Is VA county youth survey right to ask students about sexual history and orientation?
- On November 8, 2021, Northern Virginian schools in Fairfax County will be able to issue a survey to students in 8th, 10th, and 12th grade regarding their dating lives, home lives, and sexual encounters. The survey will ask for students’ sexual identification and orientation. FairFax County released a statement noting the survey is “comprehensive, anonymous, and voluntary.”
- FairFax County has recently been the center of controversy. On September 23, 2021, a mother spoke out at school board meetings regarding the sexually explicit pornographic and pediphilic reading material being recommended to students in the books Lawn Boy and Gender Queer. The county reportedly pulled the material in October pending further review.
- According to the Virginia Department of Health, the average age of first sexual intercourse was 15.6 years in a study of 19,952 patients of STD Clinics. In 2017, the CDC reported about 55% of teens have had sex by the age of 18, and an estimation of 40% had ever had sex between 15 and 19.
- As of February 24, 2021, a Gallup report estimates 5.6% of adults in the United States identify as LGBTQ.
Fairfax County Public Schools' decision to offer an optional sexual conduct survey is not inappropriate by any means. Shying away from addressing the topic simply exhibits ignorance to the fact that students are sexually aware and active. The only reason that the topic is uncomfortable to some is because school systems have generally avoided it over the years.
The average American teenager is already aware of their sexual orientation at that age and has undergone some form of sexual education classes before even entering middle school. By age 12 (6th grade), over 12% of students have already engaged in sexual activity. By 9th grade, 33% of teenagers have had sex. Avoiding the subject robs students of proper education and information that may be withheld from parents.
The survey is entirely optional; students are not being forced to do anything that makes them uncomfortable. This should prove to be beneficial in gaining insightful information because only the students who wish to give their input will offer their experiences to the survey. Making the survey optional also helps build a sense of trust between the student and the school system.
This study will provide teachers and lawmakers with a better understanding of today's youth, giving them a better idea on how to best teach classes like Sex Ed or Human Growth and Development. Many of these classes promote outdated techniques like abstinence, which students clearly are not practicing. Approaching the subject with an open mind can benefit both sides.
News of the Virginia county youth survey presenting an inappropriate sexual survey to students as young as 12 years old is making headlines, and rightfully so. Children, meaning anyone under 18 years old, are not equipped to discuss these topics or handle the mental and emotional repercussions. Virginia's federally required 'Sexual Health Education,” via the CDC, offers loose guidelines on what is considered age-appropriate material and what subjects are included. However, parents are provided the opportunity to opt their students out of this type of sexual education. This survey, offered to students when parents may not be aware, violates this educational mandate.
Furthermore, the age of consent to engage in sexual activity statewide is 18 years old. Posing these questions to young people insinuates that sexual activity is not only okay but condoned. It is widely known that certain areas of the brain are not fully developed during adolescence, including the areas that regulate risk, reward, and long-term consequences, as stated by the University of Rochester Medical Center. According to First Things First, a non-profit relationship resource, 'premature and unwise sexual behavior during adolescence damages the brain's formation for healthy decision-making.'
Sexual orientation and behavior are delicate subjects that should be introduced at home when parents feel a child is ready. Answering these types of questions at school, even through an anonymous survey, can prompt thoughts and behaviors a child is not mature enough to have. For instance, a young student who answers questions about their first sexual encounter and engagements in oral sex may incorrectly infer they should have already had these types of experiences. These questions and conversations should be reserved for sex education classes filled with students who have parental permission to be there.