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The Answer Blog

Answer Welcomes New Executive Director

January 22, 2015

Answer is pleased to announce that Nicole Cushman, MPH, Director of Education for PPFA, will become Answer’s new executive director, effective February 16, 2015.

For over 30 years Answer has trained educators to provide high-quality sexuality education and educated young people through its teen-written, award-winning publication, Sex, Etc. Answer is poised to continue this great work under the leadership of Nicole Cushman.

Nicole has nearly 15 years of experience in sexual and reproductive health as both an educator and trainer. She began her career as a sexuality educator with Planned Parenthood in the San Francisco Bay Area, working directly with teens and parents in schools and community settings. In her role as Director of Education for PPFA, Nicole has worked with Planned Parenthood affiliates to strengthen sexuality education policies and programs across the country. She holds an MPH from the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, where she undertook research on promising sexuality education programs across the U.S. which was recently published in the peer-reviewed journal Sex Education. Her work improving and expanding access to sexuality education nationally has well prepared her to take the helm at Answer.

Answer is delighted to have Nicole’s leadership and passion for empowering young people through honest, accurate sexuality education. We look forward to her expanding on Answer’s current initiatives and continuing the work of providing and promoting comprehensive sexuality education. In her new role, Nicole will provide strategic vision for Answer, oversee the implementation of its strategic plan, provide budget and operations oversight and manage key relationships with national- and state-level organizations.

Answer is pleased to share this news with you, and we know this transition will further strengthen the field of sexuality education.

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Using a Historical Lens to Teach About Roe v. Wade

January 22, 2015

At Answer we often talk about how sexuality intersects with every other core topic taught in schools. Health and physical education teachers aren’t the only ones fielding questions about sex or finding sexuality pop up in their lessons. That’s where Answer’s blog series—Inter(sex)tions—comes in. We are kicking off a series of blog posts highlighting resources, lesson plans and tips to support health educators in teaching about sexuality through the lens of other core content areas. We see an opportunity for health educators to collaborate with their colleagues who teach other subjects and promote cross-curricular learning. Not to mention, integrating other subjects into the health classroom helps support students with varying learning styles and academic interests.

Our inaugural post on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade focuses on how history can be used to teach about abortion. Over the coming months, we’ll be covering how not only history, but also math, science and English can be used to teach about sexuality.

A Focus on History

Lots of educators may understandably shy away from teaching about the still controversial topic of abortion; they may even be barred from discussing the procedure in their health classes. In cases like this, we at Answer think a really great way to address the topic is by studying the landmark case that made abortion legal in the United States. By using a legal or historical lens, students can study the case and explore their values related to the procedure. While the topic of abortion itself may feel easier to explore in this way, that doesn’t mean it’s easy to know where to start. But, not to worry, we’ve got you covered with resources, videos and lesson plans from trusted resources below.

Stick to the facts. A great place to begin with students is learning about the Supreme Court’s decision—who concurred and who dissented—and what amendment to the constitution they believe upheld the right to abortion. Here are some resources to help you teach the history of Roe v. Wade.

  • The Oyez Project is a wonderful database of Supreme Court recordings and decisions. Get your students engaged by having them listen to the oral arguments. The audio files and documents here can be adapted for different age groups and learning levels.
  • Landmark Cases of the U.S. Supreme Court has something for educators looking for a quick activity or several days to fill with this topic. Educators can sign up to access the answers to the questions and activities as well as differentiated-instruction suggestions. Please note that these lessons tend to skew older and would probably best for high school students.

Help students explore their values. Once students have a basic understanding of the case, they can begin to explore values about abortion. Have students debate as the lawyers in the case or write their own concurring or dissenting opinions. If you’re looking to use video, PBS LearningMedia has a short documentary-style video that offers some historical context to the case and great questions to begin discussions of values. Questions like “Why was the issue of abortion important to the women’s movement?” are a good way to have students examine their feelings and values. These questions also create the space for some critical thinking and values development.

Utilizing this approach not only addresses abortion—a pregnancy option that is often overlooked—but also provides history teachers a way to meet the National Standards for History that require students to identify issues and problems from the past and analyze different values and viewpoints.

You’ve hopefully discovered a new way to teach a tough topic or a new resource or lesson if you’ve taught Roe v. Wade before. Looking at sexuality through different disciplines can be an exciting way to enliven lessons. We’ll be back with more in this series in the coming months!

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What’s Your Sex Ed Holiday Wish?

December 18, 2014

We asked the Sex, Etc. teen staff what they wished for when it comes to sexuality education. Here’s what they had to say.

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Seven Double Standards That Hurt Young People

November 25, 2014

To start some important conversations about gender and double standards with your students, share this teen-written story, “Three Double Standards That Hurt Guys and Girls,” from Sexetc.org. For training on addressing the needs of transgender students in your classes, register for Answer’s LGBTQ Issues in Schools.

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Three Ways to Be an Ally to LGBTQ Students

October 13, 2014

It’s Ally Week, and we have three ways for you to be a better ally to LGBTQ students.

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Where Are They Now? Sex, Etc. Writer Tiffany E. Cook

October 2, 2014

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.

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Three Tips for Teaching About STDs

September 17, 2014

Meet Dan Rice, Answer’s new director of training. He has some tips for teaching about STDs that will help inform—not scare—your students.

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Three Resources Educators Need When Teaching About Consent

September 11, 2014

When it comes to teaching about consent, the topic can seem pretty straightforward—sexual contact without consent is sexual assault or rape. But like any topic in sexuality education that involves communication about sexual behaviors, things can get complicated, and the topic needs more nuance for our students than we might have initially thought. So when it comes to teaching consent to young people, it isn’t always easy to know where to start. That’s why we’ve compiled three resources we think will be invaluable in your classroom this fall.

From The New RepublicIf College Students Can’t Say What ‘Consent’ Is, Then We Should Teach It Sooner

First things first, it helps to understand why teaching about consent in middle or high school is so important. Rape and sexual assault are usually a part of the conversation about consent, and these topics can be sensitive and difficult to discuss, even when we know how important it is to cover them. One thing that may make it easier for you to broach the topic is seeing the bigger picture and knowing that, if you don’t discuss it now, your students will be at a disadvantage later. In The New Republic’s great article, “If College Students Can’t Say What ‘Consent’ Is, Then We Should Teach It Sooner,” author Lane Florsheim speaks with Answer staff and Sex, Etc. teen staff writer Nick Meduski about the importance of consent education and what it should look like.

The National Sexuality Education Standards

It’s pretty simple to understand just how important consent education is as a part of comprehensive sexuality education, but it can be hard to know exactly what needs to be taught in order for it to be effective. The National Sexuality Education Standards are a great resource. They offer key indicators of student success organized by skill development and tell you what content should be taught and is age-and grade-level appropriate.

Answer’s Lesson Plan “What Does Consent Look Like”

You’ve seen the bigger picture with “If College Students Can’t Say What ‘Consent’ Is, Then We Should Teach It Sooner” and the essential minimum content students should be learning according to The National Sexuality Education Standards, but it can be hard to know how to put these resources into practice. That’s why the third resource you need in the classroom this fall is one of Answer’s original lesson plans. “What Does Consent Look Like” is mapped to The National Sexuality Education Standards and uses a teen-written story with the same name from the winter 2014 issue of Sex, Etc. This lesson plan uses discussion, group activities and a worksheet to help students have a better understanding of what consent does-and does not-look like. Also in this lesson are resources for students and a take away sheet that includes tips for understanding consent.

With these resources we think any educator that tackles the topic of consent in the classroom this year will be successful. But, we also want to know: What resources have you used with success to teach about consent in the past? Let us know in the comments!

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Where Are They Now? Sex, Etc. Writer Cassie Wolfe

July 31, 2014

Answer’s teen-written sexual health magazine and website, Sex, Etc., has featured the writing of nearly 300 teen writers in the last 20 years. We are proud to provide a platform for young people to educate their peers and talk about sexuality and the sexual health issues that are important to them. In celebration of 20 years of exceptional sexuality education, 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’re catching up with Cassie Wolfe.

Cassie Wolfe, LCSW, M.Ed., Teen Board Member, 2000-2001

Cassie clearly remembers hearing about Sex, Etc. in the summer of 2000. She was at a conference participating in a breakout session led by Sex, Etc.’s editor on the importance of comprehensive sexuality education. “As soon as she was finished speaking, I ran up and grabbed an application; I was determined to be part of their movement!” Cassie explains.

Today Cassie is still a part of that movement; she is a Ph.D. candidate in human sexuality, a clinical social worker and a sex therapist, who continues to advocate for comprehensive sexuality education.

Lucinda Holt: How has Sex, Etc. shaped the work you do today?

Cassie Wolfe: Sex, Etc. validated my right to receive non-judgmental and medically accurate information about my sexual health, which has empowered me to empower others. It reinforced my desire to reciprocate the encouragement, inspiration and support that I received to others who are also curious about sex. What experience has taught me is that it is not just young people who want and need non-judgmental and medically accurate information about sex; it’s ALL people!  Sex, Etc. was instrumental in sparking my desire to continue the conversation about sexuality and relationships, and I get the amazing opportunity to do that as both a therapist and educator.

Sex, Etc. has inspired me to continue educating ALL people about their sexual health with compassion, understanding and empathy, regardless of their age or educational background. Sex, Etc. taught me that sexuality is more than “just sex” and that it spans way beyond disease and dysfunction. The need for information has significantly shaped my practice in working with both professionals who deliver mental health and medical services and the people who are seeking them.

Since graduating from Rutgers with a degree in women’s and gender studies, I went on to receive dual masters’ degrees in social work and human sexuality and am hoping to wrap up my Ph.D. in human sexuality in the fall or early spring of next year. For the past three years I have been working as a social worker at the Belmont Center for Comprehensive Treatment—an inpatient psychiatric facility. I do a combination of case management, therapy, provide case consults for adult individuals who present with sexuality related concerns and facilitate sex education groups on our two adolescent units. I have also guest lectured to adolescent psychiatry fellows on adolescent sexuality and risk factors in working with LGBTQ youth. In September, I will be presenting in Boston on the healthcare needs of transgender patients to OB/GYN residents and medical students.

LH: What’s the most pressing sexual health issue teens face today?

CW: The most pressing, overarching sexual health issue teens face is the systemic shaming and denial of their thoughts, feelings and behaviors involving sexuality. Societally, we still have a hard time accepting that sexuality is a normal and healthy part of our development, specifically for young people. This then translates to policies promoting the withholding of critical information young people need to make informed decisions about their sexual health needs.

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

CW: I enjoyed brainstorming about article topics with my peers and staff who were bright, energetic, and enthusiastic people! Our meetings never felt like work and our discussions were always sex-positive, supportive and meaningful. I also enjoyed having my articles read and discussed in health class!

LH: Name one thing that makes you really angry?

CW: One thing that makes me angry is the assumption that teens cannot make informed decisions for themselves, yet are given the mixed message about also needing to be “more mature.”  One thing that makes me extremely happy is receiving the support from the “higher ups” about running sex ed groups for teens in a setting that is traditionally pretty conservative.

LH: What word would you remove from the dictionary?

CW: Shame.

LH: If you could have dinner with anyone in the world, who would that be?

CW: William Masters and Virginia Johnson!

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Where Are They Now? Sex, Etc. Writer Emily Duhovny

June 26, 2014

One of the unique ways that Answer provides comprehensive sexuality education is through our teen-written sexual health magazine and website, Sex, Etc. In honor of Sex, Etc.’s 20th anniversary, Answer is continuing to profile former Sex, Etc. teen staff writers who have gone on to do great work in reproductive health, public health and journalism. We recently e-mailed former teen staff writer Emily Duhovny to find out how working for Sex, Etc. informed the work she does today.

Emily Duhovny, Teen Staff Writer, 2006-2007

Today Emily Duhovny is a Legislative Aide at the office of Congressman Paul Tonko of New York. We aren’t surprised that Emily is working on “the Hill.” She got her start advocating for comprehensive sexuality education during an advocacy day in Washington, D.C. when she was a teenager. That experience empowered Emily and ignited her passion for policy.

Lucinda Holt: How has Sex, Etc. shaped the work you do today?

Emily Duhovny: Sex, Etc. gave me the opportunity to explore how policy and laws affected the lives of teenagers. Sex, Etc. strongly confirmed my belief that teens (and all people) need to be aware of the laws and policies that affect them. It fired me up to want to work to both understand and change the laws in our country. Sex, Etc. pushed me to discuss the issues that some considered to be “taboo” and reminded me that we must advocate and not stay silent on these pressing issues.

Today I remain committed to making the changes I want to see but serve on the other side as a Legislative Aide to Congressman Paul Tonko. I manage a portfolio of topics that includes women’s issues, nutrition and education. In my day-to-day work, I handle many of the issues that Sex, Etc. shines a light on, and I am still deeply drawn to these issues. I meet with organizations and advocacy groups who visit D.C. to talk about comprehensive sex education, reproductive rights and women’s health. I am especially excited when teenagers and college students come to the office to share their voices on these important issues.

LH: What’s the most pressing sexual health issue teens face today?

ED: Access to and knowledge about birth control and sexual health; a huge contributor to teen pregnancy is a lack of information on sexual health and a missing discussion on what healthy relationships and life choices look like. If we care about teenagers and women, then we should not be afraid of what they will do with information. The fact that there are parts of the country where teens are not only kept in the dark but are also fed lies is unacceptable. Misinformation is both dangerous and demeaning. The right message to send to teens is that we trust you to make informed decisions. Keeping teenagers in the dark is a disservice that will have extensive consequences for our teens and our communities. From the staff at Answer and my peers at Sex, Etc., this message was loudly reverberated, and it still rings true today.

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

ED: It was inspiring to work with teens and staff who thought critically about these issues. I enjoyed researching topics that I found intriguing or alarming and then being able to share that with other teens. I wanted my peers to read the stories and think “How is this happening in the United States?” and “What can I do to change it?”

Here are some of my favorite stories I had the opportunity to work on:

LH: What issue are you most passionate about and why?

ED: Social justice, which touches upon equality, education, civil rights, access to healthcare, a just legal system and so many other spheres. There are many pressing issues to be addressed, but I deeply believe that there is a level of dignity and opportunity that all people deserve. When we ensure everyone has dignity and opportunity, we give ourselves a fighting chance of addressing all of the problems that our communities face.

LH: Name one thing that makes you really angry or really happy?

ED: Really angry: That in the United States the term “Madam President” has only been used as a hypothetical or in televisions shows. Really happy: That the above fact will one day sound unbelievable and ridiculous to little girls across the nation.

LH: Name one myth or ridiculous thing you heard about sex growing up?

ED: Here is an example I came across during my time at Sex, Etc.: ”Women gauge their happiness and judge their success on their relationships. Men’s happiness and success hinge on their accomplishments.” This comes from an excerpt in Congressman Henry Waxman’s report on the failures of federally funded abstinence-only sex education, and it quotes a real abstinence-only sex education curriculum. It may not be specific to sex, but it shows the pervasive stereotypes abstinence-only sex education programs use to portray women. It definitely falls into the ridiculous category.

LH: If you could have dinner with anyone in the world, who would that be?

ED: Margaret Sanger. It would be fascinating to hear her perspective on where we are at today.

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