April 13, 2012
A new initiative launched in Austin aims to reduce Texas teens' steep pregnancy and STD rates by encouraging youths to text sexual or reproductive health questions to experts and receive a response within 24 hours.
Abstinence-only sex education curricula are presented in 96 percent of Texas publics schools, says the Texas Freedom Network. Yet the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States ranks Texas fifth-highest nationally for state teen pregnancy rates, third for young people with HIV/AIDS, and fourth for teen syphilis.
Other major cities -- including San Francisco, Chicago, and Washington -- already have adopted similar programs. Experts maintain teens and parents alike could benefit from the initiative, which provides easy, safe, and free access to accurate sex information through a medium popular with youths.
"We wanted to use something that meets teenagers on their turf," said Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services (HHS) health educator Jeni Brazeal. "They need accurate information to make healthy decisions for themselves." Brazeal recounts receiving questions ranging from "How do I tell my 5-year-old where babies come from?" to "What type of condom is best?"
Houston HHS spokeswoman Kathy Barton said city officials are considering texting HIV information to augment e-mail, Facebook, and Twitter efforts.
Similarly, the "Text4Baby" program was launched in 2010 by a partnership of the National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition and the US Department of Health and Human Services to allow new and expecting mothers to receive free informational texts on pregnancy and motherhood. It now boasts 300,000 participants.