Sex is used to sell everything from toothpaste to cars. In fact some days it feels like we are being ‘slapped upside the head’ with sex. If there is anything you’re curious about it’s just a few clicks away on the internet. Want a demonstration? There is surely a porn video online that you can watch in the privacy of your own home. By the time a young adult reaches legal voting age, they probably know more about the mechanics of sex than their parents knew at age 30. In a world where sex has become so readily available and free you would think that we’d have better sex education programs in our schools. Unfortunately, we still live in a society that is simultaneously sexually obsessed and sexually repressed. As a result, young people today are still forced to get most of their sex education online. The internet is a great resource, but since anyone can post anything, how do you know you’ve found a reliable source? When it comes to practical matters regarding sex, where can you go to ask your questions, without embarrassment or fear of judgment?
The State of Colorado’s answer to this quandary is a campaign and website called Beforeplay.org. I recently interviewed Family Planning Supervisor, Greta Klingler from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) about this new campaign. Ms. Klingler told me that Beforeplay.org is a cooperative effort between the Colorado Initiative to Reduce Unintended Pregnancy and the State Health Department.
The purpose, per Klingler, is to normalize conversations around sexual health, birth control, STDs, and pregnancy planning. Did you know that almost 50% of all pregnancies in Colorado are unintended and that rate is even higher among young adults in their 20s? I found these statistics a bit surprising, considering the fact that birth control is so readily available these days. Klingler had this to say,
“As we were working with STD prevention and unintended pregnancy prevention, we discovered that people didn’t know how to talk to their partners, their friends, their family, or even their health care providers. So we wanted to create a resource that not only provided accurate, reliable information, and directed them to the services they might need, but also gave them tools to have these conversations in a comfortable way.”
Klingler said that in talking to young people in Colorado they found that they wanted a source they could trust, that also used some humor, and was non-judgmental. After a visit to the website it is evident they have accomplished their mission. Rather than feeling like you’re walking into an antiseptic ‘virtual clinic’ it feels more like entering a fun, hip, cool place where you can get straight talk in layman’s terms without feeling intimidated or self-conscious about your sexual health questions and needs. In fact, I have no doubt that there are many people past the target market age of 20-something who could benefit from some of the information. For instance – anyone who has recently been catapulted back into the singles world after the break-up of a relationship or marriage that lasted ten years or more. People do have a tendency to become complacent about STDs and pregnancy when they are in a committed monogamous relationship, and could often use a refresher course.
In addition to sections on birth control, pregnancy, and STDs, there is one on sexuality that includes FAQs regarding gay, lesbian, transgender, and bisexual topics as well as a directory of LGBT-friendly healthcare providers. Beforeplay.org has certainly provided an open-minded, non-judgmental approach to these matters. The pregnancy section not only covers things to consider before you get pregnant, like how much it costs to raise a child to the age of 18, but also addresses health issues if you are already pregnant.
For specific answers to your personal questions there are several options. You can email a health professional from the site, or send a private message via the Beforeplay.org Facebook page. You can also send an anonymous text and a nurse or trained health educator will get back to you within 24 hours. “A great option for those who feel uncomfortable asking these questions face to face,” Klingler explained. This is definitely more like chatting with a friend than a government organization.
Initially launched in February, 2012, Klingler said Beforeplay.org utilized social media and community events to get their message out. This included sending outreach workers to concerts, sporting events, festivals, and college campuses to distribute information and engage people one on one. They recently launched a new marketing effort to further proliferate the message, including some very clever ads on billboards and bus benches around Denver.
If you don’t have health insurance and have a limited budget, the links to service providers on the site clearly identify those that are part of the Federal Family Planning Program, which means they cannot deny anyone service based on an inability to pay, and offer a sliding fee scale. Klingler said there are 65 such facilities across the state.
I asked Ms. Klingler if there were any plans to add topics regarding emotional health around sex and relationships. She said they were planning to expand into this arena in the future. They also had blogs planned regarding ‘coming out’ in a safe way for the LGBT community, and intimacy from the LGBT perspective.
In this world filled with sexy images at every turn mostly for commercial purposes, not to mention the violence that’s permitted on TV and movies with PG ratings, it seems birth control is still a dirty pair of words. A recent blog on the Beforeplay.org site shows a list of Denver businesses that would not allow them to advertise and considered the campaign ‘inappropriate’ for their patrons. This hasn’t seemed to slow the campaign however. According to Klingler, they are getting 50,000 visitors to the site each month, in addition to having nearly 12,000 likes on Facebook, where people not only comment on and share posts, but email most of their private questions.
For more information visit the Beforeplay.org website.