Putting pleasure into sexual healthcare drives better health outcomes. Here’s why.

This piece originally ran on Medium on Oct. 29, 2021.

By Sara Al Harfan, Editor, Frontier Technologies Hub

Our Sexual & Reproductive Health Chatbot pilot team are busy implementing their second phase of work, testing how users engage with pleasure content in a chatbot and whether pleasure content in chatbot-based tools has a bigger focus in determining a positive influence on sexual health literacy and health-seeking behaviours of young people in Kenya.

Our leading partner on this work, Population Services International (PSI), were invited to share their early insights with FCDO colleagues in an internal learning session organised by the pilot’s Pioneer, Anne Philpot (FCDO Health Advisor). The group was convened to discuss definitions of sexual health that include pleasure and desire, the new Declaration of Sexual Pleasure, and our SRHR pilot which is testing with FCDO Frontier Technology funding how to put pleasure into practise in sex education.

Andrea NovellaMoses Njenga, and Alison Malmqvist from PSI were joined by Dr Ian Askew (Director, Department of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Research, WHO), Dr Lianne Gonsalves (formerly of the Department of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Research at WHO but working on a systematic review to build evidence on pleasure inclusive SRHR), Dr Eli Coleman (Head of the Pleasure Task Force and Professor and Director of the Institute for Sexual and Gender Health at the the University of Minnesota), and Dr Pedro Noble (Former President of the World Association of Sexual Health) to present their work to FCDO health advisors.

Evidence is emerging that pleasure-inclusive sexual health can ensure better outcomes, but more interventions and monitoring of interventions is needed. PSI are at the forefront of this work, testing the hypothesis that if Kenyan young adults (age 18–29) are able to access sex-positive sexual and reproductive health information privately and on-demand with linkages to health services via a chatbot, then they will engage in less risky sexual behaviors and increased contraceptive method use. While the pilot is ongoing, they are already seeing positive indications of success and starting to build evidence of the different entry points and pathways users take through pleasure forward and SRHR content.

By conducting A / B tests of messaging in marketing campaigns designed to drive traffic to the chatbot, the team is gathering data on the relative effectiveness of standard SRHR versus pleasure-forward advertisements in generating new users of the chatbot. Data from the first 10 days of the marketing campaign show that content and calls-to-action focused on pleasure have generated higher click-to-bot conversions than those focused on contraceptives alone. It should be emphasised, however, that these results are preliminary and should not be generalised beyond this specific chatbot or intervention.

Over the coming months, the team will be continuing to monitor and evaluate user engagement as they seek to answer the following:

Does sex really “sell”?
Pleasure-forward content is acceptable to young people and an effective tool for engaging young people who would not otherwise access SRHR information and services.

What are the most acceptable “bridges” between pleasure and SRH content?
Hypothesis: STIs and contraceptive counseling may resonate differently with different groups. We hypothesize that STIs may serve as a “bridge” transitioning men from pleasure to SRHR content, while contraceptive information may be the “bridge” used more often by women.

Is pleasure content acceptable to SRH-“first” bot users?
Hypothesis: A high proportion of the users who come to the bot for SRHR information and services will subsequently access pleasure content.

You can read more about the first phase of the Pleasure bot here. Check back for more insights as PS Kenya continues to test, learn and iterate what works when it comes to layering pleasure content into SRHR messaging.

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