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Let's Talk About Sex: How Cell Phones Are Changing the Face of Sex Education

Love it or hate it, sexual health education in the U.S. experiences a dearth of funding and valid information, and people are fighting back. Efforts like volunteer teaching programs, fundraising, and awareness campaigns strive to give today's youth the information they need to make healthy decisions, but perhaps one of the most powerful moves made in this arena has been the push to use SMS and mobile applications to reach teens with comprehensive, factual information on sex and sexual health. After all, what better way is there to reach a teenager than through their cell phone?

National organization Planned Parenthood has recognized the value of texting in reaching a young audience. It has launched a campaign called In Case You're Curious (ICYC) that allows teens to confidentially submit any questions they may have about sex and sexual health via text and receive a non-judgmental answer within 24 hours. ICYC currently serves Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Wyoming, with instructions for registering for the service in each state on Planned Parenthood's website.

Some state governments have taken up similar initiatives to ICYC, like New Mexico, which suffers from the highest teen pregnancy rates in the U.S.; the state's department of health has launched a program allowing teens to confidentially text their questions about sex to the number 66746, after registering once by texting "NMTEEN" to the number, and receive answers within 24 hours. This program also offers an option for parents who have questions about their teens' sexuality and health, who can text "NMPARENT" to the same number, then ask away and also receive responses within 24 hours.

Many other states boast similar local programs, like North Carolina's initiative called The Birds and Bees Text Line, run by the Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Campaign of North Carolina and funded in part by the State Department of Health and Human Services. Teens send anonymous texts with questions and receive anonymous, non-judgmental responses within 24 hours, in the same model as ICYC and New Mexico's program. California has also embraced the power of SMS for sex ed, establishing a program called HookUp 365247 that lets teens statewide subscribe to sexual health information texts, or text in a zip code to receive a text containing nearby health clinic referrals.

Some major cities have also established sexual health initiatives that rely on texting, seeking to aid the youth of densely populated cities. These cities include Chicago; Washington, D.C.; San Francisco; and Toronto, which all offer programs in which teens can text a number, choose from a list of common sex-related questions, and receive an automatic response by text.

While text messaging initiatives represent a significant branch of the effort to educate teens on sexual health, there are several sex ed programs that have taken advantage of the youth's obsession with their phones in different ways. While web pages offering comprehensive, factual information regarding sex as well as Q and A features, such as ScarletTeen and Go Ask Alice, were not specifically designed for mobile viewing, they constitute an effective mobile education tool for many teens. These pages are great resources for teens with smart phones who feel more comfortable with the confidentiality of reading up on sexual health on their own device away from prying eyes.

Some initiatives, instead of SMS, are diving into the platform of mobile applications in an effort to reach teens. The United States' most populous city has launched a program aimed to help educate young people, called NYC Teen, complete with its own application available for download on smart phones. The program and app are advertised on signs on the streets and subways of New York, and in pamphlets distributed in classrooms by health education teaching programs like Peer Health Exchange. NYC Teen offers abundant information on both sex and wellness in general, complete with maps of clinics in New York and information on free or low-cost care. Even more recently, a free app called Seventeen Days, available on Apple and Android devices, was launched as a nationwide effort to use mobile apps as a medium for sexual health education.

As much fuss as there may be that cell phones are damaging our youth, it's clear that they offer at least some benefits; the ubiquity of cell phones and texting, particularly among teens, affords a powerful medium by which to educate the youth and prepare them to make healthy lifelong decisions.

About the Author -
Sharon Housley is the VP of Marketing for NotePage, Inc. a software company for communication software solutions. http://www.notepage.net

 


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