Service Provides 411 on Sex

Textbooks, teachers, and the awkward talk with mom and dad about the "birds and the bees," may soon be a thing of the past.

In sex ed for the 21st century, text messaging may soon change the way teenagers in Chicago get much of their information about sex. Critics charge, however, that the service leaves an important ingredient out of the equation.

Everyday, teens have real-world questions and face life-changing problems related to sex, but teens in San Francisco have help and information available at their fingertips 24 hours a day. Now the company behind the service is working with Chicago's Department of Public Health to bring the program here.

When teens can send a message to SexInfo anonymously, regarding concerns about a broken condom and questions about sexually transmitted diseases or the pressure to have sex, an instant text back provides information about free clinics nearby for professional health advice.

Launched in 2006, SexInfo is a partnership between San Francisco's Department of Public Health and Internet Sexuality Information Services. The service is free, but standard text messaging rates apply. 

Largely targeting African-American females as young as 12 years old, the program gets about 150 texts per month.  Of the inquiries, about 40 percent are about broken condoms, 33 percent are questions about cheating partners, 20 percent want information about STDs, and 9 percent are from teens are who are unsure they want to have sex.

With a sex education debate raging, the Executive Director of the Illinois Caucus on Adolescent Health is fighting for more programs like SexInfo.

"It's fabulous," said Soo Ji Min. "It's a win-win for young people and for public health."

But the Communications Director for the Absinence and Marriage Education Partnership said that SexInfo is not an adequate replacement for parents, the birds and the bees talk and abstinent-only education.

"The greatest advantage a teen can have is a relationship with their parents, and having information from their parents about avoiding risk behaviors like sex outside of marriage," said Debbie Chun.

SexInfo will soon be available statewide in California. It's also in Toronto and a similar program is already available in Washington, D.C.

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