Sex = Awesome.
If Jessica Ladd has her way, she’ll make it even more awesome.
Jessica, a self-described “Idealistic Nerd,” is the founder of Sexual Health Innovations in Baltimore, Maryland. Through Sexual Health Innovations flagship project, “So They Can Know,” Jessica and her team are dedicated to improving the sexual health of Americans through technology.
Jessica began her impressive career working in the White House’s Office of National AIDS Policy and then as a Public Policy Associate at The AIDS Institute, and as a sexual health educator and researcher for a variety of organizations.
Jessica continues to gain momentum and spread her wings, all for the benefit of our good health. It was my privilege to speak with Jessica about her passion for great, healthy sex.
SG: Jessica, what are you passionate about?
JL: Using technology to improve sexual health. I really want people to have happy, joyful, fulfilling sex lives, and I think that there’s a lot we could and should be doing with tech to help that happen at very low cost.
SG: What make you a successful health innovator and entrepreneur?
JL: I’m a total nerd. I’m a sexual health nerd, and have been since I was 17, and I’m a statistics/data nerd. I’m talking full-on no-I-can’t-answer-your-text-on-a-Saturday-night-because-I-just-found-a-new-dataset-to-analyze nerd. But luckily both the public health and tech communities seem to find that an asset.
SG: What is your greatest hope for Sexual Health Innovations?
JL: I hope we become so good at what we do that we become unnecessary. That all the tools that are needed to help people to be sexually happy and healthy will be easily available to them and the providers that serve them. That online sexual health information will be easy to understand, accurate, and entertaining. That we find a way to build the technology that makes it easy to do socially awkward things for social good.
SG: What is So They Can Know and how will it change lives and communities?
JL: So They Can Know (https://www.sotheycanknow.org) is a website to help people who’ve been diagnosed with STD’s to inform their sex partners that they need to get tested. We provide people with tips and video about how to have that difficult conversation, and we allow people who aren’t willing to have that conversation to anonymously email their partners to let them know. Right now, only about 23% of at risk-partners are notified. We think that if we push that percentage up to around 50% or 60%, we could eradicate curable STD’s from some communities in the United States.
SG: Talking about sex can make us cringe, and talking about STD’s can be worse! What 3 tips do you have for sex and STD talk to be less awkward?
Embrace the awkward. Maybe even acknowledge it at the start of the conversation. With rare exceptions, parents talking to their kids about sex is going to be awkward for everyone. And for the vast majority of new couples, talking about STD’s is going to be awkward too. That’s OK. If you wait to have the conversation because you’re trying to come up with a non-awkward way to have it, you will never have the conversation.
Sometimes it’s helpful to start with a question, like “do you have a condom?” or “have you been vaccinated for HPV?” It opens up the topic and is a lot more natural than stating “I will only have sex with you if you wear a condom” or “I have HPV” when things are getting hot and heavy. You can and should say those things if you want, but sometimes it’s best not to open the conversation with them.
If telling a past partner that you’ve bee diagnosed with an STD, do it soon after you’ve been diagnosed, and make
sure to let them know you didn’t know you had it when you had sex (if that’s true). Saying that right off the bat can help the conversation move forward, because otherwise they’ll be wondering it in the back of their minds.
SG: Who are the women that inspire you and why?
Melody Barnes was a supervisor of mine at the White House, and I was so impressed by her intelligence, her desire to fight for justice, and her ability to make the people around her feel valued and empowered.
Charlotte Gaydos was my advisor for my Masters in Public Health at Johns Hopkins, and now serves as the Chair of the Board of SHI. She is an incredible mentor- always so willing to network people together and to give her valuable time for good causes.
Sharon Camp is just a total bad-ass. She’s pretty much the woman who made Plan B happen and is a terrific model for any female social entrepreneur.
And my mom, who has always dedicated her time to making the world better for other people and animals, and especially making it better for me.
SG: What is the one thing you know now that you wish you had known when you were 20 years old?
JL: I wish I had known to never shy away from something I enjoyed simply because it didn’t seem practical at the time. I stopped taking math and never took computer science in college because I didn’t see how they would help my career path at the time, and despite the fact that I loved math and programming. Now, I’ve found a field where pursuing those passions back then would have been very helpful.
…never give up on what you love…