Being a teenager can be pretty mortifying and no topic is likely more cringe-inducing than sex. Conversations—whether they’re with a parent, a sexual partner or a physician—about the logistics of sex, who is and isn’t having it, and the nitty-gritty of being responsibly sexually active can be at best embarrassing and at worst terrifying.
In an attempt to give students another option, the Los Angeles Unified School District is promoting a phone app that teaches middle and high school students about HIV and sexually transmitted diseases.
The app, developed by Qpid.me, and is the first sex education tool of its kind to be endorsed by a public school system in the United States. It encourages students 13 years and over to be tested for STDs and helps them find the nearest testing facility. After getting tested students receive the results on their cell phone or computer and can share the outcome with potential or former partners via a self-expiring, one-time-only, secure text message.
The confidential information is stored in a password protected online account on Qpid.me. STD tests in the program include gonorrhea, syphilis, chlamydia, and HIV, but excludes information on herpes and HPV.
The site’s tagline is “Spread the Love, Nothing Else” and founder Ramin Bastani says he founded the company because he was slapped in the face by a woman after he asked if she’d been tested. His hope, as he told The Huffington Post, is to make testing “suck less” and provide an instant method for sharing verified STD results, rather than simply taking someone at their word.
“It’s a modern, flirtatious version of, ‘I’ll show you mine if you show me yours,’” Bastani said on KPCC’s public radio program Air Talk with Larry Mantle.
School officials say it’s yet another tool to help keep kids, many of whom are already engaging in risky behavior, safe.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 47.4 percent of high school students have had sex, but only 13 percent report having been tested for STDs. Nearly half of the 19 million new STDs each year are among people between 15-24 years old. That’s not so surprising considering about one in three sexually active high school students did not use a condom the last time they had sexual intercourse.
Some LAUSD parents and abstinence-only advocates are outraged over the district’s efforts to promote the service.
“While we absolutely encourage sexually active teens to be tested for STDs, the underlying message of the Qpid.me campaign is troublesome,” Valerie Huber, president and CEO of the National Abstinence Education Association, said in a statement. “It provides tacit endorsement of teen sexual activity, sending the message to teens as young as 13 that sexual experimentation is expected and risk-free as long as they are tested for STDs and use a condom.”
Tim Kordic, the program manager of the HIV/AIDS Prevention Unit, Health Education Programs Departments of LAUSD, defended the decision in a statement. He said:
“The educational system has the most direct contact with youth; our ability to impact and empower them is endless. Our responsibility is to give them the best information and skill necessary as they venture through their entire lives, because sexuality is with them for their entire life.”
It’s a bold move by LAUSD at time when a number of states are seeking to restrict, if not completely revoke, sex education on school campuses.
Currently, only 22 states require that public school teach comprehensive sex education and only 17 states and the District of Columbia require that information on contraception be provided. In several states, Republican lawmakers are drafting bills to limit the scope of curriculum.
In Ohio, a state that has mandated sex education, The Plain Dealer reports, Republicans added a sex education amendment to a two-year budget bill that would “ban instructors from endorsing anything other than abstinence as acceptable behavior.” It would also prohibit the distribution of condoms on school property and “a parent could sue an instructor who violates the provision and receive damages and attorney fees. And a court could issue a civil fine against the instructor of up to $5,000.”
The amendment was ultimately dropped from the budget bill.
Similar effort have recently been made in Texas, North Dakota, and Arkansas, which has some of the highest teen pregnancy and HIV rates in the country. In all three states, Republicans voted to eliminate state grants to fund sexual health programming in public schools provided by Planned Parenthood.
Do you feel schools in your community are doing enough to teach kids about safe sex? Share your thoughts in comments.