A platform to make things a little less awkward.
The Talk is an online platform made specifically for teens to learn about sex in a positive, balanced, and accurate approach, that takes into account the discomfort around the topic. It was created during a Startup Weekend with Aude Boos, Kaitlin Kallini, Seonghoon Park, Geronimo Ramos, and Molly Reddy, and won second place.
In 2016, only 13 states required sex education to be medically accurate. Not even half mandate that sex education exist. Any yet, we assume teens will somehow learn what they need as they enter adulthood. Our team started our weekend by asking, 'what if sex ed wasn't awful, but exciting, supportive, and clarifying?' We set out to understand what students current experience is with sex ed, and what we could do to fundamentally shift their experience.
Sex Education in the US is highly regulated and varies state to state. What is and isn't allow in the classroom of our public schools is a constant debate. This leaves a patchwork of knowledge amongst public school students, and even more complexity when private school students are considered. Within the classroom, we know our hands are tied to create curriculum that could be used across the country. Because of this, we explored other means of reaching students when they're ready.
Image by Romana Klee under Creative Commons.
Ask some students about sex.
So we dove in. Being located near a college campus, we walked over to find some students and see if they would talk to us about sex, how they learned what they know, and what they still don't know. We found approaching groups of students made it easier for them to talk and compare experiences, so we stuck to groups of 2 -5 students. All our groups were mixed gendered as well. We paired this primary research with secondary research from studies in the field.
We believe our current system is leaving teens in the lurch. They report feeling:
1 in 3 women will experience sexual violence in her lifetime.
And with some states flat out banning sex education, we started asking where teens found their information. We came up with some key sources:
Much of the weight of sexual education has fallen on the shoulders of parents - making most teens wholly uncomfortable.
While it's recommended doctors talk confidentially with teens, on average these conversation last 36 seconds.
Over 55% of teens admit to using the internet to find information for themselves or friends. The question is which sites?
All of this is just to get to the basics of what is sex, how does it work, and how do I protect myself? Our sex education policies are unprepared for a changing Generation Z that is asking tougher questions -- only 48% of Gen Z identify as exclusively heterosexual, compared to 65% among millennials, and we're seeing a growing trend of transgender, fluid and non-gendered students.
We had a few key findings in our research.
1. The Internet as the Wild West.
The internet holds amazing power and potential, but when it comes to healthy sex education, the options are lacking. If teens find their way to WedMD, they're often convinced they're about to drop dead. Meanwhile even helpful Youtube videos can quickly degrade into porn. Even My Little Pony videos can autosuggest explicit content. And teens now are likely to consult porn as a source of sex education.
Despite all this, our sex education is still missing a critical piece: Healthy Relationships. Whether adults want to admit it or not to teens, our relationships are based on a healthy conversation with our partners not only about safety, but enjoyment. If teens never see this happening - and instead only see media representations lacking this - our sexually violent society will only continue.
2. Pleasure is off limits.
When interviewing college students about their experience with sex ed, we met a 26 year old grad student we'll call Matt. Matt was happy to talk to us about all he had learned, about how his relationship has grown and developed through open conversation about safety and being ready. Then we asked if he and his partner ever talk about pleasure, and Matt proceeded to hide his head in his T-shirt out of embarrassment. Like literally pulled the collar up and hid from the question. The idea of discussing the core reason for why they want to have sex is still so taboo, so we're still failing.
3. It's not just teens.
We talk about sex ed like it's just for teens. You do it once and then you're done. The truth is, even into our late twenties we're all still learning and trying to understand our bodies. We didn't talk to any 30 year olds, but we wouldn't be surprised to find out they still have questions too. Knowing this, we wanted to build a solution that didn't feel silly to continue reaching to every time you have a question, even when you hit your 20s.
A curated space to answer all those questions kindly.
Enter The Talk. A website for students to get information about sex that is relatable, accurate and judgement free.
The Talk offers teens a safe and trustworthy place to get all their questions answered without fear of what the 'accidental click'. And it does it in a language that they can relate to. Instead of dry medical speak, The Talk acknowledges where they're at, that this might be scary, and aims to alleviate fears.
Using playful gifs and emojis, and language to match, the site helps students feel normal and comfortable while learning what it means to be an adult.
Imagine, a site for teens that gives them accurate information, in ways that acknowledge them and in language they can understand.
The Business Model
We love feel good ideas, but how do you fund it? Hidden in our problem is a huge financial opportunity. As brands struggle to find ways to reach Generation Z, sponsored content that provides actual value to them becomes an attractive and moral advertising strategy.
With everything from deodorant and razors to period care and condoms, teens are entering a new market with new products. Providing not only the correct information, but access to the products they'll need is a huge value to companies.
An editorial board that controls content, verifies its accuracy, and lastly finds advertisers who see the benefit in helping to educate teens is our recipe for sustainable profits and continued education.