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The Answer Blog

Archive for March, 2014

Where Are They Now? Sex, Etc. Writer Sam Dercon

March 27, 2014

Over the past 20 years, nearly 300 teenagers have written for Answer’s award-winning, teen-written magazine and website, Sex, Etc. We are so proud of the work they have done and continue to do to educate young people about sexual health. Many of Answer’s former teen editorial staff members go on to do great work in reproductive health, public health and journalism. As we continue to celebrate Sex, Etc.’s 20th anniversary, we decided to catch up with some former teen staff members because we have been wondering: Where are they now?

Sam Dercon, Teen Staff Writer, 2010-2012

After reading a few issues of Sex, Etc. supplied by his mother, Sam applied to be on the staff in 2010. Sam Dercon is now a sophomore at Princeton University. I e-mailed him recently about what impact writing for Sex, Etc. had on his life and to learn more about what he has been up to:

Lucinda Holt: How did Sex, Etc. inform the work you do today?

Sam Dercon: I honestly had no experience with sexuality education prior to becoming part of Sex, Etc., so I really had no idea what to expect. But once I started, I instantly became interested in the work we did and how vital this kind of outreach is for teens. Being at Sex, Etc. inspired me to become part of HiTOPS, a teen-led sexuality education program in Princeton, and it’s also responsible for my current plans to spend this summer interning at the UNESCO HIV office in Bangkok, Thailand.

LH: What did you enjoy most about writing for Sex, Etc.?

SD: You really don’t often have the opportunity to write articles about ‘New Technologies in Birth Control for Guys‘ or ‘Slaying Dragons and Gender Stereotypes in Skyrim.’ If you are interested in getting some kind of writing experience, working at Sex, Etc. is probably one of the most unique and impressive ways to accomplish that.”

LH: What are you passionate about?

SD: Personally I am most passionate about the current HIV epidemic. This fascination really stems from my desire to go to medical school and study virology, but it is also important to me because of the amount of misinformation I realized people have surrounding the virus; and it really kills me to see people leading their lives not understanding what it means to practice safer sex.

LH: What inspires you?

SD: Lately I’ve been deeply inspired by Hunter S. Thompson. I’ve made a goal for myself of never turning down a new experience (part of the reason I am going to Thailand), and I feel that Thompson epitomizes this kind of mentality.

LH: What makes you happy?

SD: Cooking for friends makes me extraordinarily happy.

LH: Who would you love to have dinner with?

SD: Stephen Colbert

LH: What would you do with $1 million?

SD: I would love to see Sex, Etc. makes itself known to teens across the country on TV channels like MTV and Comedy Central. It really would do so much good.

How Sex, Etc. Went from Idea to Publication

March 19, 2014

I was present at the births of my three children and one newsletter, Sex, Etc. This sounds like an unlikely combination, and I smile as I couple my living, breathing children with an inanimate publication with an eye-catching name. My presence at the birth of all four is among the highlights of my life.

Why Sex, Etc. Resonates with Teens

Twenty years ago, during my tenure as executive coordinator of the Network for Family Life Education (now Answer), I brought the idea of creating a national newsletter written by teens for teens to a group of young people at a summer program at Rutgers where I had been invited to speak about sexuality education. I stood at the podium on a warm summer’s day before a sea of young women and told them about a new idea.

“Would you and your peers be interested in reading such a publication?” I asked. I sat down and waited until the program’s end, honestly believing that at most three or four young people would come talk to me. When the program ended, I looked out into the audience—only to see dozens of young women moving toward me in a wave.

“Oh, please do this,” one began. “Teens talk to each other all the time about sex, and a lot of it is just plain wrong.” Another added, “Adults are so uncomfortable with this topic. Parents don’t talk to us, and teachers are shy about the subject, too.” The teens’ desire for accurate information was visible, and I became their advocate on the spot. In that moment, I knew we needed to move ahead with the newsletter.

One of the first teens with whom we worked, whose name I cannot remember but to whom I owe a big debt of gratitude, came up with the name: Sex, Etc. It was an instant success. We published Sex, Etc. three times during the school year, shipping 30,000 copies to New Jersey schools in 1994, our first year of publication, 150,000 copies the second year, and 300,000 copies the third year. By then we began national distribution of the newsletter to public schools, health clinics and community agencies with teen programs. In 1997, the newsletter was honored at the White House by First Lady Hillary Clinton as one of the best ideas for teen-to-teen pregnancy prevention strategies in the U.S. At the height of its distribution, we were mailing over two million copies of the newsletter nationwide each year.

Sex, Etc’s. Work Is Not Done

Over the years, I’ve heard countless stories of how young people’s lives were transformed simply by having honest, accurate information available to them through Sex, Etc. Today—20 years since the very first newsletter was published—Sex, Etc. remains just as important and cherished by its readers as it was to me when I witnessed its “birth.”

One thing I never anticipated was that Sex, Etc., which has since evolved into a vibrant, full-color magazine and website, would reach far more than a teen audience. Educators read it before handing it out to teens or using it in classrooms to enhance sexuality education lessons. Time and time again, we hear from teachers just how important Sex, Etc. is. As one educator recently told us, “I just wanted to tell you that the magazines are a big hit with my students! I’ve created a few reading and debate assignments for some of the articles and the students are really engaged. I am already looking forward to the next issue!”

Each year, millions of young people use Sex Etc. in all of its forms—the magazine, the website and its dynamic social media platforms—to connect with sexual health information. The need that first group of students expressed twenty years ago is still very much alive today. With every new generation of teenagers we have a renewed obligation to reach and teach young people about sexual health. Our work is not done—in fact, it continues to grow.