Monday, May 04, 2009

Sex-Ed Through the Cell Phone

We were talking the other day about students bringing cell phones to school, and the evolution of technology in our society. A telephone that you can carry around with you? Who'd have thought that was going to happen?

The New York Times had an article a couple of days ago about how cell phones are being used for sex-education for teens.
THE special cellphone, set on vibrate, begins to whir. Throughout North Carolina, anonymous teenagers are texting questions to it about sex.

“If you take a shower before you have sex, are you less likely to get pregnant?” asks one.

Another: “Does a normal penis have wrinkles?”

A young girl types: “If my BF doesn’t like me to be loud during sex but I can’t help it, what am I supposed to do?”

Within 24 hours, each will receive a cautious, nonjudgmental reply, texted directly to their cellphones, from a nameless, faceless adult at the Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Campaign of North Carolina, based in Durham.

There goes the phone again.

“Why do guys think it’s cool to sleep with a girl and tell their friends?” When the Cellphone Teaches Sex Education

Oddly, this story is in the Fashion section of the paper, do you get that?

I remember being a kid and wondering these things, wondering about kissing and about girls and wishing there was just a book somewhere that told you what to do. Instead, there was lore, beliefs that got passed around from kid to kid, rumors about something that somebody in our class did and hours of discussion about why they did that, what it was like, what they should have done.

Facts? There were none in sight.
James Martin, the staff member who has text-line duty this week, is 31, married and the father of a toddling son. He hesitates. How to offer comfort, clarity and hope in just a few sentences? He texts back. “Mostly it’s because they believe that having sex makes them cool,” he types, adding, “Most guys outgrow that phase.”

The Birds and Bees Text Line, which the center started Feb. 1, directing its MySpace ads and fliers at North Carolinians ages 14 to 19, is among the latest efforts by health educators to reach teenagers through technology — sex ed on their turf.

Sex education in the classroom, say many epidemiologists and public health experts, is often ineffective or just insufficient. In many areas of the country, rates of teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases remain constant or are even rising. North Carolina — where schools must teach an abstinence-only curriculum — has the country’s ninth-highest teenage pregnancy rate. Since 2003, when the state’s pregnancy rate declined to a low of 61 per 1,000 girls ages 15 to 19, the rates have slowly been climbing. In 2007, that rate rose to 63 per 1,000 girls — 19,615 pregnancies.

In the last 15 years, school officials and politicians in many states rancorously debated whether sex-ed curriculums should mention contraception. Meanwhile, public health officials became alarmed about the fallout of risky adolescent sexual behavior and grappled with how to educate teenagers beyond the classroom.

The core problem is that school officials are elected, which makes them unwilling to associate their names with controversial topics. Our sex-ed curriculum was a big breakthrough, and it is a lot better than the old one, but really -- big controversy over whether a teacher can tell a student that homosexuality is not an illness! You've got teachers literally reading the script of the sexual orientation section, so they don't accidentally reveal a fact that some nutty parent will blow out of proportion.

This cell-phone service lets a human being answer a question that is asked by another human being, a young person who just needs to know. The problem is that the person answering the question might not know everything, they have to come up with an answer on the fly. The benefit is that it's real, even if the person is fallible they're not there to promote some moral position, just to answer questions. And most of the questions that teens have are not complicated technical things, they just want to know how it works.
A few universities and hospitals set up blunt Web sites for young people, like Columbia’s Go Ask Alice! and Atlantic Health’s, allowing them to post questions online. More recently, researchers have explored how to reach teenagers through social networking sites like MySpace and YouTube.

Now, health experts say, intimate, private and crucial information can be delivered to teenagers on the device that holds millions captive: their cellphones.

A little bit more...
Programs in Washington, D.C.; Chicago, Toronto and San Francisco allow young people to text a number, select from a menu of frequently asked questions (“What 2 do if the condom broke”) and receive automated replies, with addresses of free clinics. Last month, California started HookUp 365247, a statewide text-messaging service. The texter can type a ZIP code and get a local clinic referral, as well as weekly health tips.

“Technology reduces the shame and embarrassment,” said Deb Levine, executive director of ISIS, a nonprofit organization that began many technology-based reproductive health programs. “It’s the perceived privacy that people have when they’re typing into a computer or a cellphone. And it’s culturally appropriate for young people: they don’t learn about this from adults lecturing them.”

The North Carolina program, with a $5,000 grant for the cellphone line and advertising from the State Department of Health and Human services, takes these exchanges a step further. The Birds and Bees Text Line offers one-on-one exchanges that are private, personal and anonymous. And they can be conducted free of parental scrutiny.

Ubiquitous communication technology is not going away, cell phones and smart phones will become more and more of our lives and especially of the lives of young people. Yes, they can send around naked pictures of themselves and plan parties when somebody's parents are out of town, but you can see here that the technology can also be used to inform and educate. I am curious to see where it goes.


Anonymous ha-ha said...

polls today are showing Arlen Specter the Democrat losing to Tom Ridge the Republican among independent voters in Pennsylvania, 47 to 37 percent

there's only one step down from here, Arlen:

when you lose the Democratic primary

May 04, 2009 4:10 PM  
Anonymous David S. Fishback said...

I suspect the Democrats in Pennsylvania have little to worry about.

1. Given how the Republican electorate in Pennsylvania has shrunk to a core right-wing (and Pennsylvania limits primary voting to those registered in the party), pro-choice Tom Ridge likely couldn't get the Republican nomination either.

2. Given the swing to Democratic registration in Pennsylvania, a Democrat likely could lose by 10% among independents and still win the general election.

3. In any event, Arlen Specter probably won't be the Democratic nominee. If former Admiral (now Congressman) Joe Sestak runs, he'll likely beat Specter in the primary and then right-winger Pat Toomey in the general election.

May 04, 2009 10:39 PM  
Anonymous ha-ha said...


David agrees with me about the Specter.

May 04, 2009 11:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Another GOP Senate seat becomes Democratic!

May 05, 2009 8:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

perceptions change, my friend

it'll be backlash time for Dems in 2010

May 05, 2009 11:08 AM  
Anonymous Robert said...

DC Council Votes to Same-gender Marriages Performed ElsewhereThe Maine House is debating now on the bill passed for Marriage Equality by their Senate last week.

I've been drinking cranberry juice all work. Not so much with the grapes and oranges, though.

May 05, 2009 11:54 AM  
Anonymous Robert said...

Sorry, been drinking cranberry juice all week.


May 05, 2009 11:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Andrea-not anon
I don't know David- people from PA think Arlen could be it(ok, those people is my sister and my cousin- and my sister doesn't live there anymore). Ridge won't make it for sure.

Anon- backlash time for the Dems in 2010- you mean like the backlash you were predicting in MC and MD? We saw how that went- more dems than ever.

May 05, 2009 2:38 PM  
Anonymous Robert said...

The Maine house voted to approve same-gender marriage today. The state Senate has already done so, but for reasons I don't understand must vote one more time. The Senate and House both rejected an amendment calling for a referendum. The Maine Family Policy something or other has promised a referendum drive. The were previously called the Christian Civic League, and earlier this year abandoned an attempt to get a referendum on Maine's non-discrimination law, because they couldn't get enough signatures.

The governor has not said what he will do. He can sign, veto, or allow the bill to become law without his signature.

More cranberry juice for me. Maine blueberries come in season later this summer.

The New Hampshire house votes tomorrow on the Senate amendments to a bill the house has already passed. There is no reason to think they will not concur with the New Hampshire Senate's version (which I think has some sort of statement that priests don't have to perform gay marriage, or something along those lines).

The New Hampshire governor, like the Maine governor, has not said what he will do. New Hampshire already has domestic partnerships.

I was a very minor pubic official in New Hampshire a long time ago; this just makes sense for the Granite State (their license plates read "Live Free or Die").

Yay for Maine and New Hampshire, and the District of Columbia (and an onging Yay for Connecticut, Massachusetts and Iowa).


May 05, 2009 3:52 PM  
Anonymous Aunt Bea said...

polls today are showing Arlen Specter the Democrat losing to Tom Ridge the Republican among independent voters in Pennsylvania, 47 to 37 percent

Correction. There was a single poll by the right leaning PEG PAC, "Pennsylvania’s oldest pro-business political action committee and the affiliated PAC of the Pennsylvania Business Council (PBC)" showing Ridge ahead of Specter among Pennsylvania voters. A poll from the non-partisan Quinnipiac Polling Institute found Specter ahead of Ridge. Both polls show Specter beating Toomey in the general election.

Unless he drops out, Ridge will face the same Club for Growth candidate, Pat Toomey with his 97% rating by ACU, in the GOP primary. Ridge's pro-choice credentials and ACU disapprovals (one, two, and three), make it seem unlikely to me that Ridge has much of a chance of beating Toomey in the primary.

May 06, 2009 8:33 AM  
Anonymous Robert said...

When you cross the Piscataqua River bridge from New Hampshire, the first thing you see is a big sign that reads:

Maine, the Way Life Should Be.

May 07, 2009 4:04 AM  

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