A health clinic in Missoula has launched a free and anonymous sexual health text hot line for teens and young adults in Montana and eastern Idaho.

The ASK Montana Access Project is intended to provide easy access to fast and reliable sexual health information, said Anita Kuennen, executive director at Blue Mountain Clinic.

The system works when teens or young adults text their questions to 66746, using the keyword "ASKMAP" followed by a space and then the question. Text messages are typically answered within 30 minutes during normal business hours Monday through Friday.

"Sexual health questions plague the younger generation," said volunteer Lynsey Bourke. "Sometimes they don't want to ask their parents or their teachers."

Before putting the system in place, Bourke tested it with three focus groups at Salish Kootenai College, Hellgate High School and Willard Alternative High School.

"I thought it was really important to get input from high school students, since the service is for them," Bourke said. "The teachers were really excited about having us come in."

The Blue Mountain Clinic has also launched a website associated with the text hot line at www.askmap.info/. The website contains a list of most frequently asked questions from the text hot line.

"We've been dreaming about doing this for so long," Kuennen said. "It is so nice to see it happen."

Hellgate High School junior Mary Cates, 16, said she felt comfortable asking her older sisters questions, and then learned about ASKMAP from other students.

"We did it as a joke at first," Cates said. "But we got back very scientific, nice answers."

The hot line has received about 300 questions so far, said Kuennen.