As the Trump administration continues to scale back—and in some cases eliminate—successful sex education programs, Planned Parenthood Federation of America has turned to artificial intelligence to teach teens about their bodies and ways to reduce pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted infections.
Roo is a bot that lets people ask questions about sex, bodies and relationships in a chatroom. It was launched in January and since debuting, it has answered more than three million anonymous questions posed primarily by high school and college students.
Reports Mother Jones:
The birth of Roo comes at an especially tumultuous time for sex education. In the past few years, the Trump administration has gutted the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program (TPPP), an Obama-era initiative that funded evidence-based programs researching new ways to reduce and prevent teen pregnancies. Congress approved funding for TPPP in March 2010, establishing with it the Office of Adolescent Health (OAH) inside the Department of Health and Human Services [HHS]. By September that year, OAH had awarded $100 million in grants.
In addition, the HHS office for the Administration for Children and Families recently awarded more than $22 million to groups focusing on abstinence-only education. During the Obama administration, teen birth rates for Black and Latinx youth dropped to half of their 2006 levels. Now, according to Planned Parenthood’s website, “slashing funds disproportionately harms sexual violence survivors, LGBTQ teens, youth of color, rural communities and others who face barriers to care.”
Roo—which was built using artificial intelligence and natural language processing—was created to give teens a high-tech version of the anonymous question box that can be found in sex education classrooms across the nation. Topics range from menstruation to birth control to establishing sexual boundaries.
The top five questions, says Planned Parenthood, are: What will happen if I masturbate too much? What’s the right age to have sex for the first time? How big is my penis supposed to be? How do I tell someone I like them? When are you no longer a virgin?
“They want validation that they’re normal. ‘Is this specific change normal?’ ‘Is my body normal?’” Ambreen Molitor, senior director of the digital products lab at Planned Parenthood, told Mother Jones in an interview.
There are also a high number of questions about coming out from users who identify as LGBTQ+ and live in communities that are religiously conservative. Because of queries such as these, the research team behind Roo made sure responses are nonjudgmental and phrased in a way to encourage users to make their own informed decisions as to what is best for them.
Based on the optional survey that users can fill out, Planned Parenthood reports that 78 percent were between 13 and 19 years old and about 64 percent were people of color.