say that their investigation finds "a pleasantly pro-life view from our young people" is a gross exaggeration from poor research.
“[Our findings on the topic of safe sex]  is a direct rebuke from young people to the ‘use a condom’ and ‘everyone’s doing it’ messages being pushed by groups like Family Planning, AIDS Foundation and Rainbow Youth,” says Bob McCoskrie, National Director of Family First NZ.
The easy ways to catch out the investigation is to look at the questions and answers themselves, and what the objective of the research was.

1. Do you think sex education in schools should teach values, abstinence and consequences such as pregnancy, or just teach safe sex?
This is a clearly defined values question, but it puts words into the mouths of the respondents. Treating consequences and safe sex as largely mutually exclusive is not helpful to any research, as responsible education should be focused on both, i.e. the consequences of not using a condom when one partner has an STI. Loading one option with lots of valuable ideas and the other as simply safe sex already pitches them as unequal ideas. Assuming all respondents who did not mention safe sex as being positive at all only numbered one third of the sample despite the bias, most teenagers are actually interested in getting facts and advice from a health perspective. 

2. Provided it won't put the girl in physical danger, should parents be told if their school-age daughter is pregnant and considering getting an abortion?
In a perfect world where all children come from loving and supportive families, of course it would be polite and courteous for parents to be informed. The reality is that young girls getting abortions is the result of utter despair and the admission that they would not be able to support the baby. What most of the teenage respondents may not be aware of is the physical danger the girl risks in her parents finding out, with conservative parents often abusing or further demoralizing the girl. The reason a teenager would not tell her parents about an abortion is out of the shame, humiliation, and abuse she is likely to face upon the parents finding out.

3. Do you believe an unborn child or foetus has a right to be born?
The question is already loaded by mentioning 'unborn child' and 'right,' instead of the more direct and neutral question regarding whether a pregnancy should be aborted or not. The numbers give a slim majority to the pro-life option. The topic of abortion is not extensively covered by sex education in schools, so the question is being asked purely on the knowledge high school children have and the values instilled in them. Meaning no offense to people at high school age, but the sample is not well informed on the topic, nor are the values truly their own but more their parents, making it unfair to say these numbers truly reflect what this generation thinks. The research has even said  "those aged 15 to 17 were strongest in support – 66%" where the sample age goes up to 21, already implying that these values are likely to change with age.

The Reality
Bob McCoskrie, National Director of Family First NZ, is trying to advance his own cause with skewed numbers from young people in New Zealand. What would be the aim of using the opinion of this demographic to measure the success of our sexual health services? High school students are certainly not sex experts, nor health experts, nor sociologists. The success of programs here are best measured by such professionals, were they are all in consensus that objective scientific information and health advice works much better than conservative 'family friendly' abstinence programs, such as in parts of the United States. AIDS infections are low in New Zealand, though other diseases and infections are prevalent, meaning there is room for improvement. 

You can't believe everything you read. Young people are rarely conservative on anything. Adolescents throughout the ages have been heavily in favor of liberal drug policy, gay marriage, keeping the drinking age 18, and other liberal issues. Of course it looks silly when Bob McCoskrie says that young people are suddenly conservative about sex.

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