Planned Parenthood launches Roo, a sexual health chatbot for teens

The organization worked with digital shop Work & Co on the strategy, branding, design and development of the chatbot.

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Credit: Planned Parenthood

Planned Parenthood knows teenagers have a lot of questions about sexual health they may not want to ask their parents.

It's hoping Roo, its new chatbot, will have the answers.

Planned Parenthood worked with digital shop Work & Co on the strategy, branding, design and development of the chatbot — which began testing last year but officially launches Thursday.

Work & Co worked with teenagers from Bushwick, Brooklyn-based charter high school Math, Engineering, and Science Academy on the project — including on the name "Roo," which was intended to seem gender-neutral and friendly to the intended audience. The chatbot is designed for 13- to 17-year olds and intends to evolve to answer more questions as more people use it.

Since so many teenagers get health information online, the artificial intelligence-powered bot is meant to give fast answers in a judgment-free, anonymous setting in a manner that's comfortable for the audience — instead of kids going to unchecked online sources or YouTube for important information. Users can find information about anything from puberty, sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy to crushes and masturbation on Roo, which can be accessed on mobile phones at Roo.PlannedParenthood.org. And if they can't find what they're looking for, Roo can connect them to other resources, like live educators via Planned Parenthood's Chat/Text program.

"Helping teens access trusted information — especially since so many young people aren't getting the sexual health education they need — makes this a rare sort of digital product," Work & Co co-founder Gene Liebel said in a statement.

Initiatives like this one are meant to help Planned Parenthood give information to hard-to-reach audiences like teenagers who don't receive sex education or are receiving abstinence-only education. In recent years Planned Parenthood has been on the offensive about the breadth of resources they provide as conservative lawmakers and anti-abortion groups have sought to defund the organization.

"We know that many young people are nervous or embarrassed to ask questions about their sexual health," Planned Parenthood Federation of America president Dr. Leana Wen said in a statement. "They often go online to get information and ask their questions anonymously. It's important that our youth receive a reliable answer they can trust."

Work & Co also worked with Planned Parenthood in 2018 on TrackingTrump.com, a website built to display each action the administration has taken that affects women's rights or access to healthcare, like those that have an impact on birth control coverage or comprehensive sex ed, since Trump was inaugurated. The organization has an ongoing relationship with the agency on digital product development.

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