San Francisco Begins Sending Safer Sex Advice Via Cell Phone Text Messages
The San Francisco Department of Public Health this week has launched a program that sends safer sex recommendations to young people who request it via text messages on cell phones, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. San Francisco, which is the first U.S. city to implement such a program, recently has recorded higher sexually transmitted infection rates among young people, including a 100% increase in the number of gonorrhea cases among black teens in 2005. The automated program is modeled after a similar campaign in London, aimed at youths ages 12 to 24, and will cost about $2,500 a month. If a cell phone user sends the text message "sexinfo" to one of two phone numbers set up by the health department, the system will send back a reply asking the user to choose one of several categories that matches his or her question. According to the Chronicle, the messages are written in "teen-friendly ... lingo," and options include what to do if a condom breaks and how to deal with "pressures" to have sex. The program aims for the text messaging process to take about one to two minutes, and most messages end with the distribution of a phone number that users can call for more information. "We wanted to design a program that would reach young people with the technology they use most often," Jacqueline McCright, community-based STD services manager at the health department, said, adding, "Most youth get their information from their friends. ... They're winging it, trying to figure it out for themselves." Michelle Irving, a peer educator at the health department, said that many teens do not visit clinics and are "afraid to ask questions," but with the text messaging service "[t]hey don't have to talk to someone if they think they're pregnant or their condom broke" (Allday, San Francisco Chronicle, 4/26). The program was designed by a conglomerate of community-based groups (Mulvihill, CBS5, 4/25). The health department also launched the Web site sextextsf.org, which includes more information on the program (San Francisco Chronicle, 4/26).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.