Wednesday, May 29, 2013

5 High Tech Tools For STDs: How They Work and Surprising Ways They're Used

We can all agree that managing your sexual health can be a royal pain in the ass but it’s not only incredibly important, it’s necessary. Admitting you may have screwed up by not using a condom, confessing you haven’t gotten tested, and pleading guilty to never having the STI/STD conversation with your partner is not easy. Ok, it can be really, really hard.

Just so you know, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 20% of Americans with HIV, or about 240,000 people, are unaware they are positive. Since these people don’t know their status, they cause between 54% and 70% of new HIV infections each year. It also has become big problem amongst our youth as 60% of youth (ages 13-24) do not know they are infected. I know, right?

HIV/STD Home Testing

#1 BeforeWeDo: Yes, that is us... Excuse the ruthless self-promotion but this is after all our blog ;-). So, how are we to get better about routinely knowing our HIV status you ask? Sign up for an In-Home STD test subscription. The shipped FDA approved rapid HIV tests allow you to take a swab of your saliva and get your results in 20 minutes - no lab, no blood and no needles. Based on your risk, you receive the tests automatically when it is recommended for you to screen. It’s the easiest way to do the responsible thing. P.S Don’t worry about your neighbors snooping to see what the package is, it’ll come in a brown paper wrapping so your privacy is protected (In-Home Gonorrhea and Chlamydia to be included upon user request).

Now let's look at our friends out there! Here’s a list of additional sexual health techies who created high tech online tools for STI/STD prevention:

Partner’s Health Verification

#2 In just a mere 3 minutes you can you can send a request to the location or doctor where you got last tested, get your STD test results uploaded, and Voila, you are ready to share your test results to your next hook-up or new beau. “Don’t believe I’ve recently gotten tested and that I’m clean?” “Ok, fine. Let me send you a quick text to share my results.” “See, I told ya.” What a clever way to help us “spread the love and nothing else," Ramin Bastani.

Screenshot of 5/29/13
Surprising way it’s used: “I never expected people to use as an ice-breaker!  We hear stories of people using it at bars/clubs as an interesting opener.” - Ramin Bastani, Founder/CEO of

Partner Notification

#3 So They Can Know: Once you get tested, you can have the STD convo by anonymously sending an email or a video to your “sexy” partner. “What, you mean, asking your partner to get tested doesn’t have to be so damn awkward anymore?” “Nope.” As a fellow MPH graduate myself, thank you Jessica Lad for making this a little easier.

Screenshot of 5/29/13

#4 InSPOT: You have a casual hook-up or you just got into a new relationship. How do you say “Um, there’s a big chance you may have contracted an STI/STD from me.” Craft an anonymous message, choose your card to your liking, and send to your one night stand. What's even better is that these cards link back to interactive maps of free and low cost STI/STD testing sites.
Deb Levine (Founder/Executive Director of YTH), smart move to encourage us tell the truth, thanks.
Screenshot of 5/29/13

Skin related diagnostics

#5 STD Triage (powered by IDoc24): Got a Burning Question? Here’s your chance to submit an anonymous image of your (insert genital type) to a group of licensed dermatologists. Get a first response within 24 hours about what skin problem your best piece might have, pretty quick eh? Alexander Borve, you’ve just saved us countless hours of worrying.
Screenshot of STD Triage App 5/29/13
Surprising way it’s used: “25% actually have something like herpes, syphilis or genital warts. The most common is herpes. Comparing "users" from Sweden and USA, the cases that come in from Sweden are actual diseases while cases from the U.S are more frequently benign. Maybe this has to do with sexual education?”  - Alexander Borve, Founder/CEO iDoc24

So... which sextech tool have you used?

Friday, May 24, 2013

Bang With Friends: New Age of Hook-Ups or Walking STDs? The Best Comments and Our App to Screen Them Before You Bang’em

It’s official. Bang With Friends (BWF), the Facebook application that allows people to find friends who are ready to hookup for sex,  has gone mobile with an Android app that offers new features.  The iPhone app was also launched but was promptly booted from the Apple App Store shortly thereafter.  Darn.  It was pulled just as they provided the Undo a Bang” feature, solving the problem of selecting the wrong friend after too many tequila shots.  Another new feature--for those of us who don’t just want to hit it and quit it--is a “Hangout First” option.

Screenshot of Bang With - Booted, 5/24/13

Since its January launch, BWF has signed up over 820,000 users, 70 percent of which are between 18 and 34 years old.  But this is just one of several hookup and dating apps now being used to establish connections.  Tinder, which has facilitated 24 million matches to date, is a location based app that finds people nearby who like you. It connects you with them if you also express interest. Grindr, which a year ago exceeded 4M users, is similar to Tinder but targeted to the male gay and bi-sexual community. For those who like it less direct, the OKCupid app, which has 3.8M active users is one of the most popular for singles aged 18-34 years. It shows you who’s nearby to flirt but it’s not anonymous. And on the most conservative side, Trintme allows Facebook friends to express more intentions and can start with even just a coffee.

Still, those new apps introduce a whola lotta new banging and grinding.  And as we wrote in our previous blog post, a feeling of trust can produce the false feeling of knowing your partner's STI/STD status. Will people be less likely to use protection or ask their partner’s sexual health status if they bang friends instead of strangers? Will the opportunity for immediate hook-ups decrease the chance that partners will take time to talk about sexual health just because they’re ready for action...NOW?

icanteachyouhowtodoit via Compfight cc

I read over 50+ comments that were in reaction to Bang With Friends going mobile. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised at the number of people who commented on the future of our sexual health (or made a pun or joke about it). Here are some of the most popular comments:

1. “Sooner or later BWF will change its name to STDs.”
2. “Can you also earn badges that say "I have had a comprehensive STD test"?
3. “HIV with friends, AIDS with friends, Syphilis with friends...”
4. “Coming Soon. An App that lets you know that your previous-partner-but-has just had a "tune-up" and you should probably get one, too: Bang With Penicillin!”

5. “Explosion of STDs...”
6. “What will Bang With Friends do to STD occurrences on college campuses?” - wrote Brittany Falconer on RaceTalk Blog
There is a big, big window of opportunity for these hookup/dating apps to not only encourage their users to bang their Facebook friends, neighbors, co - workers, etc. but to make it a habit to wrap it up and check their status. On a Developer Week Hackathon in San Francisco, we coded an app in response to the hookup craziness called ScreenYourFriends which allows you to guess when your buddies were tested last and, if you guess right, you win a prize.

Anonymized Screenshot of, 5/23/2012

Now that was just a hack (quick and dirty software build over a weekend) but I would love to see a status update like: “ Luv4You has just received a badge of honor for getting STI/STD tested.” Before you BWF, make sure you BWD (BeforeWeDo) and get yourself tested. Then make sure your friends get themselves tested, too.

That being said, should it be the responsibility of hookup/dating apps to promote safe sex and regular STI/STD testing?

Friday, May 17, 2013

New Kid on the Block? How We Won Startup Weekend

The following is a repost from the Startup Weekend Blog, a 54 hour event where developers, designers, marketers, product managers, and startup enthusiasts come together to launch a startup.

Ever been that new kid on the block? I have.

Alyssa Mompoint, Image by Greg Go

On a whim, I joined Startup Weekend Bay Area. I didn't know what to expect. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into and I didn’t think I would win. But I did. Now, I’m not a programmer.  I’m not a web designer.  I’m not that business savvy.  Turns out, you don’t have to be.  All you need is the right team who shares your vision (or one that thinks your idea is cool enough to eat and breathe for the next 54 hours). Be ready to lead and be led, be open-minded, and hustle. If you are, well, then I’m confident your idea can win Startup Weekend as a first timer, just like (now BeforeWeDo) did.

Without further ado, here’s what you need to know to win over crowd, the judges and the entire weekend:

1. It’s All In The Pitch. Pick an idea you know, that’s clear, and relatable. The idea I came with was In - Home STD Test Subscriptions. No one likes to talk about STDs (which is a problem in it of itself). It’s not fun. It’s not that cool. So, how do you take an idea that by nature is uncomfortable and get people to pay attention? Make it personal. I started with “Sex is Amazing.” (Mostly because it is and I knew everyone, if not all, have experienced it). When I sat down, the person next to me whispered in my ear, ”That was the most exciting pitch yet.”  

Case in point, your pitch MUST catch the attention of the audience. So, be bold and unique. It is also very important that you practice it BEFORE you pitch at least 10 times to yourself and to someone else. This will ensure that you deliver your pitch with as much ease and confidence as possible. Keep in mind, there could easily be 30+ pitches that night (this event had 37) so be sure yours is the one that sticks.

2. Pimpin’ Ain’t Easy. If you have zero sales experience (I surely did), now is your chance to get it. Here’s the deal--you’ll find some people who are on the fence between putting a post-it on your idea or someone else’s. (Only the top 20 ideas are allowed to create a team). So, you better become a self-proclaimed PR agent to promote and sell your idea as best as you can. It’ll be up to you to convince those indecisive ones which team to join. Know there’s an unfair ratio of business people to developers to designers, so it’s imperative that you walk around the room to ask who hasn’t voted or joined a team yet and if not, why? (In this case, having the actual HIV In-Home test came in handy because instead of explaining how it works, I just showed it. So, if your idea has an actual product that goes along with it, bring it!). If you just stand by your poster, then there is a huge chance that you’ll be overlooked, miss out on votes, and miss out on attracting key team members. You’ll need at least one programmer, designer, and business/marketing person to have a well rounded team. Get to pimpin’.

3. Map Out A Plan First. Develop some type of backlog whether it is by way of an online tool, like Trello, or a white poster paper with markers. We used Trello because it was user friendly, simple, and more importantly it allowed us to visually see who was assigned what, what was currently being worked on, and what was completed. In fact, we also used a white sheet of paper to list the tasks and deadlines to ensure that we stayed as efficient as possible. (Remember you only have 54 hours). Side note: Might I suggest you list and assign tasks Friday night? That way, first thing Saturday morning you’re able to get right to work.

4. Focus And Pivot As Needed, Please. You’re going to be very tempted to want to include all the bells and whistles for your product/service or even attempt to roll out marketing strategies. While they may prove to be critical if you pursue your idea beyond the weekend, they might not be a priority for the Sunday presentation. Think about if your product/service is actually solving the problem. Be honest. For us, the numbers on both a customer side and business profit side signaled for us to pivot to just an In-Home HIV test subscription plan (originally, I wanted to include In-Home gonorrhea and chlamydia tests in the plan package). Why? It was just more focused that way. Disclaimer: You are being judged on execution, the business model, and customer validation. You have 54 hours. Focus, focus, focus. Oh and did I mention focus?

Gustavo da Cunha Pimenta
 via Compfight cc

5. Go Ahead And Flirt A Little. There are coaches there to help you, seriously. Find and schmooze with one. If you’re lucky they may even align with your vision and have a personal interest in your idea. They can give you valuable feedback, save you some time and energy on developing something you really don’t need, and give you an idea that you yourself may not have even thought of. Cheers to John Beadle: your input was invaluable!

6. Use The Crowd And Mentors Wisely. One of the three main things you are judged on is customer validation i.e. do people actually want to use your product/service? There a few ways to achieve this either through online surveys, launching a Google Adwords campaign (unless you have some high rollers on your team, I wouldn’t suggest it because it’s very expensive and again you only have 54 hours) social shares using Facebook or twitter, or more importantly the number of “sign ups” or product sales (nothing beats this) you have by Sunday at 5pm. While we used some of these, you have a room of at least 50+ people. Use them.

This is how I worked it in. When 2 female mentors and 1 female Startup Weekend volunteer came around and asked if we had any questions, I responded by saying, “Yes, in fact, would you be willing to be interviewed about your STD testing experience?” (I prefaced it by saying let me know if you’re not comfortable sharing to avoid offending anyone). Why? Because their sole purpose of being there is to help and women tend to be more open about this topic than men. I then asked one of the females who I interviewed if she would be willing to go around the room for me and ask if anyone else would be willing to share their experience. Not only did this save me recruiting time, but she was able to assure them it’s not as uncomfortable and awkward as they may have originally thought. After all, she had already done it! Think of it this way, it was an easy way to create a little crowd buy-in, make it personal, and we even quoted some in our final pitch.

7. Visualize Your Presentation. Literally. No one likes reading slides. No one likes lots of words. Most of us have the attention span of a gnat. Use visuals for your PowerPoint presentation but use them strategically so that you not only paint the picture that there is problem but effectively communicate to the crowd that your product is the solution to the problem.

                                       Testerly from Max Olson

8. Perfect Practice Makes Perfect. We turned Guy Kawasaki’s 10/20/30 Rule into 5/5/30 to keep the final pitch engaging and focused. Learn it. Use it. Love it. More importantly, saddle down a coach to listen to your final pitch to make sure you’re hitting the points they’re looking. For your final pitch, present it in such a way that you tell a story and create a sense of urgency to engage the audience. Make it clear that there’s a market for your product/service, show that people want to use it, that your idea is better, and oh yea that it can make money.  Now, practice it a hundred times (or as much as time will allow).

One last thought. Drink the beer. Don’t take yourself too seriously. And have fun.  

What have you learned from joining Startup Weekend?

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

To Trust or Not to Trust? That Is the Question.

Andrey Popov via Shutterstock
The camera zooms in on a 20-something man who looks anxious.  He’s about to meet someone he met online and who he has identified as his dream girl.  She’s a model who found him on Facebook and he’s become attached to her.  He thinks there might be an opportunity to move closer to her and start a new life.  He says he’s both excited and nervous to finally meet his online love.

Next, we see him standing in his driveway as a woman steps out of a car.  She looks nothing like the photos on the model’s Facebook page and, in fact, it’s someone he knows from high school.  She’s been creating fake profiles online to establish relationships.  She’s a catfish and he’s confused.  He’s been betrayed and his hopes have just been crushed.
In the last year, both the success of the show “Catfish” and the Manti Te'o fake girlfriend hoax have elevated the discussion about just how far people will go to be dishonest in relationships.  While these are extreme examples of deception, they do pose valid questions for all of us.  What can you trust? And when? And what should we be asking people before we fall in love or fall into bed with them?
Recently, the BeforeWeDo team conducted a series of interviews with men and women about testing for sexually transmitted infections (STI’s).  Frequently, those surveyed told us they had not been tested or had not brought up the discussion about test results with partners because they “trusted” them.
And want to know what the impact of that “trust” is?  For at least one of our interviewees, it resulted in a sexually transmitted disease, a course of antibiotics, and the break up of an important relationship.
Understanding that people are engaging in risky behavior as a matter of what they call “trust,” generated a lot of questions for me.
Isn’t Trust the Foundation of a Relationship?
First, I started to wonder if it’s possible that people have misunderstood the rule that trust is the foundation of a relationship.  Obviously, it is true that trust is a critical component in our relationships with everything from people to the products we use.  However, to ensure we don’t misuse this idea, it might be worth looking more closely at this analogy.
When new structures are being built, the foundation cannot be poured until other preparation takes place first.  The land has to be tested and graded, and then some rudimentary systems need to be put in place.  Only after these steps are taken, can the foundation be poured.
So if we want to hold to the idea of trust as a foundation, it should be understood that questions and getting to know someone are simply the necessary first steps.
Trust or Blind Faith?
Next, I started to ask myself if people are labeling behavior correctly.
According to, “trust” is “reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, surety, etc. of a person or thing; confidence.”  So, trust builds based on consistency between words and behavior.  We can rely on someone because he has shown that he does what he says he will do.  Characteristics of trust include a basis of knowledge and repetition that provide a sense of certainty.
Meanwhile, “blind faith” is defined by as “belief without true understanding, perception, or discrimination.”  
The term “blind faith” seems to better fit a situation in which someone believes a partner is STI-free without having any reason to believe.  
Is This Just Excuse Making to Avoid Difficult Conversations?
Is the concept of trust simply being used as an excuse to avoid difficult conversations?  Rather than acknowledge that they are uncomfortable with testing and STI discussions, are people calling themselves trustworthy because they don’t want to refer to themselves as scared?
If this is the problem, it’s time to confront those fears because getting an STI is scarier than asking a question.  Imagine how you might have to adjust your sex life and the conversations you will have to have if you contract an incurable STI like genital herpes.  For more information on the complications that occur after getting an STI, check out this blog post that explains the problems:  “Ask Dr. Sherry: He Gave Me an STD and Now I Can’t Move On.”

Don’t Trustworthy People Get STI’s?

Every year millions of honest, trustworthy people contract STI’s and in many cases, they may not be aware that they are infected.  According to the CDC, more than 50% of sexually active adults will get human papillomavirus (HPV) and most will not be aware they have it because they do not have symptoms.  Meanwhile, strains of HPV can cause everything from genital warts to vaginal, anal, and penile cancer (among other types of cancers).  In the case of HPV, if a person has not received the vaccine against it, they can get infected even if using condoms.  And while HPV is the most widespread STI, it is estimated that more than 50 million Americans are infected with genital herpes.  As many as 90 percent of those infected may not be aware.    

Questions to ask?

So what are some of the questions that should be asked in order to make an educated decision about sexual health?  Below are a few to get you started:
·      When were you last tested for STI’s and what were the results?
·      Which tests have you taken?
·      Have you had other partners since you were last tested?
·      How often do you get tested?
·      Want to see my results?  (Results can be shared via services like

If you need more help figuring out how to talk with potential partners, visit Tips and Scripts for Talking to Your Partners on  You can also find suggestions in “The Hookup:  Let’s Talk about STD’s” on MTV’s It’s Your Sex Life site.
But Don’t You Trust Me?
For people who care about their sexual health, questions from you about STI’s and testing should not be upsetting and instead welcomed.  Conversely, be leary of people who do get upset when questioned because it can indicate they have something to hide or don’t have the emotional wherewithal for sexual involvement.  Below are a few responses in case a potential partner protests with the question “Don’t you trust me?”  
  • No, I’m just getting to know you and trust builds over time.
  • Yes, I trust you but there are 20 million new STI infections a year in the U.S. and I don’t know your past partners and their histories.
  • You may not be aware that you have an infection.  People are often carriers and able to transmit some STI’s without even knowing they are infected.
  • Because I trust what I know of you so far, I want to have sex with you.  And because I want to have sex with you, I need to ask questions about a topic we haven’t discussed yet.

You might also just decide to end things right there if asked “don’t you trust me?”  No one deserves to be manipulated or bullied into having sex without getting the facts straight about a potential partner’s STI status.  Writer La Truly explains how this becomes an issue of self-worth in her blog about a man who questioned her trust when she refused unprotected sex.
Questions for You
Our mission at is to eradicate STD’s and we are constantly seeking to understand better the dynamics of testing and having conversations about sexual health.  Please help us learn by sharing your answers to the below questions in the comments section.
  • Do you bring up the conversation about STI’s with potential partners?  
  • If not, what stops you from addressing it?  
  • Have you ever trusted a partner wasn’t infected only to learn later that he or she was?  What happened?

The Maker of this Blog: