Planned Parenthood Designed A Chatbot Just For Teens — And It Could Be A Game Changer

by Kavitha George
Scott Olson/Getty Images News/Getty Images

High school students who don't have access to robust sex education programs might have difficulty finding clear, accurate information about reproductive health and relationships — that's where a new artificial intelligence bot steps in. Planned Parenthood's chatbot "Roo" wants to keep teens informed on sex-ed and women's health. Through free, confidential text messages, Roo could be a game changer for kids enrolled in abstinence-only programs or who don't have access to sex-ed at all.

"In this environment, it’s more important than ever that we have as many methods as possible to reach people where they are for health care and education," Dr. Leana Wen, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America told the Wall Street Journal. "The chatbot is one more critical tool we’re piloting to provide that information to people."

Anyone with a smartphone can access Roo online. After explaining its privacy policy, Roo allows users to tailor their experience based on gender, with six total choices including "name your own" and the option to skip the question.

From there, users can ask Roo a question, or browse through dozens of questions sorted by topics like "Bodies," "Relationships," "Masturbation," "Pregnancy," and "Sexual Orientation & Gender." Suggested questions range from "How do I ask someone about their preferred pronouns?" to "Can you get pregnant on your period?"

Roo was designed by Work & Co., a digital product agency, with testing and feedback from high school students at Brooklyn's Math, Engineering, and Science Academy, according to the Wall Street Journal. The chatbot works using artificial intelligence, meaning that there it's still learning to field user questions, and might not be able to parse out everything it's asked.

The app is designed so you can input topics like "STDs" or "virginity" and choose from a list of questions on that topic. In case a user can't find the answer they're looking for, Roo can also direct them to human providers, offering the option to "text with a health educator" or find a Planned Parenthood center near them.

Since assuming the role of president two months ago, Wen has made it a priority to expand access to sexual health resources for everyone, but especially young adults. "We know that many young people are nervous or embarrassed to ask questions about their sexual health. They often go online to get information and ask their questions anonymously," Wen said in a statement.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures only 24 states, plus the District of Columbia require sex education in public schools. The Trump administration — along with conservative state representatives — have taken strides to roll back funding for sexual health education, and Planned Parenthood itself. According to Wen, having accurate information available is all the more important now.

"As the nation’s largest provider of sex education, Planned Parenthood believes all young people have the right to the evidence-based information and skills they need to protect their health and plan their futures," Wen wrote in the statement. "We’re excited for Roo to be a credible, approachable resource to get the personalized answers they need."