Between controversy over the sexual assault case of former student Brock Turner and Stanford’s debut of two new sex-ed programs (Beyond Sex-Ed and SAVE) for incoming undergraduates this fall, conversations about sex and consent are increasingly prominent on campus.
Alumnae Elise Racine ’15 and Mia Davis ’14 hope to add to this conversation with their recently launched app for sex-ed, tabú. The mission of tabú, according to the app’s website, is to “open up the dialogue around sexuality, promote the fundamentals for safe, consensual and enjoyable sex, and empower millennials to take control of their sexual health.” Targeting users between the ages of 17 and 25, the entrepreneurs have also established a corresponding campus ambassador program at colleges around the United States to kickstart conversations about all aspects of sex-ed, from the technical to the pleasurable.
The Daily chatted with Racine and Davis about their inspirations for tabú, how the app works and what advice they have for Stanford students interested in entrepreneurship and women’s health.
The Stanford Daily (TSD): Why is sex-ed important, and how is tabú bringing something different to the table?
Elise Racine (ER): I think it’s important because sex is something most people will engage in at some point in their lives. Sex is something that affects you mentally, emotionally, physically, so [you need to] have the right information and tools to learn and further explore and understand things.
Mia Davis (MD): The way we’re approaching it differently is to make [sex-ed] more modern … It’s something that people are doing, so why not talk about it? … I think by bringing up these topics – like consent, which is something that really isn’t talked about and is so important – we want to highlight topics people aren’t already talking about, including communities that are underrepresented when it comes to sex-ed.
TSD: How did you come up with the concept for tabú?
MD: It started with a conversation among our friends last year, and the realization that there aren’t a lot of great resources out there for learning about sex. Also the realization that the conversation [is sometimes] awkward. It’s something you don’t want to talk about with your friends and family. You don’t know who to talk about it with … so there’s a lot of gaps there. So the company evolved into what it is now … to try and fill that gap and provide a resource for young people as they learn about sex.
TSD: How does tabú work?
MD: It’s largely an app. There [are] a couple different functions to it that allow millennials to not only connect with each other, but also with experts if they have questions.
Our main feature that we’re starting with is our question and answer feature. It allows you to ask the question, and we have two tabs for answers. One is the community, so you can get support from other people. You also have the expert tab which allows you to have a more professional opinion.
TSD: Would you say this is more skewed towards medical advice or relationship advice?
MD: It’s definitely a mixture. There’s some basics like STD [prevention], birth control, the medical physicality of sexual health and sex … But also, sexuality and gender are really big topics. So is the topic of consent and sexual assault.
TSD: Is there one topic in particular that you’re finding users to be most interested in?
MD: I think across the board birth control comes up a lot. Finding the right birth control option can be really hard, and not always a conversation that people feel comfortable having with their partner … We’ve seen a lot of statistics that are pretty alarming about the conversations that don’t take place about birth control, and it’s so important … for safety and peace of mind.
ER: I think consent would be another big topic. There [have] been a lot of studies coming out that show, especially when young adults don’t have another resource for sexual education, that they’re turning to porn. There’s been a lot of discussion surrounding how that creates some really unrealistic expectations and that doesn’t really open up a conversation about consent.
TSD: Are you targeting women, men or both?
ER: Originally we started off more towards women. We’re both women and the idea was definitely born out of our experiences and the experiences of our friends … Mainstream media tends to show women’s sexuality and pleasure in a very specific light. We didn’t feel like there were a lot of great resources for women. But, as we started to engage in conversations with a lot of different people, we realized we really wanted to be inclusive. We really wanted to change the dialogue, which meant opening up the conversation to everyone. That’s when we decided to target all millennials, regardless of their gender or sexuality, in a real effort to get some great conversations going around these topics and to be inclusive and provide a judgment free zone to explore these issues.
TSD: What is your advice to female Stanford students interested in entrepreneurship and women’s health?
MD: Being a woman [is] a lot better now than it was even a couple years ago even – being a female entrepreneur. It is still a tough environment, but it’s a really exciting field. My personal advice would be that if you have a dream and you have something you really want to accomplish, to really have faith in yourself. Go outside of your comfort zone. I don’t think either of us predicted the path that would lead us here, but by pursuing what I thought was the most interesting … has led me down to something that is so meaningful to me.
ER: I’d say don’t be discouraged. If you know that you are solving a problem, that’s the most important thing and that’s really rewarding.
Email Rebecca Aydin at raydin ‘at’ stanford.edu.