Our guest blogger Mika Doyle introduces us to Roo - Planned Parenthood's new sexual health chatbot - and explains how this can change the sex ed game.
When I was a kid, I had so many questions about what I was hearing in music and movies. I can still remember all the different — and completely incorrect — interpretations I had for what Alanis Morissette meant when she asked if her ex’s new girlfriend would “go down on you” in a theater in her iconic song “You Outta Know.”
The internet was just getting up and running back then, so I couldn’t turn to Google to figure out what Alanis was talking about. And I sure as heck never asked my mom. I mean, when I asked her what “sixty-nining” was, she just looked at me side-eyed and asked, “What do you think it means?” Awkward…
But today’s teens have seriously got it so much harder. The internet may have opened a wealth of information to them that people like me might not have had as kids, but it also dumps a minefield of misinformation right at their feet. And how are they supposed to figure out what’s true and what’s not?
That’s why it’s so cool to see Planned Parenthood come out with a new sexual health chatbot named Roo. It puts expert sexual health resources at teens’ fingertips 24/7, and it’s completely anonymous. And, tbh, you don’t need to be a teenager to benefit from this cool new resource.
Sexual Health Chatbot Available 24/7
Planned Parenthood designed Roo for people ages 13 to 17, but the organization says anyone can use the new chatbot to ask questions about their sexual health. You can personalize your experience by selecting from a list of gender options, which include female, male, trans man, trans woman, non-binary, name your own, or you can skip that completely and just start asking questions or select questions from a list if you’re not sure what to ask.
The chatbot will continue to evolve and be able to answer more questions on additional topics as more people interact with it, according to Planned Parenthood. Until then, if Roo can’t answer your question, it’ll connect you with other resources, including Planned Parenthood’s live educators through the organization’s chat/text program.
“We know that many young people are nervous or embarrassed to ask questions about their sexual health,” Dr. Leana Wen, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a news release. “They often go online to get information and ask their questions anonymously. It’s important that our youth receive a reliable answer they can trust.”
The State of American Sex Education
Given that formal sex education in the United States is not standardized, it’s no wonder many people grow up to have a lot of questions about their sexual health. According to the Guttmacher Institute, more than 80 percent of teens did receive formal sexual health education between 2011 and 2013, but the focus was on abstinence and preventing STDs.
During that same time frame, only 55 percent of teen boys and 60 percent of teen girls received education on contraception, says the Guttmacher Institute. And the Guttmacher Institute says that, as of 2015, fewer than 6 percent of LGBT teens reported any positive representation of LGBT-related topics in their health classes. Because teens — especially LGBTQ teens — have so little access to quality sexual health resources, the Guttmacher Institute says they’re turning to the internet and other digital media for help.
Designed with Teens in Mind
The biggest hurdle in creating greater access to sexual health resources is eliminating the darn stigma surrounding sex. People feel embarrassed to ask questions about it. Planned Parenthood found that teens are still into texting and instant messaging, and a chatbot format gave them the same kind of format with the anonymity to ask personal, sexual health-related questions.
"Helping teens access trusted information — especially since so many young people aren't getting the sexual health education they need — makes this a rare sort of digital product," Gene Liebel, Work & Co co-founder, the company Planned Parenthood partnered with to create Roo, told Ad Age.
No matter how old you are, Roo is available to answer your questions 24/7 about your health, your body, relationships, and even services that Planned Parenthood offers. And can use it with the confidence that it’s back by actual health experts.