Sex ed for teens more effective via texting?

Many of our teens can’t stop texting and health educators see that habit as a private way to get crucial information to our teens about sex.

Public health services are popping up around the country where teens can text message their questions about sex to an expert and receive a timely, albeit short, reply back.

The New York Times reports: ” ‘Technology reduces the shame and embarrassment,’ said Deb Levine, executive director of ISIS, a nonprofit organization that began many technology-based reproductive health programs. ‘It’s the perceived privacy that people have when they’re typing into a computer or a cellphone. And it’s culturally appropriate for young people: they don’t learn about this from adults lecturing them.’ “…

However, there is concern about teens having access to this information without their parents’ knowledge or consent.

“That lack of oversight is what galls Bill Brooks, president of the North Carolina Family Policy Council. ‘If I couldn’t control access to this information, I’d turn off the texting service,’ he said. ‘When it comes to the Internet, parents are advised to put blockers on their computer and keep it in a central place in the home. But kids can have access to this on their cellphones when they’re away from parental influence – and it can’t be controlled.’ ” …

“Sally Swanson, a staffer and mother of two teenagers, said if parents did read them, ‘It would highlight how much disconnected information kids are already getting at younger ages than we did.’ The questions can be salacious. The staffers try to answer them all, said educator James Martin, but discreetly and always urging protection. In offering this service to teenagers, he said, ‘you can’t say ‘I’ll be honest except or until.’ ‘ That’s often what happens with parents, he added, ‘when the child brings up something shocking, the parents tend to shut down.’ “

The Times’ story says questions range from pregnancy and STDs to rape and general adolescence. In general the adults working at the services are trained public health educators. They try not to give medical advice. They encourage the teens to speak to a doctor for that. They do not advocate abortion and try to give reasoned, kind advice without sarcasm.

What do you think: Is sex ed via texting a smart way to reach teens who need information? Does it leave parents too out of the loop? Would you want your teen texting to a sex educator that you didn’t know?

19 comments Add your comment

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

May 4th, 2009
10:31 pm

Hey guys — I just read on our site that the mom of the little boy that killed himself after being bullied is going to be on “Oprah” on Wednesday. Check out the story.


May 5th, 2009
8:19 am

Little Johnny and Suzie are already sending naked photos of each other via their phones so I don’t think they are going to read health info….


May 5th, 2009
8:24 am

It is kind of scary just how much information kids can get from texting these days! It’s too bad that kids don’t feel comfortable talking to their parents about these things. All of that being said, I think if the kid is willing to ask the question to “someone” it is better than learning about things through trial and error! Today’s kids have a lot of technological smarts, but they are still VERY immature. It is amazing to me that the kids are becoming sexually active at such young ages!

Jesse's Girl

May 5th, 2009
8:32 am

Its becoming increasingly difficult for our children to be in the world but not of it. So in light of that….I have resolved myself to use the pathways this world provides to reach my kids. Not only do I advocate education via texting, but I would also LOVE to see faith lessons provided via texting. “Wear a condom….the nearest crisis pregnancy center is located at XYZ….” is not the only text our kids should get. It should also be “Would mom or dad be proud of you for what you are considering…..would God?” I fully realize that kids will find a way to do what they want to do…..but arming them with ALL information is vital. I’d like to see….”You don’t have to give yourself away…you can save your body and still live a kick booty life until you are married” Thats a text message I can get with….

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

May 5th, 2009
8:40 am

JG — I think you’ve got a new business!!! Can we text those to our kids anonymously — that might freak them out —

I couldn’t pull all the questions from the article to highlight but please guys be sure to read the big article — the questions are amazing!!!


May 5th, 2009
9:34 am

I tried posting but for some reasons is dumped everythig I had writtne.

Short version: I have no problem with the service, knowledge is wonderful and if it give kids the knowledge to make better choices, safer choices, or seek help for bad choices, at least they had someone giving them advice other than another kid.

Children sometimes need an adult to talk to, either a teacher, counslor, church member, we have a designated a friend for my Daughter. I realize that I can’t be her Mother and friend. I can’t stop being mother and will say or do things that might not give her the freedom to be honest with me, so we have one of my friends who is younger and has no childred to be her friend. My friend know that unless it is life threating I don’t need to know if my daughter calls her or what is being discussed. I trust my friend to help my daughter make better decission than another child, and my daughter was the one to pick who she wanted to have as her “safe adult”.

Jesse's Girl

May 5th, 2009
9:41 am

That is a wonderful idea LM…..I will ask the girls about this!


May 5th, 2009
9:58 am

I am on the fence with this one. Jesse’s Girl has great ideas! I have been overwhelmingly forthright
with my kids but know that other parents are not always able to do this ( my parents for example….I feel weird just saying sex to my Dad and I am almost 50….we did not talk about such things.)
I do not want my daughter to get ridiculous information but realize that there is a lot of it out there.

Once, I was featured in the AJC and a point made was not a point I had discussed with the reporter and not even true. I showed it to my kids then and said, “do not always believe everything you read…”
A lesson learned for them. After reading it…they said, “Mom, that is not true about you….where did they get that idea?”


May 5th, 2009
11:20 am

JG…GOOD IDEA! I really like about adding the faith comments too! Perhaps if they were sent or more visual (like sex is everywhere today), there wouldn’t be such an issue!

LM, I like the safe adult idea! I would like to think my child would tell me anything, but I know that is not realistic.


May 5th, 2009
11:34 am

Well, if they’re going to get this advice via texting, I’d rather it be a trained professional at the other end. (Though I don’t think said trained professional should be a government employee of any form, but that is another discussion altogether.)

Like both JG and LM’s ideas as well. If I can be of any assistance, feel free to hit me up on Twitter: @swgalibertarian


May 5th, 2009
12:32 pm

Send them pics of STD’s in full bloom….


May 5th, 2009
12:42 pm

That article is really sobering. I was struck by how many kids don’t feel they have any adult to turn to in their daily lives to talk about this stuff. It made me sad for them.

As far as the qeustion at hand, I think this would be a great way for kids to get info in a non-threatening way. Maybe churches and other religious groups could get on the bandwagon as well and provide their insights along with accurate information.


May 5th, 2009
2:44 pm

Photius, showing graphic pictures of ACTIVE and ADVANCED STD’s does not really work. I tried that. Many of the kids today still have the mentality of “it won’t happen to me.”


May 5th, 2009
3:00 pm

The lines of communication are open in my house. If my daughter doesn’t feel comfortable talking to me, she has a very good friend of mine too she can talk to.

A lot of parents aren’t comfortable talking to their kids about sex. I’ve never held anything back and have been very open and honest with my child.

As a matter of fact, we are getting her on birth control this summer, since she is headed to college in the fall. I told her no way was she going off to college without it. I don’t want any babies for another 10 years!!!!! Then I’ll be ready to be a gramma……


May 5th, 2009
8:07 pm

I think this service is great. The reality is that teens are having sex. No matter how close you think you are to your children, I am sure there are many questions that they are not comfortable asking you. Seriously, would it not be freaky for your kid to ask you, “Should I spit or swallow?”

Yes, it is our job to teach them good morals and everything, but if my child were using that service, I would not want anyone preaching to them. That is my job. A service like this is great, I think, for fact giving or referrals to places where they can get the facts.

I hope my children (they are too young now) are comfortable enough to talk to me about a lot of things, but I also have to be realistic. They can get plenty of info on the internet (if they are teens, there is no way you can monitor their computer usage outside of your house), so why not a texting service? I would rather they get correct information, whether from me or a service.

Joel in ATL

May 6th, 2009
12:45 pm

If PARENTS YES PARENTS would take five seconds and not worry about themselves and spend time with their teenager and discuss sex in the privacy of th efamily home as a family I’m quite sure they wouldn’t need to text an expert. Yet the parents of teens today are the ones that always said they “would be different” from their parents so that means letting their teen do whatever they want. Shame in talking about sex with yourparents is the funniest thing I’ve ever heard. You’ll talk about it freely in music and on TV but no live and in person in the family home and we wonder why so many teens are pregrant. I challenge PARENTS and YES I am one and I discuss sex and the pitfalls of sex with my 9 year old step son at least once a week. When my son is 8 I will begin talking to him but I think 3 is a little too young. If you as a parent can’t approach your child why do you expect them to approach you? It’s all on the parents period point blank, not a service or even sex ed at school, so much that starts at home is lost now and I hate to say it, that’s they REAL ISSUE.


May 6th, 2009
2:27 pm

When I was in the 3rd grade a kid at school told me how girls get pregnant. He told me that you were supposed to sneak up behind a girl who was camping and stick it in her behind. Apparently, the camping part was key.

So, the point is, it would have been nice to have had someone to ask about that.


May 6th, 2009
3:26 pm

I think a lot of people are missing the point of this service. It is not a parent replacement. A lot of parents and their children discuss sex. However, that does not mean a child is going to be comfortable asking their parents everything about sex. I would hope most parents would offer basic information about how sex works, how you get pregnant, STD info, their thoughts on the moral side of it, etc. A parent may not want to have a discussion with their own teenager and vice versa about what feels good, orgasms, whether they should let their boyfriend try something “different”, oral sex, etc.


October 22nd, 2009
9:27 pm

I think that it’s a pretty great idea. Lots of people would rather ask someone else about things like that than a family member. There’s just aways an awkward tension in the air whenever child & parent try to talk about things like sex, as well as other personal matters. It comes from both parties, however typing to a PC screen or phone, well let’s just say it’s a lot easier to say things.