For the past 20 years, Answer’s award-winning, teen-written sexual health magazine and website, Sex, Etc., has been a platform for young people to educate their peers about sexuality. In celebration of Sex, Etc.’s 20th anniversary, Answer has been reaching out to former teen staff writers who have gone on to do great work in sexual and reproductive health. This month we had an opportunity to speak with Tiffany E. Cook.
Tiffany E. Cook, Teen Editorial Board Member, 2003-2004
As a teenager Tiffany remembers hearing about an opportunity to write for a sexual health newsletter. Little did she know that applying to write for Sex, Etc. would completely change her life.
Lucinda Holt: How has Sex, Etc. shaped the work you do today?
Tiffany E. Cook: The better question is “How has Sex, Etc. not shaped the work I do today?” Before I started working with Sex, Etc., I had planned to major in theatre and become an actress. After my year on the Sex, Etc. teen editorial board, I switched gears and decided to pursue my passions for sex education and social justice. While in college at the University of Idaho, I developed curricula and provided peer education on campus, talking to campus living groups, fraternities and sororities about sexual health, rape culture and body image.
After graduation, I moved to Boston for a job working as a community health educator for a hospital system. There I held many different roles from teaching sex ed at an alternative high school (where I frequently used Sex, Etc. articles and Answer’s lesson plans as a part of my curriculum) to developing and implementing a walk-in clinic for teens. I also provided direct family planning services, including birth control, pregnancy testing and pregnancy options counseling, as well as HIV/STI testing to patients of all ages.
While working as a direct service provider, I discovered that many of my adult patients didn’t know much about sexual health and pleasure, not to mention protection and safety. Even now, I am constantly amazed by how many of my adult friends call me with birth control questions. Just the other day, I sat in the courtyard of my apartment building with a group of my neighbors, teaching them how to use female/reality condoms and explaining how IUDs are placed. This is why Sex, Etc. is such a great resource for not only youth, but adults too!
After moving to Brooklyn a year ago, I started working as a Gynecological Teaching Associate (GTA) with a variety of medical programs (including Rutgers!). I teach medical and nursing students how to provide safe and comfortable breast and pelvic exams with empowering patient education. I also recently partnered with Praxis Education to develop curricula for other workshops for medical practitioners, including workshops on sexual assault, sexual health and LGBT care.
Overall, the year I wrote for Sex, Etc. introduced me to my passion for advocating for sex- positive culture and healthcare. Had I not been selected for the board, I have no doubt that I would be doing something very different with my life!
LH: What’s the most pressing sexual health issue teens face today?
TEC: Wow, such a great question. I am very frustrated by the stigma and shame teens face regarding their sexuality. Stigma and shame create barriers to communication with parents, health providers and families. I would love to see American culture shift towards supportive, open and honest communication about sex and decisions.
LH: Name one thing that makes you really angry or really happy?
TEC: Really angry. Politicians who think they know better than medical providers about health care, especially surrounding access to abortion. Really happy. My dog Tank! When I’ve had a tough day, I love to snuggle up with her.
LH: What issue are you most passionate about and why?
TEC: Improving sexual health and LGBT care in the medical community. For some reason sexual health is still not a priority in clinical settings, and I really want to fix that. It’s hard to have a conversation about safer sex when your provider isn’t asking the right questions! Beyond working with medical providers, I also get excited when working with elder adults (50 years+) around sexual health. Older people have sex too!
LH: Name one myth or ridiculous thing you heard about sex growing up?
TEC: That taking birth control or emergency contraception would cause an abortion. Birth control only works to prevent pregnancy; once somebody is pregnant only miscarriage or an abortion will end the pregnancy. This myth still persists today amongst people of all ages.