Rampant sexting, X-rated Snapchats, promiscuous dating apps — there are lots of ways that our cell phones make it easy to get into trouble on the sexual health front. But, thanks to a pilot program by Planned Parenthood, we can text our way out of trouble too.
Planned Parenthood launched a pilot chat/text program in 2010 that allowed users to correspond with trained PP staffers via text and IM about issues like birth control failure, emergency contraception, pregnancy testing and STDs. This week the Journal of Medical Internet Research reported that, in its first year, the program was able to provide sexual and reproductive health info to 32,589 people and that those people used the service during times of "particular worry."
It makes sense that users would seek such immediacy during urgent moments — when a condom breaks, an STD symptom presents or a period is late, no one wants to wait a week to see their primary care physician. And, the study showed that 51% of people that used the service were aged 18-24 — an age group that is particularly accustomed to communicating via these methods and receiving information immediately. In an age where patients can text their doctors and follow their physicians on Twitter, the adaptation of this type of technology only makes sense. Further, the program showed success in reaching black and Hispanic people, with 40% of users coming from those at-risk communities.
"It's particularly important that we've been able to reach so many African-American and Latino youth through our Chat/Text program," said Planned Parenthood VP of Education Leslie Kantor. "These communities continue to experience significant disparities related to sexual and reproductive health."
But, is the urgent need for information during emergency circumstances a sign that those people using the program don't already have a baseline of sexual education that they can call upon during an emergency? Is it a sign that they don't have people in their lives that they can go to for help? Are these text conversations replacing in-person doctor visits? Whatever the case, there is no question that making sexual health info more easily accessible is a positive development.