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Teen Sex Ed: Just a Text Message Away

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Two of a teen's favorite subjects are together at last: Sex and texting!


Like almost everything these days, sex ed just went high-tech. A unique program from the Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Campaign of North Carolina called The Birds & Bees Text Line allows teens to text in their questions about sex. Questions range from the innocent: how to properly "french kiss," to whether an after-sex shower can ward off pregnancy. No question is deemed "too outrageous" and responders promise, "We won't judge you or preach to you; you get the best advice and information that we can offer free of charge."

Not every question is answered at face value. "We will refine what they're asking, clarifying questions," says Sally Swanson, one of the responders in the program. When one teen texted the question, "When is the best time to have sex for the first time?" Swanson responded, "Wow, that's a big decision." She then asked a series of questions of her own, involving relationship status and safe sex. The program also gives quite a lot of referrals. "Since it's a one-time interaction," says Swanson, "we affirm that they're asking a question and reaching out and refer them appropriately."

Bill Albert, spokesman and chief program officer of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, thinks the program is right on target. "Young people today are consumed by media, including texting, social networking, and IM. This intervention has the advantage of reaching teens where they already are instead of trying to get them to go to church basements or community centers." Since the teen birthrate is on the rise after 14 steady years of decline, says Albert, efforts need to be more personal to get through to kids.

But shouldn't parents be the ones connecting with our teens?

"Yes," says Swanson. "In an ideal world, parents are involved in sex education, but we don't always live in the perfect world -- this is a good way to reach young people on a sensitive topic." So far, says Swanson, there have been no complaints from parents. "To be honest," she says, "the parents would be more shocked by the questions teens are asking rather than any of our answers."

Ultimately, says Swanson, the program gives teens a chance to ask an anonymous question that "they might even be too embarrassed to ask their friends and we give them a balanced and thoughtful answer."

Do you think the Birds & Bees Text Line is an inappropriate method of sex education?

next: Bristol Palin Helps Prevent Teen Pregnancy
11 comments so far | Post a comment now
Josh May 5, 2009, 1:20 PM

I can’t believe there isn’t a legal issue here. An organization that talks sex with underage kids?

It’s a great idea, i’m just suprised they’re getting away with it.

(submitted via blackberry)

Pat May 5, 2009, 1:48 PM

As a mother of a 17 & 18 yr old, I say great. However, parents of younger children might want to research this organization. How can they determine the age of the child asking the question? How do you know if your child is even asking questions & how do they(the child) find out the phone # to ask a question? How can you be sure the answers are age appropriate?
Lots of unanswered questions.

b May 5, 2009, 4:42 PM

I think it’s an innovative idea, although I admit I have the same questions as Pat and Josh. But really, I am curious what qualifications these people have to be the ones to answer the questions? What resources do they use and how do they get this job in the first place. I know what training I had to go through to be a Health teacher, and I still wouldn’t consider myself really qualified to be the one answering all the questions since it would require knowledge about adolescent mental/emotional/psychological development that I am less familiar in, as well as the lack of a relationship with the person asking the question. I guess there’s more than one way to take the mountain to Mohammad, so to speak, and I am impressed with the “out of the box” thinking though.

Rachel May 5, 2009, 6:42 PM

Great! Since so many parents don’t take the time to teach their kids about sex properly and they choose to say “JUST DON’T DO IT” I’m glad there are things like this available.

Nancy MacKenzie May 5, 2009, 11:04 PM

As a fifth grade teacher, let me tell you that this is VERY much needed! Our kids are indeed sexually active (not all of them, of course) and they just told me the other day that they learn about sex from TV only. That’s enough to scare anyone right there!!

AL May 6, 2009, 12:32 AM

Hey Nancy, as a 5th grade teacher, what do you suggest we discuss with our kids that are in that age group? (5th grade-ish.) My son is going into the 5th grade next year and I know that even though he seems to be a little more inocent than some kids he knows that he probably has questions etc and I want to help him be a smart kid. I obviously don’t want him thinking that hard about sex at this age but I also feel that SOMETHING should be mentioned to open the lines of communication so that when he is in middle school and then high school he already knows that he can come to me or my husband if he needs to. I hate to even think about it but I hate more the thought that he could get info from other avenues and people who don’t look out for him like I do. Just curious how much should be said from 10-12 years old. Anyone really, ideas?

Grace May 6, 2009, 1:06 AM

Maybe just ask him if he has any questions and answer those that he has? At the same time though, this might intimidate him into not asking. To eliminate having to come up with questions or figure out what information to throw at him, why not sit down and read a book together that answers many of the questions. Then, if other ones arise, you can respond. You can also talk to him separately, there may be some questions he is only comfortable asking you and some he is only comfortable asking his dad.

Honestly, I remember being 10-12 quite clearly and we knew a lot more than our parents might have liked. I remember thinking it absolutely laughable when my friend’s mom was surprised to hear we even knew what sex was. Middle school, sixth grade, was the first time I knew anything about anal sex, and that was pretty surprising for me. When I told a girl I knew that I was from California she responded “I would never want to go there, everyone there has sex in the butt.” Wow. You never know what other kids are hearing and might tell your kid. There were also mantras written in every bathroom stall “sex, drugs, rock & roll… etc.” You might be surprised at what your kid already knows.

I applaud the texting thing. It’s a private, unbiased source for information. I especially like it for places where the schools teach abstinence only. That gives the kids zero knowledge and they might believe rumors like pulling out won’t cause pregnancy, etc.

Also, anyone with kids in this age range should try watching “Sex with Mom and Dad with Dr. Drew.” It could definitely open up lanes of communication.

Probitas May 6, 2009, 10:20 AM

This is a great way for young people to access information, but the method and information isn’t exactly new. We have been doing this with HIV prevention messages for years. Additionally, the websites listed are all replications of’ which started in the mid-late 90’s, which took the bible of comprehensive sex education, ‘The Underground Guide to Teenage Sexuality,’ and put it online. Again, good topic, but the reporting could have gone a bit deeper.

Amfbknzl June 27, 2009, 4:04 AM

mpcNo0 comment2 ,

Jessie May 21, 2011, 2:02 AM

Real brain power on dsiplay. Thanks for that answer!

Jannika May 22, 2011, 8:22 AM

Haha. I woke up down today. YouÂ’ve ceheerd me up!

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