The National Institutes of Health spent more than $8 million taxpayer dollars on a research study that pays gay and transgender boys as young as 13 to report their sexual behavior on a mobile app without parental permission, the Washington Free Beacon reported.
NIH-funded researchers at Columbia University offered gay and transgender boys upwards of $275 to document their sexual activity on MyPEEPS Mobile, including “condomless anal sex.”
The NIH spent over $300,000 to develop the app and $7.9 million since 2016 for Columbia researchers to collect and study the data.
NIH study spies on gay kids without parental consent https://t.co/dn5w9BWQyd
— Georgia Log Cabin (@GeorgiaLogCabin) January 29, 2022
The NIH pays gay teens to use a mobile app to report their sex lives and play sex-ed themed "interactive games and activities." Parental permission was not required for participants. @FreeBeacon https://t.co/FpvQXXuzCi
— Patrick Hauf (@PatrickHauf) January 28, 2022
The Washington Free Beacon noted:
The app for “young men who have sex with men” provides “interactive games and activities” designed to teach participating teenagers how to minimize risk in their sex lives, according to the research grant and resulting study.
MyPEEPS Mobile is a smartphone 📱 app with activities and games 🎯🧩 to learn about HIV prevention🛡/protective sex 💪🔥 and effective communication in relationships 👨❤️💋👨 and much more! Learn how to make safe, educated decisions 🧠💭about you sexual health! pic.twitter.com/cDWZ3dyRgl
— MyPEEPS Mobile Project (@MyPEEPS_crew) January 15, 2020
While researchers say MyPEEPS Mobile provides educational information for gay adolescents on how to have safe sex, some medical experts say there are ethical concerns. According to one of the program’s studies, teenaged participants in the pilot trial were “recruited” to use the app in six different cities and traveled to attend “interventions” to discuss the sex education program, all without parental permission.
“There is an ethical balance between investigators’ desire to enroll children in a study and the need to support parents in caring for their children,” Dr. Monique Wubbenhorst, former deputy assistant administrator in the Bureau for Global Health at the U.S. Agency for International Development, told the Washington Free Beacon. “There are additional concerns that minor children in this study may be engaged in sexually exploitative relationships with older males, sex trafficking/child prostitution, violence, and sexual abuse, from which they should be protected.”
“Minors are considered a vulnerable population and are unable to give informed consent in research studies,” said Wubbenhorst.
The Department of Health and Human Services allows researchers to apply for a waiver of parental permission for minors through designated institutional review boards.
Dr. Rebecca Schnall, the project leader of the MyPEEPS study, obtained a parental permission waiver from the institutional review board because the study poses ‘minimal risk’ to its subjects.
Clearly, the MyPEEPS researchers, HHS, and institutional review board don’t think putting children at-risk of sex trafficking, child prostitution, and sexual abuse is a risk to them.
”If parental permission were sought, then our study participants may not be willing to participate in this study because they will fear their parents’ knowledge of their sexuality and sexual activities,” Schnall told the Free Beacon.
Dr. Aaron Rothstein, a fellow in bioethics at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, said he is surprised the Columbia researchers got a waiver, especially because the teenage participants were paid and traveled to attend group-based discussions.
”If parental consent is waived, there needs to be an appropriate mechanism in place to protect the minors,” Rothstein told the Free Beacon.
This year, Columbia received an additional $340,000 for a study that focuses on transgender teenagers using MyPEEPS Mobile.
Schnall said there are no plans to make the app public, as it is used for research purposes only.
The MyPEEPS mobile study is posted on PubMed.