Commentary Sexual Health

BeforePlay: New Website Gets Young Adults in Colorado Talking About Sexual Health

Martha Kempner

Young adults (18 to 29) in Colorado are the target of a new website designed to provide information on contraception and STD prevention,  help them locate resources in their area, and get them talking about sexual health.  

A few months ago I wrote an article about a joint project between the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and the Ad Council called Bedsider which combined public service announcement reminding younger adults (18 to 24) to use birth control and pointing them toward a website that contained a lot of information about the topic.  My reaction to the project was mainly positive, I thought the ads were cute and it contained good information about birth control that was easy to follow.  I did worry a little bit that the presentation was trying too hard to be hip, thought the site gave condoms a bad rap, and wanted to see more information on preventing sexually transmitted diseases.  Still in our digital age this type of campaign seems like a good way to reach younger adults with important information that they may not have learned in school or have access to elsewhere.  

Now young people in Colorado have a similar campaign targeted at them and designed to provide information on contraception and STD prevention and help them locate resources in their area. Beforeplay, which is aimed at 18 to 29 year-olds in the state, is a joint project between the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) and the Colorado Initiative to Reduce Unintended Pregnancy (CI), an informal coalition of entities providing low-cost family planning services, educational efforts, and advocacy.

Both CDPHE and CI saw the importance of focusing on this issue because about 40 percent of Colorado pregnancies are unintended, and the rate is even higher among young adults in their twenties.  According to the organizations

“Poor knowledge about effective contraception or how to use it, jobs without health insurance, and ambivalence toward starting a family—if it happens, it happens—all contribute to this situation.” 

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The campaign–which is designed to help young adults think critically about their sexual health and plan for their future–is based on statewide research regarding attitudes toward pregnancy, birth control, and STDs. It includes public service announcements that drive traffic to a website which serves as a hub of information. In addition to the website, the campaign will include statewide advertising (cable TV, bus boards, billboards, online and targeted indoor advertising), social media, and events.

The television ads are cute though clearly done on a bit of a budget. One portrays a women in her older 20s freaking out when her boyfriend says “I want one” while walking through a park full of children.  She imagines her life with a baby and runs through what it would cost before she’s shaken out of her daydream only to realize that her boyfriend was just talking about the RV car the boys were playing with. Another shows a young man about to get lucky only to find he’s out of condoms and is embarrassed to ask his paramour if she has any protection.  A number of other videos on the site depict real people answering questions like “Do you use birth control?” “Are you comfortable talking about sex?” and “Do you have a gyno?”  The site also has a great deal of other information include a method selector (for which it credits Bedsider), a page called Uncovering STDs with disease-specific information, and a lot of information about pregnancy

One of the main goals of the site, however, is to get people talking and as such it has a section devoted to tips for talking to friends, family, partners, and providers.  For example, it gives advice on what one can say to a friend who is not using birth control for financial, religious, or other personal reasons.  The more guarded approach (called Ease Me In) would be to start with:

“No matter what you decide about birth control, I just want you to be informed. Maybe you can call the health center. They’re experienced, understanding and very easy to talk to about the risk of pregnancy and STIs. They can give you information and tips on how to be safe without compromising your beliefs. Some of them also can help with the cost.”

Whereas the no-nonsense tactic (called Give It to Me Straight) starts with: 

“If you’re having sex and not using birth control, you’re essentially saying you’re trying to have a baby. After all, 85 of 100 couples that are having sex and not using birth control get pregnant within a year. Plus, not using any protection puts you at risk for STIs. Are you really ready for that?

Other than the use of the word straight which I just react poorly to no matter where it appears these days, I think this is a really good feature.  While it’s not exactly in language real people would use with their friends (no script ever sounds totally genuine) it’s a good starting point for taking on important but potentially embarrassing conversations.  The section is divided by topics and includes advice for talking about pregnancy, birth control, and STDs.

Beforeplay also has additional information for providers on providing sexual health care and links them to resources such as the Colorado Contraceptive Guidelines, the Preconception Guidelines, and the CDCs STD Treatment Guidelines. 

Sometimes I wonder if we—the public health community and sexuality educators of the world—are constantly reinventing the wheel (or at least the wheel of birth control methods).  There are now countless websites devoted to sharing information about contraception, STDs, and sexual health.  True, each has a slightly different audience but I do question whether we could do even better if we just pooled our resources to make existing sites better rather than continue to put up new ones. (Of course, that would involve a lot of writing by committee which is my own version of hell).  That said, I think is a good addition to the somewhat crowded field of websites on sexual health.  The information is good, easy to find, and very accessible, and it is nice to have so much of it in one place. 

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