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Sexual Health

Florida surveying young women about their sex lives in exchange for gift card

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The state of Florida is asking thousands of young women some intimate questions their sex lives and is giving them a $10 gift card in return -- but some who received the survey are offended.

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.

The state spent $45,000 on the 46-question survey, which was sent out in September and October, and 782 have been returned. Participants were asked how many men they had sex with over the last year and how they felt emotionally the last time they had unprotected sex. A November batch weren't mailed after it was found that some of the surveys were sent to girls under 18.

"We obviously offered an apology sent back in writing and will work to ensure that moving forward, this never happens again," state Surgeon General Dr. John Armstrong told the paper.

He added that participation is voluntary.

"If somebody sees something they don't like, they can rip it up and throw it in the garbage can," he said.

The state says the names of those surveyed will be kept private, but some who received it questioned whether that would be true and how their answers would be used.

David Brown, a Broward County political consultant, said he was given the survey by a woman who was offended when she received it.

"Some of the questions are incredibly offensive and invasive," Brown told the Sun-Sentinel. "She thought that it was an unconscionable invasion of her privacy. There wasn't enough information to tell her who really did this and where the budget was for it, whether the information was going to be kept private, and really, what are they talking about in terms of how does this information in any way help?"

The paper reported several questions from the survey:
 -- 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?

Armstrong said the survey was created using questions that have appeared in other surveys used nationally and that it was vetted by review boards at the state health department and Florida A&M University.

The state says Florida has one of the lowest rates of contraceptive use among women of child-bearing age.

The results will be used to design the state's service offerings, including pamphlets and counseling. Women can receive contraceptives at the health department for a fee that's based on income.

Armstrong said that without a survey it is difficult to understand gaps and disparities in women's use of services.

"It's really important to emphasize," Armstrong said, "that we want people to be informed so that they can manage their health."