March 20, 2009
Every day, Planned Parenthood staff members in Orange County field live online questions about sexual and reproductive health in a chat format. Those who write in for help are asked only for their age, sex, and ZIP code before chatting with a state-certified counselor.
About 24 percent of the 723 people who asked questions in January were ages 21-24, and about 18 percent were under age 18, according to Planned Parenthood data. About 87 percent were female. The five most common topics people want to learn more about are pregnancy, the cost of services, menstruation/ovulation, the pill, and abortion. The counselors also often talk about the benefits and disadvantages of condoms and birth control, STDs, and where to go for a checkup. Most of the chats last six to 15 minutes.
"When you have a forum that allows any type of question to be asked and nobody has to be worried about saving face, or being too knowledgeable or ignorant, and someone professional doesn't have to worry about looking bad, it's a terrific approach," said Paula Tavrow, a professor of the University of California-Los Angeles' Bixby Program in Population and Reproductive Health.
The service, operating 9 a.m. to midnight Monday through Friday and noon to midnight on Saturday and Sunday, is funded through a $100,000 three-year grant from the California Wellness Foundation. The chat line also received a health education grant from Orange County until the county Board of Supervisors scuttled the agreement earlier this month, citing Planned Parenthood's provision of legal abortion. Planned Parenthood is now seeking to raise money for the project to cover its funding loss.