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The Answer Blog

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 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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Teen Parents Need Support Not Shame

May 30, 2014

As health and sexuality educators we work to ensure that young people know how to prevent pregnancy, but are we also supporting teens when they become parents? Too often teen parents are shamed, and shaming does nothing to ensure young parents graduate from school and go on to pursue work that allows them to support their families. Answer recently spoke with Natasha Vianna, Online Communications Manager at the Massachusetts Alliance on Teen Pregnancy, about the work she does to provide comprehensive sexuality education and to support pregnant and parenting teens.

Alex Medina: You’re one of the young mothers behind the #NoTeenShame campaign. What led you to start the campaign?

Natasha Vianna: My negative experiences as a teen mom were shaped by people who refused to see me as a valuable woman in our society. Adults, relatives, educators, providers and strangers have regurgitated statistics and data with the intention of limiting my potential and putting me “in my place.” Organizations claiming to have the good intention of reducing teen pregnancy were using their power and money to continue oppressing my already marginalized community by tokenizing our stories for shock effect.

Every year, I would mentally and emotionally prepare myself for May, Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month, and the accompanying images, posters, PSAs and messages around teen pregnancy. Often times, I’d ask myself if my 8-year-old daughter would see these images and ask me if I ruined her life like those ads said she would. She didn’t ruin my life, she improved it. But there were few organizations that were willing to elevate those stories, the stories of teen parents who rediscovered purpose in their lives and challenged the odds because of their children.

When the Candie’s Foundation’s #NoTeenPreg campaign was launched again in May of 2013, we joined forces and created #NoTeenShame. During the 2013 campaign, we heard from many organizations around the world that were thankful for our movement. Teen moms started tweeting us their stories. The children of teen moms started sharing their narratives, and people all over were eager to hear more about us and our work. This year, we made it a point to be proactive versus reactive by collaborating with organizations and designing helpful tips for allies. This campaign has really motivated me to continue pushing for a more just society and believing that anyone really can make a difference.

AM: Many of the messages young people get from pregnancy prevention campaigns are negative and shaming. What does positive and supportive teen pregnancy prevention look like to you?

NV: All young people, including young parents, deserve equitable access to LGBTQ-inclusive comprehensive sex education that provides the information young people need to make empowered decisions about their bodies, gender, sexuality and relationships. Sex education must address the impact of systems of oppression on sexual and reproductive health and rights. It must be inclusive of people with disabilities, LGBTQ people and parents as well as be culturally and linguistically accessible.

Truthfully, I would completely stop saying “teen pregnancy prevention” entirely and reframe my own language to embrace the importance of supporting young people and their reproductive rights. Teen pregnancy itself has been narrated as a negative consequence, one that needs to be prevented no matter what. This ignores the reality that teen pregnancy is a complex issue and that there are teens who want to become parents, feel pressured to become parents or come from cultures that simply do not vilify young men and women for becoming young parents.

AM: What’s one misconception about teen pregnancy that you’d like to clear up?

That teen pregnancy will ruin a young person’s life. This was probably the most traumatizing thing I had to hear over and over again. The message itself fails to address the reality that many of us were raised by teen parents or have relatives or friends who were teen parents. My mother, my grandmother, my aunt, my cousin and almost all the women in my family were teen parents. While being a teen parent was not the ideal role for young men and women, my culture also did not perpetuate the idea that our lives would end once we were parents.

When you’re a pregnant teen and you are constantly told that teen pregnancy ruins your life, can you imagine how that feels? Can you imagine how it felt for me to carry a child inside me that society already labeled as a public health issue? Can you imagine how it felt for me to give life to the very person that society said would end mine? It was a terrible thing to live through. I’d love to see us shift from that narrative and focus on all the things young people can accomplish and then provide them with all things they need to fulfill their own dreams. We have a lot of work to do.

AM: What can health teachers do to be more inclusive of pregnant or parenting teens?

I know health educators can often feel pressured to be inclusive, but it’s important to acknowledge that expectant and parenting teens often have complex identities. Being a young parent doesn’t put us into a different category; it just adds another layer to our already existing identities. Our pregnancies don’t always put us on the path to being more informed on our sexual health, so keep in mind that like all people, we are always learning.

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Where Are They Now? Sex, Etc. Writer Natasha Ramsey

May 8, 2014

Sex, Etc., Answer’s award-winning, teen-written magazine and website, has been providing the sexual health information teens need and deserve for 20 years. None of this would be possible without the teens who write the stories that educate young people across the country. These writers go on to do great work in reproductive health, public health and journalism. We recently caught up with former teen staff writer, Natasha Ramsey.

Natasha Ramsey, Teen Staff Writer, 2005-2007

Natasha Ramsey is currently a medical student at NYU, and we couldn’t be prouder of the great work she has done and continues to do to promote young people’s sexual and reproductive health. When I reached out to Natasha via e-mail she recalled being interested in sexual health as a teenager and actually having pretty good sex ed.

“I had a really great gym/health teacher in middle school who made us act out the menstrual cycle and fertilization,” she explained.

Natasha also enjoyed writing short stories and poems as a teenager, so when a tutor at her high school’s after-school program told her about Sex, Etc., she immediately applied to be a teen editor.

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

NR: How has Sex, Etc. not shaped the work I do today?! If it were not for Sex, Etc., pursuing a degree in medicine would not have even crossed my mind. I always had an interest in sexual health, but my true passion was writing. I attended a health sciences high school and vowed that I would never step foot near a hospital and would become a journalist. It was through Sex, Etc. that I was exposed to the field of public health and advocacy and the pressing issues that teens face. Sex, Etc. sparked a fire in me to ensure that teens get the information they deserve about their bodies.

Additionally, the staff at Sex, Etc. was very supportive of my goals and were instrumental in my college acceptances and numerous awards and scholarships. It was no surprise that I majored in public health at Rutgers University and eventually went on to pursue an M.D. degree.

As a medical student now, I am involved in numerous activities geared towards educating teens, including creating my own sexual health curriculum for teen girls at a local high school. My experience with Sex, Etc. has been instrumental in my journey, and I honestly would not be who I am without it.

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

NR: I believe the most pressing sexual health issue teens face today is teen pregnancy. Although the rates have decreased over the years, the few teens who do get pregnant often have many obstacles they have to face. I believe that many young women are not adequately informed about their bodies and additionally may lack the tools to effectively communicate with their partners. This is an area that I plan to work in as a physician.

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

NR: Writing for Sex, Etc. was an amazing experience for several reasons. I loved that we were able to choose the topics we wanted to cover, and although the staff did edit the pieces that we wrote, I always felt that my voice always shined through in my work. Additionally, I love that our work has a legacy, and that teens are able to access our articles years after we have written them. To this day I still have copies of Sex, Etc. magazine and printouts of news clippings. I was very proud of my contributions to Sex, Etc., and had it not been for me growing out of teenage-hood, I would probably still be writing for them!

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

NR: I am most passionate about women’s health and preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. As a future physician, I plan to work with disadvantaged populations as well as pilot health education programs to improve the health of the people in those populations. My passion for these areas come from the work that I did in Sex, Etc. many years ago as well as my upbringing in an urban neighborhood where I saw the need for health education in the community.

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

NR: The most ridiculous thing I have heard is that birth control messes up your reproductive system. Unfortunately, many people still believe this ridiculous myth because they are not well informed about their reproductive organs, menstruation or birth control. This is problematic because people end up not using birth control and becoming pregnant. I am a huge proponent for birth control and try to help dispel this myth whenever I talk to my patients.

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

NR: I would have dinner with President Obama and Michelle Obama. As a future physician who plans to work in disadvantaged populations, I have so much appreciation for the Affordable Care Act. Additionally, they both seem really cool!

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