Federal study pays gay, transgender minors to report sexual behavior without permission from parents

Kendall Tietz, DCNF

A federal study asks underage boys to report their sexual behavior to a mobile app in exchange for up to $275 all without requiring permission from their parents, The Washington Free Beacon reported.

Researchers at Columbia University funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have spent more than eight million dollars of taxpayer money on a study that pays gay and transgender minors as young as 13 to track their sexual behavior on an app called MyPEEPS without parental permission, the Free Beacon reported. Questions such as whether or not they have “condomless anal sex” are asked as part of the study.

The app has “activities and games” to educate users about HIV prevention and protective sex. Only 13-18-year-old males who are “into other guys” are eligible to participate in the research study, according to a MyPEEPS tweet.

In 2012 and 2013, the NIH spent more than $300,000 developing the app. Since 2016, the federal government has spent $7.9 million paying researchers to study the data from the app, according to a government spending database, the Free Beacon reported.

Researchers at Columbia University were awarded another $341,522 to study transgender teenagers using MyPEEPS in 2022.

“MyPEEPS Mobile” markets itself as “a sexual health project for teen guys who are into guys,” on Twitter. It advertises the app as a way to “Learn about relationships, communication & ways to protect your health using an app.”

Some experts said there are ethical concerns with studies involving minors who are considered a vulnerable population, according to Dr. Monique Wubbenhorst, former deputy assistant administrator in the Bureau for Global Health at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Free Beacon reported.

“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,” Wubbenhorst told the 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.”

Researchers must apply for a waiver of parental permission through the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services which requires them to prove that children who participate in the study will be protected through an “appropriate mechanism.”

Dr. Rebecca Schnall, the project leader of the MyPEEPS study, told the Free Beacon that her team was able to secure a waiver because of the minimal risk of the research, and she said the subjects of the study might be less likely to participate if they were concerned their parents would have knowledge of their sexual activities.

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