A little over eight years ago, nurse practitioner Karen Adamson came to a realization.
While working in the clinic at the Pueblo Department of Public Health and Environment (Then Pueblo County Health Department), Adamson was asked questions from clients about sexual health. She came to a realization that people had urgent questions outside of hours of operation and that some of those questions required immediate responses.
She and the health department developed a textline called “Go Ask Tara.” The line sent a completely anonymous text message and someone at the health department would respond with an answer within 24 hours.
“She realized there needs to be a way to get people these answers when they need it and in a way they talk and communicate the most during off-hours,” Sarah Joseph, health department public information officer and program manager, said. “The youth are active in the afternoon and evening and weekends. Government wasn’t meeting those needs.”
Soon after the program was launched, questions were regularly sent in. Questions expanded from those about birth control and STDs to questions about healthy relationships and how to talk to kids or how to talk to parents about sex.
As more information was needed, the department created goasktara.com. The website provided more information as well as a direct link to email Go Ask Tara and receive an answer to an inquiry within 24 hours — just like the text line.
“We started realizing the breath of questions and topics people were inquiring about,” Joseph said.
Kim Whittington, health promotions program manager, added: “We added a tab on LGBTQ resources in youth. We have a whole resource section of sexual health information. It was a smaller, little website and we realized we needed more information. It has grown over the last five years.”
The website has recently been relaunched with more information, more pictures and visual, more resources and a new color scheme.
In addition, there’s a section featuring educational material on puberty for teens and pre-teens; a tab for parents; clinic information and a link to schedule an appointment; and several other resources regarding sexual health and healthy relationships.
Though the service doesn’t receive a wealth of questions, it is used regularly. The questions range from asking about birth control usage to what to do if a condom breaks to identifying signs of an abusive relationship.
Gabby Jimenez, a health promotions specialist, is in charge of answering those questions within a 24-hour time frame.
“People email or text their question in to the Go Ask Tara gmail and I check it every day,” Jimenez said. “I answer it, type the answer, send it back. It’s always received within 24 hours of when they sent it in. If I can’t answer something, I reach out to one of our RNs in the clinic.”
Jimenez also gives presentations in the community in addition to teaching an Askable Parent Class. The class is geared toward teaching parents how to talk to their kids about sex.
When Jimenez presents at various places, such as one of the colleges, she sees an uptick in questions sent to the helpline.
“When I give out the information about Go Ask Tara, a lot of students jump on it right away,” she said. “I explain it more. Just spreading the word out in the community has helped really understand what it is and how to use it.”
Being educated about sexual health is an important component to public health.
Studies show the more education an individual has, the better able they are to make important choices.
“Sexual health education is super-important for many reasons,” Jimenez said. “You should be educated when you’re young, so you know what puberty is and realize what you’re going to go through and how you’re going to feel. As you get older you’re going to be interested in people and want to date. You should know the proper ways to date and the things to be concerned about like STIs. Those are just going up, so kids should know about how serious that is and how to protect yourself from that. They need to know what a healthy relationship looks like. They should know what sexual violence, or verbal violence looks like. As you get older, you get better and better at it, hopefully.”
Preventing the spread of STIs is also a key component of the website’s mission.
Some may not know they have an STI. Some may not know how to treat such diseases. Proper education can help.
“If you get an STI, and it’s a real serious one … it can get worse and worse,” Jimenez said. “Some like syphilis can get to the tertiary level which means you can go into organ failure.”
The textline and email provide immediate responses to individuals so that they can schedule an appointment at the clinic at the health department or see their primary care provider.
The clinic is free to those under 18 and operates on a sliding pay scale for those over 18.
Jimenez, and others at the health department, feel that Go Ask Tara and the department’s other efforts in educating the public have made a difference.
“Personally, I feel like it’s been a really good thing,” Jimenez said. “I feel like it’s helped a lot of people. WIth helping people I feel like I’m making some sort of difference.
“It’s been a positive thing.”
For more information, or to ask a question, visit goasktara.com.