Sexual Health Roundup: An App to Diagnose STDs, No Condoms as Evidence in D.C., and No Sex Ed for Utah Parents


Sexual Health Roundup is a weekly summary of news and research related to sexual behavior, sexuality education, contraception, STIs, and more.

Pimple or Sexually-Transmitted Disease? There’s an App for That

STD Triage, a new app developed by a Swedish orthopedic surgeon, allows users to take pictures of suspicious spots on their genitals and send them to a licensed dermatologist in Europe. For a $10 fee, the doctors will look at the photos, evaluate the user’s symptoms, and give a few possible diagnoses and recommendations for treatment. If the doctors can’t provide a diagnosis or treatment recommendation, users are told to see a doctor and given a map of nearby clinics. According to the app’s designer, about 70 percent of users are given treatment advice and told to see a doctor if the symptoms persist or get worse, while 30 percent are sent directly to a doctor.

The app is an outgrowth (pun intended) of iDoc24, a service that allows people to submit pictures of worrying birthmarks and moles. The apps’ designer, Alexander Börve, told Wired that he was inspired to develop STD Triage when he realized that a surprisingly large number of iDoc24 users (30 to 40 percent) were sending pictures of spots on their genitals.

I’m all for encouraging testing and treatment of STDs, but this worries me a bit. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but is it really the best way to get an STD diagnosis? A number of STDs may not be visible to the naked eye (or smartphone camera), either because they are too small or on an area like the cervix that can’t be photographed. And then there’s the issue of picture quality. The app’s developers say that even though 10 percent of the pictures they get are poor, the accompanying explanation of the symptoms allows doctors to figure out a diagnosis.

The app is being promoted as a way to calm people’s fears about STDs, but I can’t imagine it doing that, because the only acceptable answers I can imagine are, “You have herpes. Go see a doctor.” or, “You have symptoms of an unknown disease. Go see a doctor.” A doctor telling me via an iPhone app, “Oh, that’s nothing” wouldn’t do much to stop my hypochondriacal tail spin.

Even in this high-tech world, we should stick to some low-tech advice about genital health: If you find a sore that you haven’t seen before or anything starts itching, burning, or dripping, go to the doctor!

D.C. Police Department: Condoms Can’t Get You Arrested

As we’ve reported at RH Reality Check, police in New York and other cities around the country and world have been known to use the possession of condoms as a factor in determining whether there’s probable cause to arrest someone for prostitution-related crimes. A 2012 Human Rights Watch report found that police in Washington, D.C., had informed sex workers that they could be arrested for carrying three or more condoms at a time. Moreover, police had reportedly been confiscating condoms from sex workers and suspected sex workers. This is so very ridiculous, especially in a city with one of the highest HIV rates in the country.

Whether it was ever official or not, that rule has now been officially shunned by the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD). The department has started distributing “Know Your Rights” cards to sex works and officers. They say:

–The MPD supports the distribution of condoms to help prevent the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
–Individuals are allowed to carry as many condoms as they want. There is no “three condom rule.”
–MPD officers cannot conduct a stop or conduct a search of a person or premises based on whether or not that person possesses condoms.

The cards also provide a phone number that individuals can call if they want to file complaints against police officers. This seems like a step in the sensible direction.

Utah’s Sex Education for Parents Bill Laughed Out of the Chamber

Last year, Utah state Sen. Stuart Reid (R-Ogden) proposed legislation that would offer sexuality education to parents and then allow parents to choose whether their children receive similar education in school. His ultimate goal, unfortunately, was not to educate parents but to see more of them opt out of school-based sex education classes for their children. Reid said that after a failed attempt to make sex education in Utah’s schools even more restrictive (the state already has one of the most restrictive laws in the country), he wanted to bring the discussion back to the importance of parental responsibility for teaching this subject.

The bill passed the state Senate unanimously, but was literally laughed off the House floor by fellow Republicans, many of whom felt that developing an online resource for parent sex education would be a waste of state time and resources. Rep. Bran Greene (R-Pleasant Grove) said, “There is an abundance of materials that would allow a parent, if they are so inclined, to choose a curriculum they were comfortable teaching their children. I don’t think this is going to encourage parents to do that. I think this is simply going to be a use of resources that could better be used in another area.”

Rep. Spencer Cox (R-Fairview) held up a smartphone during the debate and jokingly referred to it as a “magic box” through which parents can already learn how to teach kids about sex. He went on to say, “I know the old adage in marketing is that sex sells and maybe as a legislature we continue to feel the need for this type of attention. I just really don’t understand why we continue to walk down this path.”

Other legislators expressed concern that children would be able to access the information. However, perhaps the oddest speech of all came from Rep. Ryan Wilcox (R-Ogden), who held a baby girl during his remarks and said he “wasn’t totally comfortable with the effort.” He reportedly also drew laughs from his fellow Congressmen.

Sex may sell, but it also seems to reduce elected officials to a room-full of seventh graders, complete with giggling, joking, and maybe even blushing. Yet these are the people who decide what actual seventh graders should (and should not) learn.

Update: Sex Ed for Kindergartens Passes in Chicago

Last week I reported that the board of Chicago Public Schools, the third largest public school district in the country, was set to vote on a curriculum change that would make sex education start in kindergarten instead of fifth grade. Good news: the rule passed the board.

Under the new plan, students in kindergarten through third grade will learn about their anatomy and appropriate and inappropriate touching and that all living things reproduce. Fourth graders will focus on puberty, HIV, and AIDS. Conversations about human reproduction, contraception, and abstinence will still not take place until after fifth grade. Let the early learning begin!

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