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.