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.

Labour would axe school leaver exemptions

Labour’s Education Amendment Bill, introduced on Tuesday, would stop all school leaver exemptions for teens under the age of 16. This is completely ridiculous.

If a teenager is not interested in school, by the time they are 15, there is no point in keeping them there. They are perfectly capable of working – in fact, having people still in school at the age of 15 is only a recent phenomenon, throughout most of history and in most poor countries they would already be working at that age. If you force a teenager who is not interested in school to stay there, they will just get into trouble, disrupt everyone else’s learning, and not learn anything themself. They may play truant, and fill in their boring days with vandalism and petty crime, which could for some become the start of a long criminal career.

“The problem has been that teenagers leave school at 15 and become unemployed and end up on the street or go into a low-skilled job and remain there for life,” he said.

In saying this Mr Carter shows terrible disrespect for ordinary people in “low-skilled” jobs. Mr Carter relies on these people performing “low-skilled” jobs each day. Someone has to do this work. Who does Mr Carter want to shift the items he relies on in warehouses, transport his goods in trucks, sell him food at the supermarket, fill his car with fuel, milk cows – all those jobs that you can go straight into after leaving school at 15? Does he expect people to gain higher qualifications then go and do these jobs while trying to pay off a student loan? Or does he expect every NZ student to get a high paid “knowledge economy” job and us bring in lots of foreign immigrants to do the real work?

It is far better for a teenager to be in a job that they enjoy, and earning money, than to be stuck in a boring classroom. In the final two years of school, you don’t really learn anything of much use in general life. What you learn is primarily aimed at preparing you for university or polytech. If you are going to leave school and go straight into work, you may as well leave as early as possible and not waste time on the last year or two of school.

In proposing this, Labour seem to be a bunch of academics that are completely out of touch with the real world.

Hat Tip: Homepaddock