Schools Promote ‘Sex Apps’

Schools Promote ‘Sex Apps’
June 13, 2013

Mary C. Tillotson

Mary Petrides Tillotson is an education reporter for Watchdog.org.  (read full bio)
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Two major school districts are employing “sex apps” and sites to help kids access contraception and STD testing and share STD test results with potential partners, all while bypassing parents.

In New York City and Los Angeles, students are reminded they don’t need their parents’ consent or, in New York, even to inform them their children are receiving these services.

Teens as young as 13 can download qpid.me (pronounced “cupid me”), a web app that encourages STD testing and allows users to share their results with potential partners. Los Angeles United School District (LAUSD) made the app available in fall 2013 to health teachers, who teach the district’s 200,000 7-12th grade students once in middle and once in high school.

The New York City Health Department is sponsoring NYC Teen, a web page that helps teens find services such as free morning-after pills or abortion counseling at Planned Parenthood without parental input.

“The question of undermining parental rights and parental authority is a serious one in relationship to this website and app,” said Peter Sprigg, a senior fellow for policy studies at the Family Research Council. “One of the most effective ways of enhancing the health of young people would be to encourage better communication about their health between young people and their parents. This seems to undermine that, rather than advancing it.”

An NYC spokesperson promised a return call by deadline four times over the course of a week, but did not follow through. Thomas Waldman, a LAUSD spokesman, said the district would no longer discuss qpid.me.

‘Everybody Deserves to Have Sex’
The NYC Teen website has information about STDs, contraception, and the difficulties of teen pregnancy and motherhood. Its downloadable app, Teens in NYC Protection+, helps teens find STD testing and treatment, counseling, gay and transgender clinics, abortion, and a variety of birth control options.

It does not appear to have information on abortion alternatives for pregnant teens, such as pregnancy centers, maternity homes, or adoption agencies.

Although qpid.me is not part of LAUSD health curriculum, many health teachers in the district have been sharing it with students, and some schools display qpid.me posters, said Ramin Bastani, qpid.me’s founder and CEO. The app is free.

“Everybody deserves to have sex. That includes people living with HIV/AIDS,” the app’s website states.

When teens are tested for STDs, they can have their results sent to their qpid.me account, making it easier for them to exchange information with potential partners. The web app also includes a user-friendly map of Los Angeles STD testing sites. Bastani said he plans to have the rest of the country mapped by September.

Many other school districts have expressed interest in the app, he said. Sprigg, however, says teachers shouldn’t make it easier for children to have sex.

“When a person is … on the verge of engaging in sexual relations, they’re probably not exercising their most rational processes, not weighing the pros and cons, not remembering what they’re taught in class,” he said. “It’s naïve and unrealistic to expect that amount of rational cost/benefit analysis on the part of those teens in that situation.”

Testing Doesn’t End Risk
Teens who share negative STD test results before hooking up are still at risk for STDs. To account for this false sense of security—sexual activity since the last test, infections that can’t be tested for or don’t show up on tests—qpid.me tells users to wear condoms and practice safe sex.

This isn’t enough, said Scott Phelps, executive director of the Abstinence and Marriage Education Partnership.

Contraception is designed to prevent pregnancy, not STDs. In addition, spermicide, which is found on most condoms, has been shown to increase a person’s risk of contracting HIV, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Even in comprehensive sex ed programs, teens do not learn this, Phelps said.

Phelps and Sprigg favor teaching teens to abstain from all sexual activity until marriage, the safest and healthiest way to prevent pregnancy and STDs.

Abstinence Redefined
Comprehensive sex ed curriculums may teach abstinence, but not adequately, Sprigg and Phelps said.

Most programs present abstinence as another birth control option—“don’t have sex this weekend if you don’t want to get pregnant this weekend”—and some encourage students to come up with their own definition of abstinence, Phelps said.

Most CSE curriculums briefly mention abstinence, “and the rest of the resource will be premised on the assumption that most kids will ignore the recommendation of abstinence and become sexually active,” Sprigg said. “We have some concern of that becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Parents Left Out
Most parents want their children taught to delay sex until marriage or close to marriage, research from the Heritage Foundation reports.

“Beginning at age 13 now, the young people are given a lot of privacy with respect to their health care,” Sprigg said. “Parents are expected to pay for it and not be informed about it, and I think that’s a serious problem.”

Phelps and Sprigg said pretend sex is only physical is inaccurate and harmful.

“It’s mental, it’s emotional, it’s financial, it’s social, it’s psychological,” Phelps said.

Teens are better off waiting, Sprigg said.

“An app like this is not sufficient to deal with the complex social and emotional realities [of sex],” he said. “I’m not convinced that adolescents are prepared to deal with that reality.”

Image by Chris Tse.

Mary C. Tillotson

Mary Petrides Tillotson is an education reporter for Watchdog.org.  (read full bio)