It's no secret that sex ed in this country has been, to put it delicately, a Hindenburg-esque, second-season-of-Serial-level disaster. There's plenty of evidence to support the fact that abstinence-only state sex ed curricula just aren't doing their jobs, from rising rates of sexually transmitted infections in teens to Yahoo Answers threads for "how to grow a condom."
That's why a 24-year-old sexual health educator has created Juicebox, a new sexual health Q&A app for young people. The app, which launched this week, employs sexual health experts from American Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (ASSECT) to answer the most pressing sex questions from young people aged 13 to 23 across the United States. The questions range from the clinical ("how big is the average penis?") to the more abstract ("how do you know when you're ready to start having sex?"). Basically, it's like Reddit for sex ed.
According to data from Vocativ, which culled together the most frequently asked questions on the app, the largest percentage of the questions on Juicebox (14.5%) relate to a topic that is rarely openly discussed: STIs.
According to Juicebox founder Brianna Rader, 24, the app's conception was inspired by her sex education curriculum at her high school in Knoxville, Tennessee. (According to data from the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, Tennessee is required not only to teach abstinence-only education, but also to encourage students to pursue abstinence, making it one of 26 states that does so.)
"I didn't learn anything about condoms or birth control, and most of my peers were in a similar situation," Rader said in a phone interview. She came up with Juicebox as a way to affect change on a non-systematic level: "The public policy battle is a long battle. I wanted to get the information to the people who needed it and bypass the school systems, the red tape."
Bypassing the often stringent requirements of state sex ed curricula allows teens to ask experts pressing questions about sex and sexuality without fear that they'll be judged or censured for it. That's why so many young people are submitting questions about STIs, asking about things like what symptoms they should be on the lookout for, as well as what the most common infections are — all information that should theoretically be included in any comprehensive sexual education curriculum.
Unfortunately, teenagers might already be paying the price for the lack of information related to STI transmission. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, STI rates are on the rise among young people between the ages of 15 and 24, with young people accounting for almost two thirds of reported cases of chlamydia and gonorrhea in 2014.
"There's a lot of confusion over STIs," Rader said in a phone interview. "People don't know which ones are treatable, which ones are not treatable."
Teenagers are also confused about how STIs are transmitted, with many submitting questions based on such false assumptions as, "if I make out with a bunch of people, I'm not at risk for any STIs." (You can, in fact, transmit the herpes virus via oral contact.)
According to Rader, it's not super surprising that questions relating to STIs are the most frequently asked on the app. "You might have questions about orgasms or relationships or body image, but STIs seem more urgent and scary," she said. "So it probably forces the question to come up a bit more."
While it's unclear whether the rapidly mounting STI rate can entirely be attributed to the lack of comprehensive sex ed, it's clear from the questions on apps like Juicebox that teenagers are thirsty (pun intended) for information related to STI prevention and treatment.
"The majority of young people in this country are not getting the evidence-based sex education they deserve," Leslie Kantor, the vice president of education at Planned Parenthood, previously said in an interview. "We need to make sure that people know about the importance of testing and de-stigmatizing testing."