Changing conversations around sexual health

Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri

If you pick up sexual health brochures at fair or clinic, it’s likely you’ll find yourself in a sea of mauve and medical jargon. The brochures are really over-complicated – fitting an entire website’s worth of clinical information on a trifold brochure – with a tiny type size and no relevant imagery. What exists today is simply not designed for people.

While with Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri I was inspired by a project the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy was working on with IDEO. Their early work on what became Bedsider acted as precedence as Elizabeth Tucker and I explored novel ways to communicate with current and potential patients.

Inspired by human-centered design and backed by reputable organizations, we prototyped eight new campaigns to promote sexual health care. These campaigns were developed across an array of media and designed for unique audiences. We used existing resources, such as an underutilized grant from Google Adwords, to increase the number of patients we were able to see for birth control, emergency contraception, STD testing, and other health services. A few of these campaigns are shared below:

Emergency Contraception

We worked with patients and staff to better understand who generally came in for emergency contraception, and what misconceptions there might be about this “after-the-fact” method of birth control. We developed a series of real-life cards to drop off at a wide variety of St. Louis area college campuses and health fairs.


The back of the cards read:

Maybe you got swept up in the moment, missed your pill, or maybe he just didn’t pull out in time. Whatever the situation, we’re here to help with EC.
Emergency Contraception can stop a pregnancy before it starts. (That means it’s not the same as the abortion pill.) EC works up to five days (or 120 hours) after unprotected sex, but take it sooner rather than later to reduce the possibility of getting pregnant. It also has a shelf life of up to three years, so get some and be prepared!

Vagina Experts

This campaign came out of a brief conversation with the health center staff. We discussed how a bunch of folks come into the health centers bashful and afraid of what’s going on “down there,” and this feeling might be preventing others from coming in and getting the health care they need. To calm these fears, and open up an often awkward conversation, we were upfront about what Planned Parenthood is great at. We needed people to know that the staff at Planned Parenthood truly are “the vagina experts.”

Language accompanying this campaign read:

Have a question about your vagina?
If you ever notice something of concern ‘down there,’ please give us a call and get it checked out right away. We offer next day appointments to help you get these pesky problems worked out as quickly (and shamelessly) as possible.
Don’t worry, there’s nothing we haven’t seen. Give us a call today.

This campaign was such a hit, we ended up making t-shirts and tote bags to help our fundraising staff exceed their annual goals.

Happy and Healthy

Elizabeth and I overheard a staff member explain, in the most eloquent off-the-cuff way, what Planned Parenthood does on a daily basis. This staff member said that Planned Parenthood helps individuals have a more happy and healthy sex life. This simple definition stuck with us, became a mantra for our team, and eventually one of our most successful campaigns:


This campaign was the most simple, direct message we shared with our community. We recognized people had strong personal feelings about Planned Parenthood – for good or for bad. It was up to us to share a sex-positive public message to create new mental real estate for a historic brand.


Not only did the St. Louis health centers become a testing ground for Bedsider campaigns, we took what we learned from our patients to change the tone of our health centers, marketing, and communications. This change in tone had a dramatic effect on our ability to provide affordable sexual health care to individuals in the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri.

We were able to use finite resources to get our message out to more people. We saw dramatic increases in the utilization of our Google Adwords grant, in website visits, and in phone center calls. Ultimately, a change in strategy and tone helped more people receive the sexual health care they needed.