Knight New Project: Sex Talks– The online comprehensive sex education program

Project Title: Sex Talks: The online comprehensive sex education program

Team 5: Katie Barbour, Chad Kelsey, Michael Kaufman-Schofield

Requested Amount:  $10,000 for developing a site (web developer), production of these videos, and networking with medical professionals

Expected Amount of time to Complete Project: Preliminary program in 6 months

Describe your Project:

The idea for the project “Sex Talks: the online comprehensive sexuality education program” came out of interest in the online education company Khan Academy, a nonprofit company that has been highly regarded by education experts for its ability to teach math, chemistry, and other topics to people of varying educational levels worldwide.  Our idea is to have a similar online program that teaches teenagers about sex, sexually transmitted infections, HIV/AIDS, prevention, and contraception in way that is based on science, but is still approachable and usable for the clientele.  The videos, which would be taught by experts in the field regarded in their ability to relay the information, such as teachers, sexual therapists, and psychologists, would cover topics that should be covered in a comprehensive sexuality education program in a middle or high school.  Similar to the Khan Academy, we would create lessons for the different grades, so sixth graders would have a place to learn about information such as menarche and other topics that would be appropriate for eleven year olds, and high schoolers can learn about material more catered to their questions and needs.

We additionally would like to directly connect students to health professionals.  Students of all ages will be able to anonymously pose questions to doctors and a range of experts in sexual health.  Questions can be of any nature, relating to relationships, contraception, STDs, pregnancy, sexual orientation, etc.  We will also use the network we establish with local medical specialists to compile a comprehensive database of local organizations that provide sexual health-related services to Michigan youth.  We propose to provide students with comprehensive information on sexual health, the means to acquire information pertaining more to their specific concerns, and local resources to seek help.

The purpose of this project is to make a virtual database of information, resources, and connections with experts to aid in the growth of knowledge about sexual activity. As of now, information on the subject is grossly scattered, both in the school system and on the web. Children, teens, and young adults should not be getting their answers to questions about sex from Yahoo! Answers. Rather, our dream is to unite all forms of sexuality into one concise system of information that is readily available to all that are curious. Sex Talks is a place where people can learn and grow to become the people of their own decision without the influences and limitations do society. Being a place of education of all opinions, gender roles/identification, sexual orientation, and beliefs, we aim to have Sex Talks provide enlightenment, from experts, on any subjects related to sex.

What unmet need does your product meet?

Under current Michigan state law, public schools are not required to teach sexuality education.  It is up to local school boards as to whether they fund sexuality education, and they decided what topics are to be covered, and at what grade level.  According to law, abstinence must be taught as the only completely effective method for prevention of disease and pregnancy, and the teaching about alternative forms of birth control or protection, such as condoms or the Pill, is not required.  According to the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), in 2010, Michigan received $1,653,105 of federal money to fund an abstinence-only-until marriage program.  Therefore, in addition to not requiring sexuality education in public schools, many schools which offer sexuality education only teach abstinence as the sole form of disease and pregnancy prevention, and never cover other preventative measures, such as condoms, that teenagers should be informed about and know how to use.  Also, according to Michigan law, parents are allowed to review the curriculum of the sexuality education, including information on HIV/AIDS, and choose to not allow their children to participate in class.  Therefore, if a parent objects to what is being taught, he or she is able to remove the student from the sexuality class, even if the child wishes to take the course.  In general, our group believes that many teens are not fully informed about their options when it comes to protecting themselves against disease and pregnancy, because so many schools ignore the issues entirely, or focus on abstinence only.  According to the Kinsey Institute, the average age of first intercourse is 16.9 for males, and 17.4 females, which means by the time of high school graduation, over half of all teens have had sex.  There needs to be a more comprehensive, approachable, and easily accessible way for teens to learn about sex, STIs, HIV/AIDS, and pregnancy prevention, in a manner that is scientifically accurate, informative, and fun.

Interview four potential users of your product about this unmet need:

Cynthia Fredenburg is a middle-aged ,8th grade teacher at Harper Creek Public Schools in Battle Creek, MI (fredenburgcl@gmail.com).  She’s been with the school district for decades.  In addition to previously teaching the sex ed. component of health courses, she also used to serve on a variety of committees for her school district that helped develop the curriculum for sex ed.  Although teachers have fought hard for teaching contraceptive options in the classroom, parents have been insistent for the last 10 years at Harper Creek that their school district teach abstinence only education.  Teachers have developed clever ways around this.  For example, the middle school puts up brochures on sexual and reproductive health during parent teacher conferences to help inform parents of issues that their children are beginning to struggle with.  Abstinence only education means that the teachers can’t teach contraceptives, but this doesn’t mean that they can’t answer students’ direct questions.  Many teachers like Fredenburg have adopted tactics like passing tin cans around the classroom and having every student insert anonymous questions in hopes that topics like condoms and STD risks will come up.  While this sometimes seems effective, it’s not effective enough.  Many of her 7th and 8th graders are sexually active and there is a high incidence of pregnancy at the middle and high school levels.  Fredenburg thinks that a website like ours would be incredibly useful and help educate students about sexual health.  She thinks that many students would begin exploring the site jokingly, for entertainment purposes, but would learn a lot in the process.

Tanya Brown

I’ll preface this with saying that she said that she has to think on what she wants to say first before giving any quotable information. Anyway…

Tanya Brown is the owner of the sex store in the basement of Bongz & Thongz. Being in the sex industry for many years, having had women’s studies post docs profile her, and even running her own community supported television show about sex education, Brown shares in the idea of making sex comfortable. We’re not talking about intercourse here, rather, any information about sex (including orientation, practices, views, emotions, etc.). Personally speaking, she makes everyone feel at home when talking to her about a subject that, unfortunately, is typically awkward, frowned-upon, or altogether deemed “gross”. While I can’t quote her on this, her aim is to make sex no longer a hush hush topic. It is important for information about sex to be readily available to everyone, no matter their beliefs. Furthermore, it is important for this information to come from experts; not bloggers, impassioned high school teachers, and biased social norms. She will be a critical asset in bridging that gap.

Getcuriouswithsafetygirl@gmail.com

Christina Koehler, 17, of Grosse Pointe, Michigan, c.koehler@aol.com.  She is a senior at Grosse Pointe South High School.  Due to the fact that she was in choir for all four years of high school, she has not received any sexuality education since seventh grade, where she never learned about any sexual health protection methods other than abstinence.  She, “you know, through like watching T.V.s and movies, and from reading magazines like Seventeen” has learned about safe sex, such as condoms and birth control, but does not know much about effectiveness of various methods.  She said she feels uncomfortable talking to her parents about sex, and would never ask them any questions if she had them, but would probably rather Google the information, or ask another friend who she thinks knows more, “but, like, none of my friends have taken health or anything, so they probably don’t actually know as much as they think they do.  Just cause you have a boyfriend and have had sex or something like that does not mean you actually know a lot about it.”  She said she knows most of her friends do not know that much about sex, and would be way too embarrassed to ever ask someone, such as a teacher trained to inform about the topic, about it.

Noelle Divozzo, 21, senior at the University of Michigan, Health Education minor. ndivozzo@umich.edu.  She said that some districts in the state of Michigan are abstinence based, and some are abstinence only, “which is crap because they do not teach anything about birth control.  The teachers think no one is having sex, and then the students do not know anything.”  She also believes everyone should be required to take health because it is important for their own well-being, and it is “stupid that you can take band and then are all of sudden you’re not required to take a health class.  Like how is one a replacement for the other?”  She said she thinks that all programs should be abstinence-based, because abstinence is the only 100% for sure way to not get an infection or become pregnant, but students still need to be more informed on their options.  She mentioned that if she taught in a school district that was abstinence only, and student asked her about how to properly use a condom, she would not be allowed to give them any information, because she would be afriad about losing her job.  She said she would probably just tell the student to ask a parent, which the student probably does not feel comfortable doing.

How big is the potential market for your idea? Mention sources for any statistics you use.

When tackling a project like introducing new methods of teaching or curriculum, it is easy to underestimate the scale of the project. Being a product of Michigan public schools, I can speak, personally, on the scale of a project like this. Taking an average student, what they learn extends much further than school, as seen in the diagram below

Our aim is to bridge the gap between the digital influences and scholarly influences. Therefore, while our potential market of users is any American teen with Internet access (about 93% of American teens [1]), our product has potential to affect a much larger audience. Our product is thus intended to be used by American teens but intended to affect schools, parents, friends, etc.

How does your idea innovative — new or different from something already exist? Name your closest competitors

With the internet at their fingertips its very easy for teenagers to acquire access to information about sexual health and awareness.  There are several websites that provide online sexual education, including Scarleteen, Sex Etc., Planned Parenthood, and MTV’s It’s Your Sex Life.  All of these sites are pretty comprehensive, covering varying areas related to sexual health, including contraception, STDs, relationships, pregnancy, and sexual orientation compiled from various resources.  However, the information provided is not a substitute for insight from a health professional.  Our idea is innovative in that all of the provided information is coming from experts in their field.  The videos will feature scientists and doctors with extensive background in sexual health.  The fact that the lessons will be grouped by age and grade level is also an innovative aspect of our proposal.  Young students and older students can all receive advice and information pertaining to their age-specific concerns.  Additionally, we plan on connecting site visitors directly to health professionals. Site visitors will be able to anonymously pose questions and receive answers from health professionals.  Ask Alice provides a similar service, but topics vary widely from nutrition to alcohol addiction.  Connecting teenagers directly to experts that specialize in sexual health or sex education would be a new service. Another service not offered by most of our competitors is local resources.  While Planned Parenthood has branches throughout the US, most cities and areas have additional organizations where teenagers can receive confidential medical help or advice.  Health care professionals are the most likely to know what all of these organizations provide.  We can use the network we create with local health care workers to compile a comprehensive database of local organizations where teenagers can seek help for sexual health-related issues.

How will your idea be financially sustainable?

We could use a variety of methods to make our product financially sustainable.  Two obvious avenues would be through donations and sponsors.  Several websites similar to our proposal (and even our Mediactive textbook!) have voluntary donation links.  We could use something similar to this.  There are also a few possibilities that would rely less on the generosity of our clientele.  We could sell merchandise through an online store, stocking items related to sexual safety and awareness.  Merchandise could even be shipped in unlabeled, discrete packages to make teenagers or college students more comfortable purchasing sensitive material over the internet.  Alternatively, we could rely on advertisements to bring in revenue.  Reserving space on the website itself or using popup ads could help cover management costs.

Why are you and your group the right people to develop this project?

We are the right group to develop this project because we three are all invested in safe sexual health of teenagers.  Katie is studying to be a teacher, and while working in a high school, has heard about and seen conversations and behaviors that would be considered sexually risky.  Based upon her own high school experiences, she knows the lack of information about sexuality taught in schools is leaving students at risk for unwanted disease and pregnancy.  Likewise, Michael has also witnessed a lack of information in schools about sexuality education, and believes that there is more that needs to be done in order to get the information out there to students so they can learn more.  Chad has been investigating and following the educational business of Khan Academy, a not-for-profit company that has developed online videos that teach a wide range of math, science, economics, and humanities topics.  Chad is bringing his knowledge of Khan Academy and their business model to the project.

Links for Reference:

http://www.siecus.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=Page.ViewPage&PageID=1305

http://www.kinseyinstitute.org/resources/FAQ.html#Age

http://www.examiner.com/article/sex-education-michigan-schools

http://www.abstinenceworks.org/what-about-my-state-mainmenu-90#MICHIGAN

About Katie Barbour

Student, aspiring high school math and chemistry teacher. Interested in education, food safety, and nutrition.

3 Responses to “Knight New Project: Sex Talks– The online comprehensive sex education program”

  1. What a cool idea! Khan academy puts on some really great videos, and I think they are a good model to base your work off of. Being from Michigan myself, I have experienced the disconnect between the lack of sex education as well and absolutely agree that it is a public health issue. The application talks a lot about the poor sex-ed laws in Michigan, but I am still a bit curious whether or not this app is meant to be a guide for schools or a way for kids to educate themselves outside of the classroom. Either way, how will the site handle the inevitable inappropriate comments from its more immature users? Will their comments need to be accepted, and if so, who manages this process? Additionally, you mentioned different modules for different ages which I think will really help get parents on board with the idea. I am wondering, however, if there will there be a sign in for sixth graders versus high school students? If not, then what prevents middle school children from watching all of the videos? I do not personally have an issue with this, but I’m sure some people would. In the grand scheme of things, these are minor hiccups, and I still think this is a great idea.

  2. I really like this idea. The way sex ed is handled in schools can be physically painful, both in the lack of content and in the awkward way the information is handled. This can actually make it more difficult for kids to learn about these topics, as they are too uncomfortable to ask an adult for questions. I think that having a panel of experts to answer these questions openly is a great idea. My biggest question is how kids would learn about this site. Teachers that are only allowed to teach abstinence in schools might not be able to give out information about this program. Could there be another way to get the word out?

  3. Katie, Michael and Chad — I think you have a strong idea here! Certainly, the need is clear. How to financial sustain the site is still a bit murky. It might be interesting for you to think about partnering with a sponsor organization such as Planned Parenthood, the UM School of Public Health or possibly even a national pediatricians association. Think about who can help bring you credibility and good publicity. I think Katiebeth and Taylor also have raised good points for you to consider as you refine this idea. I hope you keep working on this, even after our class is over. There are many resources for entrepreneurs on campus and elsewhere in Southeast Michigan.

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