by Sharon Barrett
December 4, 2012
As MARRI intern Lindsay Smith notes in her recent post, “The State of a Woman’s Union,” family structure and religious involvement are strong predictors of a teen’s sexual activity. Growing up in a stable married household decreases a young woman’s likelihood of having either an abortion or an out-of-wedlock birth. Lindsay continues,
Combining regular worship attendance with an always-intact family bolsters these effects. As seen in diagrams here, here and here, MARRI research verifies that teens attending weekly worship with an always-intact family are least likely to sexually debut as a teen or have a premarital pregnancy.
Why is this important? The state of Florida is surveying young women’s sexual lifestyles to help design state family planning services, including pamphlets and counseling.
The South Florida Sun Sentinel reported Sunday that the Department of Health sent surveys to 4,100 women between 18 and 24, giving participants a CVS gift card.
Officials say the survey will help them understand women’s need for and approach to family-planning services.
So far, 782 surveys have been returned. The survey, which is voluntary, contains questions like the following:
-How old were you when you first had sex? The last time you had sex with a man, did you do anything to keep from getting pregnant? If not, why not?
-Has a sexual partner ever “told you he would have a baby with someone else if you didn’t get pregnant?”
-Are you depressed? Have you ever been physically abused? What’s your religion? Do you smoke? How much do you weigh?
Some women who received the survey (which is voluntary) in the mail were offended by the questions, finding them “offensive and invasive.” But what Florida’s Department of Health is really looking for, according to state Surgeon General Dr. John Armstrong, is insight into why women in Florida choose not to use birth control, because the state “has one of the lowest rates of contraceptive use among women of child-bearing age.”
A more important question than why Florida’s young women are not using contraceptives is why they are sexually active. Rather than survey their sexual experiences, we should ask about family background. In MARRI’s Second Annual Index of Family Belonging and Rejection, Florida ranks eleventh from the bottom among all states in measures of family belonging (Washington, D.C., ranks lowest, while Minnesota has the highest family belonging index).Twenty-one % of children live in poverty, and 9.9% of births are to unmarried teenagers. According to MARRI researchers:
Family belonging and child poverty are significantly, inversely related: States with high Index values have relatively low child poverty rates, and vice versa.
Also, there is a significant, inverse relationship between family belonging and the incidence of births to unmarried teenagers.
The state of Florida would be better served by a survey of the reasons young women have unmarried sex, not the reasons they don’t use birth control – like the surveys MARRI has already gathered on its website. The best support for Florida’s young women is not family planning, but family belonging.