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Where Are They Now? Sex, Etc. Writer Derek Demeri

April 17, 2014

Since 1994, hundreds of teen writers have written for Answer’s award-winning, teen-written sexual health magazine and website, Sex, Etc. Our writers do the important work of crafting the stories—in print and online—that educate their peers about sexual health. At Answer we believe strongly that we should involve young people in sexuality education. Their voices resonate powerfully with their peers, and we are proud to promote teen perspectives on sexual health and sexuality education. But what happens when these writers are no longer teens? What happens when they are 20-and 30-somethings out in the world?

In honor of Sex, Etc.’s 20th anniversary, we decided to catch up with some former teen staff members who have gone on to do great work in reproductive health, public health and journalism, because we have been wondering: Where are they now?

Derek Demeri, Teen Staff Writer, 2010-2011

We didn’t have to look far for Derek, who is a junior at our very own Rutgers University. He is majoring in political science, minoring in history & African studies, and getting certificates in global politics and French. He also works as the Sexual & Gender Minorities Project Leader and Associate for the Center for the Study of Genocide & Human Rights (CGHR) at Rutgers.  Here’s what Derek has to say when I reached out to him via e-mail.

Lucinda Holt: How did you learn about Sex, Etc.?

Derek Demeri: In high school, I founded and acted as the president of my school’s gay-straight alliance and occasionally ran public awareness campaigns to help the student body understand queer and trans* issues. My English teacher at the time recommended that I apply to Sex, Etc., as it was an organization she admired and thought I would fit in well with, given my interest in sexuality education.

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

DD: The training I received at Sex, Etc. while I was a staff member really helped me conceptualize sexual health issues. I think it was one of the first times that I learned how interconnected rights can be. You can’t teach about the diversity of gender identity or sexual orientation without proper sexual health classes being taught in high schools, nor can you expect access to condoms for the queer community without access to all forms of prophylactic. While I entered Sex, Etc. as a gay rights advocate, I left beginning my journey as a sexual rights advocate.

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

DD: I believe repression of sexuality is the biggest challenge teens (and our general society) face today. Adults and even teens themselves continue to perpetuate extremely limited ideas of sexuality that don’t allow teens to explore and educate themselves about sexuality in a healthy manner and results in a myriad of problems. This repression can mean safer-sex methods that can help prevent pregnancies and STIs are not being used. It can mean same-sex desires are repressed, which sometimes results in violent reactions against those who live openly. It can mean dangerous and life-threatening self-performed surgeries by teens trying to have an abortion or by trans* individuals attempting to transition genders without proper medical care.

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

DD: I loved being surrounded by a group of people that were dedicated to advancing sexual health education, but with each person coming from a different background and perspective on the topic. Everyone had a different reason for being passionate about sexual health, which really helped me broaden my own perspectives and understandings of sexuality.

LH: Who inspires you?

DD: My mom continues to be my biggest source of inspiration. She passed away about a year ago due to complications from her cancer treatment. In her 5-plus years of battling cancer, I have never seen someone stay so strong and determined to come out on top. From doctors telling her to give up hope to her own health dragging her down, she always picked herself up to fulfill her commitments as a single mother. No historical figure or celebrity will ever compare to the strength and will power that I saw every day in my household growing up.

* “Trans*” with an asterisk is an umbrella term that refers to all of the identities, such as transmen, transwomen, transsexual, that might fall on the transgender spectrum.

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.

A Panel of Palins

March 5, 2009

Let’s give credit where it is due: I am pleased that Bristol Palin and her mother, Sarah Palin, the Alaskan Governor and former vice presidential candidate, are speaking out about the birth of Bristol’s son, Tripp. Tripp was born two months ago when Bristol was barely 18. His parents are still in high school and, although engaged, have no immediate plans to marry.

Hurrah for Bristol and the governor for telling Greta Van Susteren of FOX that they are now opposed to abstinence-only-until marriage (AOUM) education in public schools.  (See video of the interview below.) Governor Palin calls abstinence-only “naïve,” and her daughter, although saying everyone should be abstinent, calls it “not very realistic.” These are small steps in the right direction.

It would be great if Sarah Palin and Bristol wrote to the president, their senators and congressperson and asked them to remove funding for AOUM from the federal budget. The unplanned pregnancy that brought little Tripp into the world is a perfect example of the results of incomplete sexuality education for teens.

Given her interview with Van Susteren, it’s clear that Bristol is willing to become the celebrity poster gal for preventing teen pregnancy. (The U.S. has the highest teen pregnancy rate among Western industrialized nations, although it has plummeted in the last decade.) Bristol told Van Susteren, “I’m not the first person that it’s happened to, and I’m not going to be the last.” Later, she added: “Kids should just wait. . . . It’s not glamorous at all.”

I combed a recent People magazine article about Bristol to see if she was going to say something more substantive beyond, “I hope that people learn from my story.”  She added that it was her decision to have the baby, not her mother’s, and that she wishes she had gotten an education and “started a career first.”

However, her message is contradictory, as are most messages when they involve unplanned births; she also told People, “He…brings so much joy. I don’t regret it at all.”

I think Bristol should appear as part of a panel of teens who have been affected by teen pregnancy. For example, consider a panel composed of Palin and teens who’ve had the following experiences:

  • a teen girl impregnated by an older man;
  • a teen girl whose family is entirely supportive of early child bearing;
  • a teen girl who has chosen abortion with her parents’ support;
  • a teen dad who had to drop out of school to work in a dead-end job; and
  • a teen who is having sex but using reliable contraception.

This “panel of Palins” would represent different races, ethnicities and classes and would answer all questions put to it by a teen audience. Teens’ questions would be written anonymously and placed in a large Question Box on a table onstage. A trusted faculty person or student would read questions aloud, without embarrassment or editing, to the panel for answers.

My hope is that such a panel would get to the heart of the matter about why and how teens get pregnant and have babies while still in high school. Bristol Palin can really make a difference if she tells the truth and doesn’t gloss over details. She will need to be exceptionally honest and not mouth platitudes such as, “I wish I had waited.”

Bristol needs to tell her peers about the failures of abstinence-only and the importance of using contraception. She can always make a pitch for remaining abstinent, since many teens choose this route. But she also needs to explain how important it is to talk to parents about sex and urge students to use good teen sexual health Web sites like

I don’t envy Bristol the role of becoming the nation’s poster teen for pregnancy prevention. But if she does it well, she could make a real difference. This coming May is teen pregnancy prevention month. Bristol and her potential panel members don’t have a moment to lose.

No Real Help for Teens

July 8, 2008

We all agree that teens need honest, accurate information about unplanned pregnancy and its consequences in order to avoid it. Yet I doubt most will find this information in the new ABC Family miniseries The Secret Life of the American Teenager. It features high-school freshman Amy Juergens, who gets pregnant even though she isn’t sure she’s had sex.

After the first hour of the first episode, I found my head reeling as it was bombarded with many stereotypes about teen sexual behavior. For example, I learned that

  • the one and only subject on teens’ minds is sex,
  • “nice” 15-year-old girls don’t have sex—unless they have a one-night stand that might also be date rape,
  • all Christian girls and guys wait to have sex until marriage…
    …but if a Christian guy is seduced by the school “slut,” God will forgive him,
  • abortion? Don’t even go there, especially in a miniseries,
  • guys only like “nice” girls, so don’t wear suggestive clothes that show your navel,
  • if you’re a guy whose father has sexually abused you, you will seek revenge by having constant, indiscriminate sex,
  • if guys can’t have sex, they will become sterile, and
  • willpower and self-esteem are the only answers when it comes to sex

The first episode has one sensible moment. It’s when the actress playing Amy steps out of character and says to the audience: “Teen pregnancy is 100% preventable.” She is 100% correct.