Sexual health education can reduce the rates of teen pregnancy, STI transmission, and sexual assault among young people, but most teens in the US don’t receive comprehensive sex ed. Instead, 39 states still require sexual health classes to teach abstinence, thanks in large part to continued and recently increased federal funding, while only 20 states require information on contraception. As a result, nearly half of the country’s teens enter college without formal education on contraception (Guttmacher Institute). Schools that do teach sexual health education tend to focus only on STIs and pregnancy prevention, which, while are important topics, leave out equally important sexual health subjects, like sexual consent, pleasure, and healthy relationships, that are vital for sexual assault prevention. As such, 80% of U.S. high school students do not learn about consent in sex ed (Planned Parenthood). Finally, sex ed curriculum is extremely heteronormative (with some states even requiring sex ed programs to present negative information about non-heterosexual relationships) and is actively failing to educate LGBTQ teens. Consequently, less than 6% of LGBTQ teens report receiving sexual health information that is relevant to them (Planned Parenthood). The lack of information that teens receive in school (and outside of school) leaves them without the knowledge, resources, and tools they need to make healthy sexual decisions, putting them at higher risk for STIs (including HIV), unwanted pregnancy, and sexual assault.
Still, teens are curious about sex and sexual health! We surveyed over 65 young people with 90% reporting being curious about sex and 85% reporting having gone to the internet to find information about sex. In in depth interviews, we also found that when teens use the internet to look up information about sex, they tend to google whole questions (i.e. "is it normal to...", "how do i..." what is...").
However, teens also noted that the reliability of information that comes up from google is shakey. Plus, not do Q&A platforms like Reddit and Yahoo Answers produce unreliable information, but they are often filled with trolls and people who make fun of a users question. What's worse is that reliable sexual health sites- like Scarleteen, Sex etc., and Planned Parenthood- have great content but have a platform that is overwhelming, hard to navigate, and not easily searchable with questions.
While sex ed programs are failing to equip their students with sexual health information, sexual health policies are determined at state and local levels, making it difficult to deliver this information to teens through policy changes. With a lack of information inside schools, teens turn to the internet which has its own set of problems. We are interested in tackling this public health problem by creating a reliable online platform outside of the school system to address teen curiosity about sexual health and deliver the information schools- and other outside resources- are unable to.
What it does
K.I.S. connects teens to reliable, direct information based on a question. The application finds similar questions from a question database based on key words and prompts the user to select the one closest to their original search. In the question database, each question has been answered by a health educator or public health expert in a succinct and engaging manner to give teens quick, direct, and reliable answers to their questions. From there the user can select an already answered question to read.
How we built it
First, we started with a database of sexual health questions and answers that health educators have been collecting and working on for the past few months. It's far from complete but enough for an MVP!
We uploaded our database to Firebase & Algolia and created search queries. We connected to Algolia's API with node.js and merged our code to the front end. Finally, we hosted the site through Firebase using our new domain.com address kis-app.org.
Challenges we ran into
Merging code! Hosting! Algolia & node.js! Oh my! We had a lot of trouble with hosting and getting Algolia to work. We tried getting the site hosted on both GCP and AWS, but had trouble and got mentor help to host on Firebase.
Accomplishments that I'm proud of
We learned a ton. We built a website from scratch that isn't functional but is beautiful!
What I learned
Mentors are an absolute godsend. It's a great way to learn with a lot less frustration.
What's next for Knowledge is Sexy
Based on previous interviews with teens and positive feedback, we have ideas for several other features that we want to add outside of the hackathon:
If a user is unsatisfied with the similar questions from their search query, they can submit their question, which goes to an email for an MVP version, and have it answered by our experts. The answer is then added to the database and available for other users with a similar question and helps us build up our question database.
We want the platform to encourage more exploration of sexual health information by including “related question” after each answered question and a “popular questions” tab featuring content on consent, pleasure, STIs, birth control and other topics. In our interviews, we found the kinds of questions teens had about sex tended to be a product of their sexual health education; teens who had general sex ed tended to only have questions about birth control and STIs, and those with abstinence based education had a harder time knowing what questions to ask. Basically, teens don't know what they don;t know, so these features get users to think and learn about sexual health questions/topics they hadn’t considered before, give them a starting point if they don’t know what questions to ask, and give users a sense of community- that they aren’t alone in the questions/curiosity.
A big feature we'd like to add is to allow other users to contribute information in questions to add a personal touch to the questions users look at. Contributors can add personal anecdotes, advice, or their own answer to a question. In the platform, these will be distinct from verified expert answers. Plus, we'd like the content experts working on the platform to vet/verify answers from contributors to weed out trolls.
Sometimes the kinds of answers users are looking for depend on their sexual orientation and gender identity, so we'd like to add "filter" to the search function so to prioritize contributors answers with similar profiles to the the employed filters.
Lastly, we want to continue to grow the question database. We will work with health educators to make sure content is engaging and succinct, while collecting questions about sex & sexual health from Tumblr and Reddit. We'd like to add in "action prompts" to better prompt teen behavioral change with regard to condom use, STI testing, and asking sexual partners for consent.