Dodgy student alcohol and sex survey

I have just taken part in the Tertiary Student Health Project survey, an Otago University project looking into alcohol use and sexual behaviour among students. Unfortunately the questions were designed such that even myself, a happily married monogomous father with no risk of contracting STDs, would have sounded like a risk-taking no-condom-using childless student! There just weren’t options to choose to describe my actual situation, which will make the results highly questionable.

Fortunately they had a comments section at the end, this is what I wrote:

I have a number of concerns about the accuracy of the data collected in this survey.

Your questions on sexual behaviour are designed assuming all sexual behaviour is casual. Although you would never guess it reading the response to this survey, many people are still married before having sex. If you did not realise this, you may have just consulted with one sector of the student population in designing your survey, and it may be advisable to consult wider before the next one. Your survey equates “a long-term relationship” (whatever that is defined as) and engagement with marriage, when there is a world of difference between the three, especially in terms of duration and break-up rates.

You never ask in what situation the respondent had their first sexual contact, which is far more likely to have been influenced by alcohol than what they happened to be doing in the past 12 months.

You also ask whether you have ever unintentionally got someone pregnant, without asking whether you had intentionally got someone pregnant – there seems to be an assumption that pregnancy is always accidental and undesirable, which is nonsense. As a result your survey will under-record the true rate of pregnancy among students.

You ask about condom use without asking about risk factors for STDs. For example:
– You ask whether you have only had the one partner, but not whether if you have had more you have tested clear for STDs and thus have none to pass on.
– You never ask whether your partner was a virgin before you, or whether she has tested clear of STDs.
If both partners are clear of STDs, they may be unlikely to use condoms. This will bias condom use rates downwards, while having no bearing on STD risk.
– You have equated a long-term-relationship (“long-term” for one respondent may mean 10 years, for another 1 month: high break-up rate and children are usually not desired) and engagement, with marriage (lowest break-up rate as intended to be permanent, children are generally desired), so the condom use between these relationships will be markedly different but never identified in your survey.
– You never asked whether the respondent was trying for a baby.
– You never asked whether the respondent’s partner was using alternative forms of contraception. (You may have asked female respondents this, but you never asked male respondents, despite the major influence this will have on male condom use. Remember not all partners are students.)

Because of these issues your survey is likely to show a low rate of condom use and therefore imply a high risk of STD contraction, which could be used to push policies encouraging condom use on campus, when in actual fact you have no idea what the actual rate of condom use among those at risk of contracting STDs is, because you never asked the right questions.

Having been in this survey I will have to be highly skeptical of the results when they are published unfortunately, especially when making just a couple of extra answers available to pick could have made this information actually useful. However students are behaving this survey will come up with some statistics that could be used to push a particular political line (that of the Family Planning Association), rather than obtaining well-rounded factual data that can be used by people of all opinions. This is very disappointing, because alcohol and sex are highly important issues at university, and need to be understood well in order to help students.

I trust that you will publicise the actual questions asked alongside the results, to ensure people can judge the accuracy for themselves. It would be advisable to consult wider in formulating the questions for your next survey.

Unfortunately, I must advise you to take the results of the Tertiary Student Health Project with a pinch of salt when they are finally published. Which is a great shame, this project is no doubt expensive and could easily have been very useful.

Family First calling for more bureaucracy

DB has agreed to take down a billboard that, according to Family First, “glorified pornography”. Great, there is some stuff your kids just don’t need to read.

But Family First is going further than that, from their email:

Family First has called for a committee to be established to pre-approve billboards. Mr McCroskie said the committee should include specialists to advocate for the protection of children and families from offensive billboards. “Families are sick to death of being confronted with offensive material as they drive along motorways and through city streets.”

Do we really need another bit of bureaucracy to go through before you can advertise? It would be just a nuisance for the vast majority of advertisers who were not intending to have anything offensive on their billboards anyway.

And it would do no good (and possibly even do harm), because in the long run it could end up being stacked by government-appointed left-liberals, who would have a completely different idea to Family First about what is “offensive”. We could see stuff currently considered obscene approved due to it “becoming accepted in popular culture”, but Christian content repressed to not offend Muslims or some such nonsense. Who knows? Why risk it?

If the “Advertising Standards Authority is a ‘toothless wonder'” as Mr McCoskrie says, wouldn’t any government appointed authority just end up the same?

The billboard is being taken down. The current law therefore seems to be working. Let’s be happy about that, not make up more laws.

Or have I missed something?

Drinking age

In the minor parties debate tonight, Tariana Turia, Winston Peters and Jim Anderton supported raising the drinking age back to 20. Rodney Hide did not support this, nor did Peter Dunne or Jeanette Fitzsimons, who both pointed out that the problem binge-drinkers are the 13-year-olds, for whom alcohol is illegal anyway. In their opinion changing the drinking age would not affect this at all.

I disagree. Where are these 13-year-olds getting their alcohol from? Sometimes their parents, but not normally enough to really get them into trouble. I would suspect they are primarily getting it from 18-year-old friends.

Raising the age from 18 to 20 won’t stop 18-year-olds drinking. They have always been able to obtain alcohol from their older friends. But it will make it a lot harder for 13-year-olds to obtain alcohol, because they will usually have fewer 20-year-old friends. So raising the drinking age should be an effective way of combatting teenage alcohol abuse.