Helping young people find free condoms

Young people in the North East will be able to find places to access free condoms and sexual health information, thanks to an app generated using App Movement, an app-development platform developed as part of Newcastle University’s digital civics research.

The C-Card Condom Finder app allows users to find and review places they can use their C-Cards. C-Cards are available for free to anyone under the age of 25 across the North East, and give young people access to free condoms and sexual health information, with these services provided by a large number of participating outlets.

Mark Hedley, the C-Card Coordinator for Newcastle upon Tyne, explained:

“The C-Card Scheme is often the first experience young people have of accessing a service to discuss relationships and sexual health with a trained professional. Many young people coming along to C-Card outlets are not having sex yet but appreciate the opportunity to talk things through with an understanding member of staff and have access to free condoms as and when they need them.

“For young people the C-Card Condom Finder app will allow them to find out where their local C-Card outlets are and give them an opportunity to give instant feedback on how they felt they were supported whilst using their C-Card; outlets will then be able to use this information to influence service provision to meet the needs of all young people.”

The app was generated through App Movement, a platform developed by digital civics researchers at Newcastle University, which allows people to collaboratively commission and design their own apps. Anyone can begin by creating a campaign and gathering 150 supporters who can then collaboratively design and customize features of the app, including its name, the colour scheme and the criteria for rating locations. The app is then automatically generated by the platform and released on the Google Play Store and Apple App Store.

Using the App Movement platform meant that young people were involved in the actual design process of their app. This fits within the digital civics approach of using technology to empower citizens.

Andy Garbett is a digital civics researcher and developed the App Movement platform. He explained:

“The partnership between the C-Card scheme and our digital civics programme is a great opportunity to have a positive impact on the sexual health initiative in the North East and enable young people to be more actively involved in the delivery of their C-Card service.

“Our digital civics research focuses on enabling citizens to take a leading role in the provision of community services. The App Movement platform allows a bottom-up approach to commissioning mobile applications and supporting communities in sharing their experiences with others. The C-Card Condom Finder app is a great example of how service users can shape the design and delivery of the services they utilise.”

Although most areas in the UK have schemes to provide free contraception and sexual health advice to young people, these schemes are currently fragmented, and coverage varies from region to region. The C-Card Condom Finder app has the potential to provide a single network of free condom providers.

For more information please contact Andy Garbett.

Sex education and digital civics

There is a problem with sex and relationships education in schools. School require all maintained schools to teach about human growth, reproduction and sexually transmitted infections (STIs); any further information is provided at the discretion of individual schools. Echoing earlier prohibitions on the “promotion of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship” – the notorious Section 28 of the Local Government Act, which was finally repealed throughout the UK in 2003 – this guidance requires that schools avoid the “promotion of early sexual activity or any particular sexual orientation”. A written policy must be produced and made available to parents, and parents are permitted to withdraw their children. Moreover, private schools, alongside newly instated academies and free schools have no obligation to teach any sex education. Therefore, sex education in the UK is effectively optional, and young people are not required by law to have any knowledge about sexuality.

Disturbed by this state of events, Laura Bates and the End Violence Against Women Coalition are putting pressure on the government to make sex education compulsory in all schools in England, setting up an online petition. We, alongside this movement, argue that a compulsory, comprehensive sex education should focus on consent, young people’s rights to their own bodies, be inclusive to LGBT populations, and feature a much avoided “discourse of desire”. Yet, for some it still remains contentious, or maybe just uncomfortable, to even talk about sex with young people.

Why is this? In my project, we are looking to answer this question through digital civics. We have attempted to counteract the adult opinion and debate that dominates this area through engaging young people in a process of ‘user centred design’. Through this, we have explored young people’s perspectives on sex and sexuality, and ‘talking about sex’ more broadly, and explored how we might incorporate these ideas into the design of new digital technologies.

‘Talk About Sex’, one of the outcomes of this process, is a turn based mobile game designed to promote discussions about sex and sexuality. Through this, we are exploring ways to promote ‘positive’ discourses about sex and sexuality on young people’s own terms through lightweight mobile play. But we are also looking at further ways to extend these discussions. How might conversations about sex and sexuality extend to the home, with children’s parents and guardians? How can we make sex education suitable for younger children, so that sex education isn’t merely ‘fire-fighting’ after it’s too late?

For more information please contact Matt Wood.