New York Times reporter Jan Hoffman celebrated explicit online sex education programs, including one run by abortion provider Planned Parenthood, in Saturday’s edition: “Sex Education Gets Directly to Youths, Via Text.” Hoffman found a video made by teens showing a girl being pelted with condoms to be "funny and blunt," and profiled a "vital" Chicago school program called Sex-Ed Loop that focused on "where to find low-cost lubricants."
While heading to class last year, Stephanie Cisneros, a Denver-area high school junior, was arguing with a friend about ways that sexually transmitted diseases might be passed along.
Ms. Cisneros knew she could resolve the dispute in class -- but not by raising her hand. While her biology teacher lectured about fruit flies, Ms. Cisneros hid her phone underneath her lab table and typed a message to ICYC (In Case You’re Curious), a text-chat program run by Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains.
Sex education is a thorny subject for most school systems; only 13 states specify that the medical components of the programs must be accurate. Shrinking budgets and competing academic subjects have helped push it down as a curriculum priority. In reaction, some health organizations and school districts are developing Web sites and texting services as cost-effective ways to reach adolescents in the one classroom where absenteeism is never a problem: the Internet.
Hoffman apparently has a tasteless sense of humor:
The messages, rendered in teenspeak, can be funny and blunt: for Real Talk, a technology-driven H.I.V. prevention program run by the AIDS Council of Northeastern New York, teenagers made a YouTube video, shouting a refrain from a rap song, “Sport Dat Raincoat,” during which a girl carrying an umbrella is pelted with condoms.
Hoffman quoted the executive director of the National Abstinence Education Association, but kept up the propaganda drumbeat with a generic refutation of her views, and comments from a spokesman from the abortion provider Planned Parenthood.
Most online services receive grants from philanthropies, like the Ford Foundation, and health and education agencies on the state and federal level. Classroom content is largely controlled by school districts, but it is a low priority in many areas. Chicago, for example, does not have a mandated sex education curriculum, although teachers are encouraged to include material in science or physical education classes. School officials see programs like Sex-Ed Loop, which began in September, as vital.
Now, through the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health, Mr. Chavez texts and blogs, with a focus on gay teenagers, about such subjects as what to do if a condom breaks, which clinics are gay-friendly and where to find low-cost lubricants -- “things people need to know on the fly,” he said.
Parents who fear that sex education will encourage a child to experiment are misguided, said Elizabeth Schroeder, executive director of Answer, a national sex education organization that oversees Sexetc. Studies show the opposite is true, she said.
But making sure that Web-surfing teenagers find these programs, rather than pornographic sites, has been challenging.
Leslie Kantor, vice president for education at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said it was expanding its chat program, which teenagers can use with handheld devices or online. The organization is trying, she said, to embed material with search terms used by teenagers.
One less flattering Planned Parenthood story on sex ed that has not been reported in the Times: A school district near Albany, New York cut ties to Planned Parenthood after parents raised objections to students being told that “abstinence allowed for oral sex” and “that some high school classes had condom demonstrations.”