Youth, Mobile, and Health at Sex::Tech 2011

Earlier this spring, I attended Sex::Tech 2011 in San Francisco, the fourth annual conference on technology, youth, and sexual health. At the conference, I heard from a range of experts – sexual health educators, researchers, technology developers, parents, and of course, youth and young adults. During her welcome presentation on Day 1, Sex::Tech founder Deb Levine emphasized that when it comes to reaching young people with sexual health information, there are four key points to consider:
  • Optimize search – young people need the right answers to be accessible
  • Think push, don’t pull – deliver messages where youth already are and when they want it
  • Talk to, not at, youth – they’re smart – deliver and engage in meaningful (and even humorous) conversations
  • Keep your head in the (computer) cloud – we have to be ubiquitous and “transform sex-ed from boring to brand”

These points echo what we heard from others presenters at Sex::Tech and what AIDS service providers have told us before – that youth want to access health information quickly and easily, especially when it comes to HIV. This could be anything from learning what HIV is, to answering a question about how it’s transmitted, to finding an HIV testing site nearby. And youth can (and do!) do this with cell phones. According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project , 75% of teens have a mobile phone , 54% of teens send texts every day , and even 84% of teens sleep with their phones on or next to their bed . If we start to think about youth as consumers who are seeking out the product they want, we have to reach the medium where they are, and this is increasingly becoming mobile.

Mobile was definitely a hot topic at this year’s conference. On Day 1, we heard from speakers working across the mobile field during an mHealth plenary moderated by Miles Orkin, National Director of Web and Mobile at the American Cancer Society . Panelists shared some of their secrets to mHealth success: keep it simple, design to scale, research your target audience, look for partnerships and network, and build measurement and optimization into your strategy. In the end, they emphasized, we want to empower the end user and influence behavior change.

Several presentations focused on innovative ways that people are using mobile to reach young people. Rebecca Willett from the PPFA spoke about their mobile site and text chat service where users can ask anonymous, situation-specific advice. During a breakout session on mobile and social media, Booker Daniels from the CDC/Act Against AIDS campaign spoke about TalkHIV and using Twitter to start a dialogue around HIV in the African American community. Jennifer Medina Matsuki and Kara O’Brien from the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene talked about developing and promoting their mobile app to find free condoms in New York City. I even learned how to create an iPod/iPhone/iPad app during a session on FMTouch from Eli Rosenberg at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health .

On Day 2, I presented a breakout session about open government, the mobile site, and the HIV/AIDS Prevention and Services Provider Locator (see our slides ). As I mentioned in the discussion after the presentation, it’s important for organizations on all levels – national, state, and local – to share data, challenges, and advice with each other as the mHealth field grows. What are you doing in mHealth and how can other HIV organizations get started to reach young people? Leave a comment on the blog to share.

I encourage you to take a look at this white paper from the conference organizers about how youth and young adults use technology for their sexual and reproductive health. And, speaking of mobile health, the team also presented on “What Works in Public Health” at the Mobile Health 2011 Conference in May at Stanford University.

This blog posting is an update of an April 2011 blog.

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