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Flagler Sex Survey: Most Students and Parents OK Better Sex-Ed and Condoms in Schools

| March 25, 2011

condoms in flagler county schools sex survey 2011

Schools may finally be cozying up to condoms. (© Natasa Nikolovska)

Almost one-third of Flagler County’s middle school students are sexually active. Almost a quarter of those who say they’re active say they had their first sexual experience before age 10.

Two-thirds of parents with children in Flagler schools would endorse dispensing condoms, with almost half saying they’d start in middle school. The overwhelming majority of students and parents say schools should teach more about sex and what to do to stay healthy, with more than half the students saying the teaching should start in the sixth grade or earlier.

That’s according to preliminary results—“very preliminary,” Student Services Director Katrina Townsend cautions—of the broadest survey of attitudes about sex ever conducted in Flagler schools. The survey went to all district students this week, from sixth grade and up, and was available to all adults, parents as well as those who don’t have children in the district. The surveys were available online and in hard copy form. They were broken down into three categories: one for students, one for parents with children in the district, and one for adults who don’t have children in the district. That’s the so-called “community member” survey.

By Thursday evening, 131 parents had taken the online survey, 44 “community members” had completed it, and 1,390 students had completed theirs online. Hundreds of hard-copy surveys were yet to be counted, especially from high school students, and the adult survey remains open online through 5 p.m. today. The preliminary numbers are based on those online numbers that have been crunched so far.

Other significant results: When asked at what age broader sex education should start, 38 percent of parents said grade six, 25 percent said grade seven, the two highest percentages. Just 7.5 percent said sex education should not be taught in schools. Among parents who took the survey, a little less than half were parents of elementary age children, the other half had middle or high school students. Some, of course, had children at both levels.

The “community survey” is significant because it presumably reflects responses from those who don’t have children in the district but still help pay the taxes that run it—mostly retirees and the elderly. If those responses were presumed to be more conservative, they did not turn out to be: to the direct question of whether they’d make condoms available in school, 68 percent said they would, 32 percent said no. Of those who said they’d agree, 28 percent would start in grade six, the highest proportion of any grade, while 16 percent said they’d make them available to the high school grades. The other percentages were scattered between the middle school grades.

Scientifically, the more reliable numbers were from the student survey, because the sample, even in preliminary form, was far  larger, and it was more exclusively targeted: the online survey could have been taken by anyone with online access, from Flagler County to Pakistan to Sydney, Australia. (Generally speaking, it’s very unlikely that people outside of the county would know about it unless they’re reading the local press.)

Of the 1,390 students who took the survey, 12 percent are 11 years old, 26 percent are 12 years old, 24 percent are 13 years old, 18 percent at 14 years old, and just 13 percent are 15 or 16, with most older students’ results not yet in.

Among all those respondents, 31 percent said they were sexually active, with 23 percent of those saying they’d become active before age 10. That works out to about 112 students out of the 1,390, or 8 percent of the total sample.

Some 21 percent said they’d become active between age 10 and 12, and 44 percent saying they’d become sexually active between age 13 and 15.

Margaret Sanger

Margaret Sanger in a 1917 Chicago Daily News photo.

Keep in mind: the survey questions did not specify what type of sexual activity defined being sexually active in students’ minds. Those numbers don’t mean that so many students had intercourse or oral sex at those ages. And one student’s definition of sex may vary widely from another’s: heavy petting is a sexual activity. So is masturbation, though liver-wielding Portnoys aside, not one usually associated with the kind of teen sex that traumatizes parents.

“We were trying to gather data without being too intrusive, or too detailed,” Townsend said of the survey questions.

Among student respondents, 69 percent said they knew someone his or her age who was sexually active, and 52 percent said they would take condoms, if available at school, as opposed to 48 percent saying they would not. Those numbers should also not be misinterpreted: this is 52 percent of the total number of student respondents, even though only less than a third said they were sexually active. The majority, who are not sexually active, may be saying that they would not take a condom only because they would not need one—not because they objected to condoms in school. Again, the questions in the students survey did not differentiate. If anything, considering that a larger number of students were agreeable to condoms in schools than the number of students who are sexually active, the attitude shows more acceptance rather than less to contraception. That likelihood is underscored by the percentage of students who say sex should be more broadly taught: 71 percent.

While not complete yet, they strongly point toward particular trends: That more students are sexually active at an earlier age than many parents assume, that desire and expectation for better sex education is prevalent among students and parents, and that the availability of condoms in schools is no longer the contentious issue it was even 10 years ago: Just as coed dorms in college, virtually unheard of in the 1950s, became the norm after the 1960s, candor about sexual matters–from sexual activity to means of addressing its healthier approaches, such as through contraception—is becoming a norm, even in Flagler County.

That’s partly the reason the school district decided to take the lead on the issue and more scientifically explore how to address a new reality before being overrun by its consequences: while Flagler County teens are less prone to giving birth than the state or national average, the rate in Flagler County is still more than three times that of most western nations; about 85 girls between 15 and 19 give birth every year; those who do must choose between staying home or attending school through a young-mother program; the rate of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV-AIDS, is rising; and the district’s sex-education curriculum is all but non-existent, even though it is officially an abstinence-only curriculum.

Given those realities, the question for school board members was how to move forward. Board members were not interested in devising a new policy and imposing it on the district. Under Townsend’s leadership, they agreed first to hold small focus groups with parents, students and other community members, which Townsend did, to get a first impression of where matters stood in students’ and parents’ minds. While some people may be surprised by the survey’s results, particularly the early ages at which students are having sex and their more liberal attitudes toward contraception, Townsend was not: she’d been hearing and speaking about that in those focus groups all along.

A statewide survey had also pointed out similar trends. But the school board wanted its own. Based on that general survey, board members would have a stronger feel for how to proceed next—whether to continue exploring a revamp of the district’s sex-ed curriculum, or whether, in the face of broad opposition, they should drop that initiative for now. Townsend devised the survey. The school board approved it. And this week, the survey was administered.

There were a few objections. Townsend said she received three emails or phone calls from individuals complaining about the fact that the survey had gone out to younger students, or that they had not been informed about it ahead of time. The parent of a sixth grader who spoke to FlaglerLive said she had been unaware of the survey until her child informed her. The parent, who’d been out of town until Thursday, was not opposed to more open-minded discussions about sex, particularly in the higher grades, but she objected to the fact that the survey went to sixth graders, who hadn’t yet had discussions about sex, and she objected to the format of the permission slip: it enabled parents to opt their children out of the survey, but if the permission slip wasn’t turned in (or an email not sent to Townsend requesting the opt-out) the assumption was that the student could take the survey.

Still, Townsend said, complaints were extremely rare compared to the number of people involved in the survey.

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11 Responses for “Flagler Sex Survey: Most Students and Parents OK Better Sex-Ed and Condoms in Schools”

  1. Oh boy says:

    So is this really a scientific study? What’s the margin of error?

    The opt-out permission slip was a nice way of avoiding parental complaints. How about mentioning that the fliers didn’t go home until a few days before the survey was given?

  2. K says:

    Kudos to the school board. Our kids need sex education. I hope they are able to do something with this data to help the kids.

  3. Jamie says:

    I cannot tell you how incrediably disappointed I am in this article! How can they take these numbers especially from 11 and 12 year olds as factual, reliable or true data? My daughter didn’t even know what abstinence was, how in the world is she going to know what a condom is? How many students took the survey and was as innocent as my daughter is and just put answers down? How many put answers down trying to look “cool”? If it is indeed true that there are children under 10 having sexual experiences why doesn’t anyone see this as child abuse/ molestation and rape? Are they going to do anything about that? Has anyone else read the brochure the school board had online? This is NOT just for 6th-12th grade. The curriculum will be from KINDERGARTEN -12th. I am also extremely disappointed that there aren’t more “Christians” standing up for what God’s word says! There are churches EVERYWHERE in this town. Where are the pastors? Where are all the parents that go to these churches and proclaim to be Christian!

  4. Maya says:

    I agree with Jamie. This is an outrage. How are you going to give a sex survey to those in middle school? Why would you even want to put a thought like that into an innocent young mind? A mind that will absorb this information and turn the thought into an action? By doing so, you are pushing them to act accordingly. Where are the parents of these “sexually active” students? Why are they not paying attention to their children and are not a part of their lives? Is it because they truly don’t care? Or is it because society has dictated that it is okay and it’s the way it is? Why having sex education may be a good idea, how about instead of starting in the sixth grade, the year after a child ends elementary school, you do so in high school? Better yet, let the parents teach their students. If students have technology at their fingertips, just research how to have safe sex and what the consequences may be. I agree there should be condoms available, but in the high school’s nurses offices, not in middle school.

  5. Jenn Kuiper says:

    I’m sorry, but I just don’t think that what 131 parents have to say represents 2/3 of the parents in Flagler County Schools. The kids in my class didn’t even know about the survey until I brought it up on Friday afternoon and encouraged them to take it, so I don’t know what the procedure was supposed to be about informing them and allowing them online to participate. So if the students didn’t know, I doubt many parents knew. And how many of them would really even both to take the letter home to their parents? Not many I would guess because not many teens want to even bring up the topic of sex with their parents.

  6. Laura says:

    This sexy little number needs to go back to the drawing board.
    Distribution & adequate adult response seem to be a major fail.
    This topic deserves thoughtful, vigorous dialogue & response from parents & community –
    more inclusive than a focus group and a paltry amount of tally marks, given a county our size.
    Any future policy or curriculum direction made from this current data would be seriously ill-legitimate.
    (pun intended).

    In the hands of the immature and sexually uninformed, the survey’s line of questioning is likely to feed their minds with content that provokes investigation like fuel to the fire.
    Add peer influence to the mix, and you’ll have parents thoroughly trumped.
    Perhaps the survey could be a useful tool for parents or guardians needing a starting place for healthy dialogue with their child about sex. Better hurry.

    Morality has left the building, and we’re surprised?

    {{* *}}

  7. Dissen says:

    You people are out of your minds. Middle School is when the urges start taking over. If you don’t educate them prior, they’re going to end up pregnant. Say 5 hail mary’s and read your bible for 30 minutes and all the sexual urges will go away. Yeah right!

    As far as morality is concerned, apparently morality and ignorance go hand in hand, Jamie, Maya, Jenn and Laura. And furthermore Jamie if two 10 year olds have sex, the parents should go to jail for not educating their children and PARENTING, not the kids. It’s a consensual sex act between minors, not rape or child abuse that could be stopped with a little TLC and education as to the repercussions. (sorry to use a big word like that one but maybe you can look it up) When your Pastor has sex with your daughter or son, that’s Rape and/or child abuse.

  8. Jenn Kuiper says:

    I teach in a high school so I’m far from ignorant. I see the physical and emotional realities of teen sex everyday thank you very much. We currently have NO sex ed program. To jump from that to passing out condoms in the clinic is simply too far. How about we start with teaching about sexually transmitted diseases and the psychological ramifications of teen sex before you’re emotionally ready? I’m sure we’d see a major drop in both pregnancies and STDs. I had this education in middle school and high school and my peers and I seemed to make better decisions because we knew the facts/statistics.

  9. Laura says:

    I see no mention of Hail Marys, except yours, Dissen.
    Religious sneers aside, without a moral base, there can be no self control.
    It separates men from animals.
    There isn’t a pulpit big enough to hide a man without it.
    The whys and hows of this character trait development is the underpinning of effective Sex Ed.,
    regardless of how or when the curriculum is taught, or what supplies are handed out.

    Feeling pressed to cite qualifications to comment;
    I am a mother and teacher, well-acquainted with the lasting consequences of poor choices.
    Our life experience brings us to the perspective from which we speak.
    Out of my mind? I think not.
    I just don’t have yours.

    {{* *}}

  10. Liana G says:

    As a child I never liked drinking milk, even when my mother added sugar, honey, Milo, Ovaltine, and just about anything and everything to get me to drink it. Now that I’m all grown up and wise enough to appreciate the benefits of milk, I still can’t bring myself to drink milk, even after adding Kaluha and Baileys. But I do like cheese and yogurt and ice cream a whole lot.

    The point I’m making is that If a child is not interested, that child will not participate until he/she is ready. But to ignore the possibility of it taking place will not make it disappear, and definitely not practical nor rational considering the risks involved.

    My kids were offered the survey but chose not to participate because as one put it “Mom I know I can talk to you about it”. For those kids who do not want to, or who are uncomfortable or unsure about having this discussion with their parents, then maybe this letter will serve as the conversation starter.

    But we have to start somewhere even if it means forcing the issue. The majority of single mothers are the poorest demographics in our society. Ignoring this problem is detremental to the many single women out there who are at risk, and definitely to the kids they may end up having to raise all by themselves.

    I am not religous but even Adam and Eve couldn’t resist, and they were most godly, and only had one source of temptation to succumb to. Today, these kids are being bombarded from every direction 24/7 if they choose to stay awake, even from Disney, the wholesome family values channel.

  11. Dissen says:

    I incorrectly tied you (Laura and Jenn) into the group of bible thumpeteers founded by Jamie and Maya. I apologize for that. If you read what they said, I think you’ll be more agreeable with my statements. And if not, well………….so be it.

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