Roopa Vasudevan

Sluts Across America: A Birth Control Advocacy Project

"Sluts Across America" is a participatory Internet project designed to highlight the absurdity of the current war on contraception and reproductive health being waged by conservative members of American society.

Collective Storytelling

"Sluts Across America" is an Internet project designed to highlight the absurdity of the current "war on women" being waged by the GOP and other conservative members of American society. The homepage is a large map of the United States, littered with markers indicating the locations of women and men who self-identify as supporters of birth control. Submitters call themselves "sluts" in an effort to reclaim this derogatory name and classification from those who use it to assassinate the character of the people who choose to protect themselves and be responsible about sexual health. Site users across the country can upload their stories (including recording a video into the browser if they choose) and automatically have their markers included on the map.

The past year's firestorm of controversy over birth control, specifically brought along by both the threat to defund Planned Parenthood as well as Obama's mandate that birth control be covered by insurance without copays, has struck me as both troubling and idiotic. In my mind, and the minds of so many others I know, birth control is not a luxury -- it is a right, and using contraception indicates that you have an awareness of what is responsible behavior when it comes to sexual health. I wanted to create a project that could visually illustrate the sheer number of supporters of reproductive rights in the US, show that they are everywhere and not just in certain liberal pockets of the country, and at the same time illustrate just how absurd this entire battle over contraception is when so many people (from all different walks of life) rely on it every day.

The target audience is anyone and everyone who has ever used birth control, relied on birth control, or stood behind those who depend on birth control.

User Scenario
A user who visits the site immediately sees the map interface, with "slut" markers on it. By clicking on the icons, the user can read all of the statements that others have submitted about why they are "sluts," or why they use or support birth control. The home page also has a form on it where the user can enter their own reason and zip code; when they press submit, the map refreshes, with the user's marker added. There are also sections for video testimonials, where a user is invited to watch the videos others have recorded as well as record one him/herself, and "about" and "contact" sections that the user can explore if he/she wants more information.

The app is written in Ruby/Sinatra, uses the Google Maps API, and is running on Heroku. I have been manually maintaining the database since launch to make sure that the site doesn't get overwhelmed by spam and to make sure that as many of the stories that people have submitted will be seen as possible. The site went viral within 48 hours of official launch and gathered over 7,000 submissions between April 23 and April 27, 2012.

I learned how fulfilling web development can be, and also how easy it is to get sucked into a vortex of code that becomes extremely difficult to get out of. I learned that web dev is never done -- there's always something you can be fixing, all the time. And I learned how a simple interface paired with a simple submission process can become a catalyst for an outpouring of participation, engagement, and support for and from thousands of people.