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Sexuality app to provide safe, reliable information for young people

20 December 2021

A mobile app being developed by the University of Canterbury (UC) will provide a ‘one-stop shop’ answering young people’s questions about sexuality.


University of Canterbury Health Education Lecturer Tracy Clelland is leading a project to develop a new relationships and sexuality app for young people.

Led by UC Health Education Lecturer Tracy Clelland, Te Puāwaitanga: Beyond the Birds and the Bees relationships and sexuality app, is in the design stage and likely to be ready by August 2022.

Clelland says positive sexuality is a valuable resource for life. “This app is about giving young people knowledge, understanding and skills to have healthy, happy relationships across the life course.”

An app is a great way for young people to access information, she says, because most own and regularly use a mobile phone, and it is private.

“Young people keep saying they want better sexuality and relationship education. There’s a need for a resource that is accurate, non-judgmental, culturally appropriate and targeted to young people aged from 13 through to those in their 20s.

“Our app will include safe, reliable information about sex as well as gender, consent, love, and where to access help.” 

The concept is based on an app and website in the Netherlands called Sense which provides an interactive platform to access information through quizzes, flipcards, and videos on a wide range of topics, from consent to how to have healthy relationships.

The UC-led app, which is being designed by University of Canterbury software engineers and post-graduate students, has been granted $20,000 through a UC Innovation Jumpstart award. Clelland is exploring a potential partnership with Pegasus Health, but she is also seeking about $80,000 in additional funding from organisations keen to support it as a social good for rangatahi (young people).

“We need more funding to make it a quality product that meets the needs of young New Zealanders. Currently there are inequities in sexual and reproductive health services for Māori and Pasifika young people which we think the app will help to address,” she says.

“The complexity involved in talking to whānau means young people often fear being judged and shamed for asking questions about sexuality. This means rangatahi often source information from unreliable sites such as the internet or pornography. This app offers a reliable alternative source of sexuality information for young people.”

Clelland, who has 30 years of experience in sexuality and relationship education, wants to change the landscape of sexuality education in schools and she sees the app as an important support tool, for parents and teachers.

“My research with parents shows they often feel their sexuality education was inadequate and they are under-prepared to talk to their children about these topics. They’re also unfamiliar with the latest information, which can make them feel overwhelmed.

“This app will be a resource where parents can get up-to-date information about the laws around consent, gender diversity and the latest types of contraception, and other topics.”

The plan is for the app to also connect young people with other sources of information and with local services such as sexual health clinics and Family Planning centres.

UC Health Sciences graduate Jessica McQuoid is working as Project Director on the app project and Auckland-based health researcher Cate Mentink, another UC Health Sciences graduate, came up with the original idea for a sexuality information app and is also involved.

McQuoid is currently taking part in a University of Canterbury Centre for Entrepreneurship Summer Startup programme to get mentoring and business advice for the project.

Clelland says young people will have extensive input into the development and interactive design of the app and her team will go into high schools to hold focus groups with Year 9 to Year 13 students from early next year. “We have already completed preliminary focus groups as part of a scoping project and young people have told us they want this app. We want to make it happen with their help.”

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