High Tech Sex Ed Educators say that in-class lessons about sex ed are no longer enough to get their message out. They're turning to podcasts, video games and social networking sites to teach kids about sex.
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High Tech Sex Ed

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High Tech Sex Ed

High Tech Sex Ed

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From the studios of NPR West, this is Day to Day. I'm Alex Cohen.


I'm Madeleine Brand, and we're going to spend some time today talking about teen pregnancy. Nationwide, there's been an increase in the number of girls getting pregnant. For the first time in 14 years numbers are up and teen pregnancy has been in the news a lot. Maybe you've heard about that so-called pregnancy pact in Gloucester, Massachusetts.

COHEN: There may or may not have been an actual pact by the girls to get pregnant, but the fact is there are more than four times as many pregnant girls at Gloucester High this year.

BRAND: No one really knows why, but contraception is hard to get and sex ed has been cut. Here's Mayor Caroline Kirk speaking at a press conference yesterday.

Mayor CAROLINE KIRK (Gloucester, Massachusetts): Budget costs over the last six years have forced the elimination of almost 100 hundred teachers and staff in our school department, resulting in cuts to programs and services to Gloucester children, including health education.

BRAND: Even when schools can afford to teach sex ed, they often struggle to find a way to get through to today's tech savvy teenagers.

COHEN: That's why educators are developing a new curriculum, Sex Ed 2.0. This new approach includes text messaging systems and online video games. Take a listen to this clip. It's from a popular video podcast called the "Midwest Teenage Sex Show."

(Soundbite of podcast "Midwest Teenage Sex Show")

Unidentified Woman: We know there are a lot of you still out there having unprotected sex, so stop it. Have you ever seen a baby? They're (beep) stupid. They don't know anything and you have to feed them at least once a day. Let's prevent babies.

COHEN: One of the groups that have been on the forefront of this new generation of sex ed is the open California-based ISIS, Internet Sexuality Information Services. I spoke earlier with Executive Director Deb Levine. She said a lot of their campaigns involved text messaging.

Ms. DEB LEVINE (Executive Director, ISIS): One thing we noticed at ISIS is that when we go in to the public schools to do focus groups around sexuality and around technology, there are signs all over the schools that say no texting, no cell phones, you know, cell phones will be removed. And this is in the high schools. And most recently, we were setting up a focus group, it was during lunch. We did bring pizza and we were sitting there chatting about sexuality and technology, and every kid was texting with their hands under the table. And you know, your immediate reaction is to say ugh, why are they doing this? And then being in the field, you take a step back and say, you know what, let's embrace this. Let's use this. Let's say hey here's my cell phone number. Why don't you text me a question?

You know, you don't feel comfortable and you don't trust the environment, for whatever reason, to ask a personal question. Why don't you text them in. In terms of what we're doing with text messaging on a much more public level, we have a text messaging service that's called Sex Info in San Francisco. It's called Real Talk in D.C. And we also have a hotline service in the state of California. And they're all via text, and if they're uncomfortable with texting, they can just look on the web.

COHEN: Deb, what do you think accounts for this recent rise in teen pregnancy rates?

Ms. LEVINE: I think it's very clear. There's a stark contrast between the rise in funding for abstinence-only education, which happened 12 years ago, so our young people are only getting in schools information about waiting until you're married to have sex versus what we're getting in popular culture, which is that sexy is awesome, that you are supposed to be sexy. And it's a disjoint when young people are hearing from authorities that they're not supposed to be having sex and then they're hearing from popular mass culture that sexy is a good thing.

COHEN: And so it sounds like what groups like yours is doing is saying OK, sexy is awesome but let's do it in a safe way.

Ms. LEVINE: Absolutely, and we're very clear on letting young people know there are good and bad consequences to having sex.

COHEN: A lot of the messages that are going out there as part of this newer form of sex ed have to do with sexually transmitted diseases getting out basic information about prevention and treatment. What sort of messages are going out when it comes to pregnancies?

Ms. LEVINE: I actually think you can't separate out sexually transmitted diseases, HIV prevention, unplanned pregnancies, as well as sexual pleasure. And I know that's actually hard for people to hear, but when we do say that, you know, there are consequences to having sex, I think we have to look at both the good and the bad consequences of that in order to have legitimacy in the eyes of a young person. If we're going out there and saying every time you have sex, you risk getting pregnant, risk means something different to an adolescent that it does to an adult.

Adolescents are naturally risk takers. You can have sex 10 times and not get pregnant. You could have sex one time and get pregnant. That's not something they're weighing. They're thinking about the 10 times that you don't get pregnant, or maybe the 30 times you don't get pregnant. So in terms of the messaging, what's important is to talk to young people about the realities. So if we are constantly saying that there's these terrible, negative consequences to having sex, then we discredit ourselves as adults and professionals in reaching young people with good information.

COHEN: Deb Levine is the Executive Director of Internet Sexuality Information Services in Oakland, California. Thank you.

Ms. LEVINE: Sure, thank you.

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