'Sex Info' Text Messages Target Kids, Exclude Parents

By Jeff Johnson | July 7, 2008 | 8:06 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - A new text messaging service sponsored by the San Francisco Health Department is promoted as a convenient way for young people to get "sexual health information." But critics charge that the service, which reportedly targets children as young as age 12, is really designed to circumvent the legitimate authority and moral influence of parents.

The "SexInfo" text service was developed "in response to the rising rates of gonorrhea and chlamydia among African-American youth in San Francisco," according to the city's Department of Public Health (DPH).

"SexInfo is remarkably innovative, timely and addresses a key way young people today access information," Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, DPH's director of sexually transmitted disease (STD) prevention and control said in a press release. "It will make it easier for young people to get tested and treated quickly for these types of infections."

The SexInfo service allows users to seek information on topics, phrased in the typical short-hand misspelling of mobile telephone text messaging: "SEXINFO: reply with code for answrs. 'A1' if ur condom broke 'B2' if u think ur pregnant 'C3' to find out about STDs 'D4' to find out about HIV More ?'s txt 'Q5.'" (See full list.)

DPH's Jacqueline McCright told USA Today that the service "is aimed at sexually active 12 to 24-year-olds in San Francisco, especially blacks, whose rates of sexually transmitted diseases have increased in the past year."

DPH gathered young people into focus groups to "discuss the service and assist with its development."

"The young people overwhelmingly had access to unlimited text messaging on their phones," DPH explained, "and considered SexInfo a private service as long as they initiate the messaging."

Deb Levine, executive director of Internet Sexuality Information Services, Inc. (ISIS), which developed the service for DPH, echoed the privacy theme.

"SexInfo empowers youth to get answers to their burning questions in a safe and private way," Levine said.

But Robert Knight, director of the Culture and Family Institute at Concerned Women for America questioned the emphasis on privacy where minors are involved.

"Let's translate 'privacy.' It means 'parents stay out. We're gonna deal with your kids. We know better than you what to do with them,'" Knight said, mocking the promoters' comments. "'And if they should have an unintended pregnancy or sexually-transmitted disease, we'll tell them how to deal with that, too.'"

The nature of the responses from the SexInfo service makes it easy for some parents to understand why the promoters would stress privacy. Any mobile telephone user, regardless of their age, can ask, for instance, what they should do "if ur not sure u want 2 have sex."

"SEXINFO: it's ur choice to have sex or not get informed B4 u decide." The message includes locations, hours and phone numbers for public health clinics where contraceptives and information on sexually-transmitted diseases and abortion are typically available.

Another response available to anyone with cellular service is in reply to the query: "txt 'E9' if ur sexually active."

"SEXINFO: b smart. use condoms. get STD checkups every 6 months. And talk 2 ur partner about sex. Tell 'em what u like + what u don't. have fun+stay safe!"

Carrie Gordon Earll, spokeswoman for Focus on the Family, told Cybercast News Service that she is not surprised that a public health agency is promoting sex to children and teens.

"You've got your typical 'sex is for recreation' mentality, coupled with 'condoms will protect you,' which we know is not always the case and that they're not always used or used correctly," Earll noted, "and, then, 'let's leave your parents out of this and make sure that this is just between you and the health department.'"

Earll said there is irony in that last point.

"The parents are paying the health department workers and they're paying the phone bills for their own kids, yet the health department workers want to keep this information away from the parents," Earll noted. "That just seems like, almost, a double-whammy against parents' rights in the San Francisco region."

Knight warned that condoms prevent the spread of only about one-fifth of the more than 25 currently-identified sexually transmitted diseases and chastised public health officials for "throwing condoms at this problem for two decades" as infection rates continued to rise.

"They want to keep the 'sexual revolution' going no matter what, even if they're giving bad advice to kids and doing it at taxpayer expense," Knight charged. "This is yet another really bad, bad idea coming out of San Francisco," Knight concluded.

The San Francisco Department of Public Health did not return calls seeking comment for this article prior to its filing for publication.

Make media inquiries or request an interview with Jeff Johnson.

Subscribe to the free CNSNews.com daily E-Brief.

E-mail a comment or news tip to Jeff Johnson.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.