This New Mobile App is Bringing Honest, Reliable Sex Education to Teens and Young Adults

Brianna Rader is putting sex ed in the best place possible: The pockets of everyone with a smartphone.
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Brianna Rader is putting sex ed in the best place possible: The pockets of everyone with a smartphone.

Brianna Rader is one controversial lady. This Knoxville born and raised woman organized a sexual education program when she got to college and realized that many of her fellow students got the same sexual education she did: "Just Wait." 

After her program got picked up by a conservative blog, the legislature took time out of their busy schedules to personally yell at her her for holding a campus event — which later turned out to be the most-attended of the semester. College students, it turns out, are really into sex. 

So is Brianna — sex education, that is. Her discovery in college made her passionate about making sexual education accessible to all young adults, not just those lucky enough to be going to schools where comprehensive sexual education programs are the norm. Which, shockingly, is not very many

With a program that started as a website called Hookup and turned into an app called Juicebox, she's putting sex ed in the best place possible: The pockets of everyone with a smartphone. 

She took some time to chat with me in advance of the app's launch, and we talked about everything from the steep learning curve with project development to the nitty-gritty details of how Juicebox is run behind the scenes. 

A screenshot from the Juicebox app

How Juicebox works

The app itself features two components: Snoop, and Spill. 

Snoop will sound familiar to those of us fortunate enough to get something resembling actual sexual education in school: Write your question on an index card, drop it in a shoebox, and wait for the teacher to read it in front of the class and answer it. All while hoping that no one figures out that you're the one asking something embarrassing. 

Juicebox users can submit questions that get funneled into a queue presented to sex educators and other professionals in the world of all things human sexuality — all of whom are American Society of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists-accredited sex educators or PhD students in human sexuality who are close to finishing their dissertations. They review questions and provide informative answers and resources based on their training and experience, publishing them for all members of the community to read. 

Brianna told me that this feature started out a private one — users could reach out to sex educators and get personal advice. Their team quickly found, however, that teens and young adults, their target demographic, actually wanted to see the kinds of questions their peers were asking, and that's when they took the questions (but not the askers) public, to create a more lively community. 

On the "Spill" side, users can share their own stories about sexuality and gender. Her moderators run a tight ship, with administrators approving first-time entries from new users. "We have a very strict moderating process," she explains. "We tried to design the app so it’s a safe space, with a safe tone."

How safe? Despite being launched with an extremely lean interface (more about this in a moment), Juicebox comes with full flagging and blocking features. She considers these vital for users, saying that she wasn't want the app to be used as a tool for bullying and abuse. It's educational, she stresses, and she wants people to feel comfortable using it. Given the problems with bullying and abuse online, including safety tools from the outset is wise — and it's also pretty revolutionary. I am looking at you, Twitter.

A playful infographic with sex ed facts.

The backstory

I'm always interested to hear how people developed products, especially when it comes to women working on apps in the male-dominated world of Silicon Valley, so I asked Brianna some questions about the experience of developing the app. 

It started, she explained, when she went to a Startup Weekend event while she was studying in San Francisco. Startup Weekend gives people a chance to network, learn more about the world of running a Silicon Valley business, develop rough ideas for projects, and even present them to judges. 

The event spurred an idea: Why not develop a sexual health app, since more and more young adults are going mobile, and websites weren't meeting their needs? The result was a steep learning curve, Brianna said, explaining that she'd never managed a project, let alone a company, before, and the experience from user interface design to negotiating with the App Store was new for her. 

With a powerhouse designer behind them, the team started designing an app designed to cater to teen and young adult users, right down to the layout. "We talked about the color of the buttons, the shape of the buttons," she said with a laugh. Considerations for user inferface design also required rethinking the way she interacted with the app, eliminating tools like menus that us ancient people in our 30s are used to seeing when we navigate websites and apps. 

"It took forever," she said, explaining that they would have to design, test, fix problems, and then test again. Their submission process for the App Store was fairly smooth, though, as they only encountered the kinds of problems that first-time app designers usually see, like minor problems that needed to be fixed before the app could go live. 

She also learned a lot about the process of developing and releasing projects in a landscape where lean design and rapid implementation have become the norms. Originally, she explained, she had a whole host of features she wanted to release with the product, but they stuck with two for the initial Juicebox launch, with plans to do many more in the future. 

A screenshot of the Juicebox snoop function, where users ask sexperts for advice.

Everyone deserves better sex ed

"This is an app for everyone," Brianna told me. "I hope this is a seed for something much larger. I would love to build additional products down the line and make this a global sexual health brand." 

Brianna spoke to the need for accessible sexual education in far-flung regions of the globe, especially places like India and South Africa — where, I note, many communities leapfrogged directly to mobile, skipping other forms of communications technology. 

While Juicebox may be aiming at teens and young adults, they aren't the only audience the team has in mind. "I think that users of all ages deserve accurate, accessible information," Brianna says. "There are adults that have very similar questions to an 18-year-old. While we are targeting a specific demographic, I know this is an issue for all sexually active individuals."

Juicebox takes the shame and stigma out of asking questions about sexuality — there's no such thing as a stupid question when it comes to sex, especially in a world where sexual health education is often limited, and discussions about sex are suppressed. People of all ages may find Juicebox useful and empowering, which is the whole point. 

Photos courtesy Brianna Rader