Planned Parenthood has a new sex ed chatbot for US teens


Planned Parenthood, a non-profit US sex ed organization, has launched a chatbot that aims to make it easier for teens to get access to advice and information about sexuality, sexual health, and their bodies.

The Web app, called Roo, promises to give teenagers a stigma-free way to explore sexual issues anonymously. Chatting with a bot should also encourage a degree of frankness among users who might otherwise feel too embarrassed to ask vital questions about their sexual health. This is backed by research that indicated an enhanced willingness disclose highly personal information to a virtual entity.

Starting with a series of question-based prompts, the chatbot can be used to explore a wide range of issues, from masturbation and STDs, to periods and contraceptive options. The bot will learn from its users to deliver personalized advice and info. Interestingly, Roo also provides access to live human educators, via Planned Parenthood’s Chat/Text program as needed.

The app was developed by Work & Co, a New York-based digital agency with a track record creating products for tech giants such as Facebook, Google and Apple. The agency worked closely with teenagers in a Bushwick, New York, school to devise Roo and understand their issues and communication behaviour. In doing so the company learned that the kids’ preference for instant messaging and texting meant that a mobile chatbot app was a suitable vehicle to provide the sex health information around the clock without fear of shame or judgement.

While aimed squarely at the 13 to 17-year-old age range, the free service can in fact be used by anyone in the US. It should be interesting to see how effective a bot will be when it comes to delivering reliable, trustworthy advice, and how it will measure up to a human sex educator, making us also wonder how the service will be evaluated in the longer term.

With chatbots growing in sophistication and increasingly being deployed for all manner of customer service and communications, sex ed bots could be increasingly commonplace, and seen as no more novel than using an app to book a cab.

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Rob Tylershevsky

Rob Tylershevsky

Rob is a freelance journalist based in Sussex, UK, with a strong interest in the intersecting fields of technology, human sexuality, relationships, behaviour and psychology.

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