In 2012, Tennessee lawmakers banned sex ed teachers from condoning "gateway sexual activities," including oral sex. In 2013, sex week at the University of Tennessee had its funding slashed. And in 2014, Tennessee state Rep. Richard Floyd, along with more than two dozen others, sponsored a resolution to condemn a group of students holding a sex week at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
Learning about sex is a lot harder than you could ever expect.
Looking to circumvent the red tape, students at the University of Tennessee, led by Brianna Rader, co-founder of Sexual Empowerment and Awareness at Tennessee, launched an app that would make getting a sexual education a whole lot easier.
Hookup is the first app to give teens and young adults instant answers from sex experts for their sex-related questions, anonymously. It's like a Google search but with real-time, personalized and accurate answers. The project, set to hit the app store in November, launched as a beta website this week.
"Changing public policy in states like Tennessee is an extremely long-term solution to our sex education crisis," Rader told Mic. "So a mobile app allows students to get all the information they need from their phones, which they are constantly on anyway."
Making sex ed fun: The aim of Hookup is not only to reach young people with sex ed more easily but also to provide content that's edgier and more authentic than your typical condom-on-a-banana seminar. Their slogan: "Sex ed sucks. Try us."
Currently, Hookup has two main features. "Ask a Sexpert" has volunteer experts and Planned Parenthood educators based in Knoxville field one-on-one chats about everything from virginity to orgasms. The "Share Your Story" feature allows users to post anonymous stories, from the funny to the embarrassing to the sad.
The app has plans to introduce features like sex quizzes, games, a health center directory and informational library.
Rader's main focus is getting teens and young adults to talk about sex through asking and confessing. "Communication is hugely important to have a healthy sexuality. That's the main problem fueling sexual assaults around the nation. [This] could help normalize having an open conversation about sex," Rader said.
Making sex ed accurate: Most of all, Hookup wants to make sex ed accurate again. Today, of the 22 states and the District of Columbia that require sex education in public schools, and 19 require it be factually, medically accurate. The Guttmacher Institute found that the average age of first sex is 17 in the United States, which means that if teens aren't learning about sex in school, they're still probably doing it.
In lieu of those figures, teens and young adults turn to what we all do — their computers. A 2011 survey found that up to 89% of teens use the Internet as their top resource for questions about sexual health.
Radner said while interviewing teens about the app, she realized most got their sex advice from friends or Google searches. "We're hoping to go for a 'cool older cousin' vibe," Rader said, as a more useful replacement for the (often inaccurate) information teens are giving their peers.
For Rader, T Sripunvoraskul and Laura Trigeiro, the three women who designed the app, sex education should empower a generation that has been let down by policies that don't service real world experiences of sex, like abstinence-only education and bans on informational sex weeks at universities.
Hookup hopes to prove, once and for all, that true sex expertise starts with an honest question and ends with an accurate, judgment-free answer.