Text into Eric Buhi’s newest project and the first reply you’ll receive asks, “Are you having sex RIGHT now?” Most will accurately reply no, to which they’ll receive, “Good! That makes it MUCH easier to text.”
The playful tone of the messages is exactly what Buhi, assistant professor in the college of public health, hopes for.
Buhi began the Beyond the Condom mobile phone campaign this September after receiving a grant from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.
“It’s just really fun,” Buhi said of his project, which aims at educating young women on the variety of birth control methods, specifically the lesser-known long-action reversible contraceptives such as the ring and the patch.
Buhi has been focusing on the connections between the Internet, technology, social media and sexual relationships and health information for young people for much of his career.
“It isn’t something I just willy-nilly decided to do,” Buhi said,“I began to see what youths weren’t getting in terms of sex ed; there’s so much information that’s out there that they could be getting but they’re not.”
Buhi is a Florida native, born in Miami and raised in north central Florida. He earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of Florida and a master’s in public health from Indiana University.
For approximately five years after his master’s degree Buhi worked various jobs. One was in Washington D.C. tracking the $50 million for abstinence-only education that came from the Federal Welfare Reform bill in 1997.
“I tracked, at that time, which states were taking the money,” Buhi said. “What were their plans for that money? Were they going to give it to school districts or community agencies to do abstinence education?”
When Buhi decided to do his doctoral work, he chose Texas A&M so that he could be a part of a research team that evaluated statewide abstinence programs being taught in schools.
“One of my interest areas is evaluation and understanding how programs work,” Buhi said. “Are they doing what they’re supposed to be doing, what unintended consequences or effects do those programs have on the participants?”
In addition to Beyond the Condom, Buhi is beginning another project. Working with the Pinellas County Health Department, he is surveying teens 13-19, who come into a clinic, about their relationships and how they met their partners.
Buhi’s bottom line for the first part of this new project is whether the Internet is a risk environment for young people.
“I think if you ask any parent, educator, policy maker what they think of the Internet and relationships or sex, they’re going to think it’s this inherently dangerous place,” Buhi said. “But we can’t really say that because we don’t know that for sure.”
Buhi does not go unrecognized for his hard work and passion. In September 2011 he was awarded the Guttmacher Institute’s Darroch Award for Excellence in Sexual and Reproductive Health Research. He is the first male recipient of the award.
One major part of the criteria for the Darroch award was having a focus on educating students, faculty and other researchers.
One graduate student, who works on the Beyond the Condom campaign with Buhi said her favorite part of work was educating others.
“It promotes health education in a new way,” Cheryl Pravetz said. “Women need information on the methods BTC promotes, and this project gives them that information without boring them with pamphlets and lectures.”