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Nonprofit offers service to text teens professional sexual health information

ShiftNC

BrdsNBz provides sexual health information in response to texted questions and concerns from N.C. teenagers. Photo courtesy of Kennon Jacks, SHIFT NC. 

Sexual Health Initiatives for Teens in North Carolina, the nonprofit which offers BrdsNBz, announced earlier this month that its services would expand to cater to an older population.

Xs N Os, the new initiative, is being piloted in northeastern Florida among 19-24 year-olds, SHIFT NC said in a press release.

“Xs N Os has the same easy-to-use format and benefits of BrdsNBz but will have a slightly older feel for ‘older’ young adults,” the press release said.

Kennon Jackson Jr., director of technology for SHIFT NC and the project manager for BrdsNBz said the programs continue to evolve as new areas of interest like sexuality become more mainstream.

“Relationships and development and sexuality are very fluid, and so we’re finding that there are a lot more questions around those domains than when we started the service around sex, pregnancy and contraception,” Jackson said.

Jackson said the text services function much like a normal call center.

“There’s a very small group of us, with probably about collectively anywhere from 60 to 80 years of experience in adolescent sexual health and working directly with adolescents,” he said.

A teenager who has opted into the service can text the designated number any question relating to sexual health, and one of the health professionals on Jackson’s team will respond within 24 hours — though Jackson said responses are often almost instantaneous.

“Depending on the nature of the question, we will loop them back either to a parent or a trusted adult, if that is required,” Jackson said. “But we also then can make referrals so that if someone feels like they need to get tested, whether it’s an STD, or pregnancy or if they want information on contraception, we can loop them back around to a local resource.”

BrdsNBz has been asked over 8,000 questions since its inception in 2009, and the service has since expanded to seven additional states, Jackson said.

Jessica Willoughby, an assistant professor of health communication at Washington State University, wrote her dissertation at UNC on research she did promoting BrdsNBz to adolescents in 2013.

“I recognized what a great opportunity it was to work on a project that had a real impact on young people’s lives,” she said.

She conducted interviews and focus groups with teenagers before creating a campaign to market BrdsNBz directly to adolescents in schools.

“We had to find out what teens liked about the service, what they thought was interesting and if our messages were good,” Willoughby said.

She continues to collaborate with Jackson, and they are hoping to conduct an analysis of all the data collected by the program.

Jackson said while SHIFT NC was already gathering feedback from parents, legislators and health educators about how to better educate adolescents on sexual health, the nonprofit felt an important voice was missing — the teenagers themselves.

“Our thought was we need information from adolescents to help guide what we provide as programming to our health educators and information to our legislators and information to our statewide partners, so let’s talk to them and see what their questions are,” he said.

state@dailytarheel.com

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