Let's talk about Sex, etc.

Writing about sex and sexual health issues can be precarious for high school students.Take, for example, the situation at La Serna High School in Whittier, Calif., in 2006 when students were restrained from publishing the student newspaper after running a ‘sex issue’ the previous month. Members of the school community were offended by some of the content in the edition, which featured a spread on student opinions on sex, a survey about sexually active teens, a word search with sex-related terms and a sexually suggestive photo (not of a student).For student journalists in the Northeast who face issues like those at La Serna, that’s where Sex, Etc. comes in.Sex, Etc. ‘ the award-winning national magazine and Web site (Sexetc.org) on sexual health written by teens, for teens, and published by Answer, at Rutgers University ‘ covers a wide range of topics like birth control, emotional health, sex, and love and relationships.From abortion to sexually transmitted diseases, teens have countless questions about sex and sexual health issues. For those teens who have discovered sexetc.org, the mysteries of sexual health and sex education have been revealed.Although a professional staff manages the teen editors and writers, the teenagers who write for Sex, Etc. have the freedom to cover these controversial issues.’At school or at home, we don’t really talk about some of the sexual health issues that are out there and that are a part of every teen’s life,’ said Anita Modi, a teen editor for Sex, Etc. ‘So Sex, Etc. does become a place where we can really speak freely and get the information that we need without worrying about what we might look like in the eyes of the other people.’Modi has written about topics like Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as ‘seasonal depression’ and has a strong interest in sexual health issues. Besides her work at Sex, Etc., 17-year-old Modi is the editor of her high school newspaper, the Viking Vibe. She said that although she does not write about issues pertaining to sexual health at her high school, her advice to high school journalists is to check the facts.’I would tell those teens to make sure their information, whatever they get, is 100 percent verified from reliable sources, not from what ‘she said’ about getting pregnant or what ‘she said’ about the condom breaking,’ Modi said. ‘If you have accurate info, I don’t think anyone has any reason to deny you printing privileges.’Mika Padawer, also a teen editor at Sex, Etc., said the publication plays an important role in getting accurate information to teens.’I have friends who can’t turn to their parents, and if they turn to their peers, not everyone knows the right information,’ Padawer, 17, said. ‘You definitely need to get the right information, and that is exactly what Sex, Etc. can give you, … the right facts about practically anything they need to know.’Padawer has written articles about various topics like birth control options, and gay, lesbian and bisexual teens who are homeless. She said her parents are supportive of the topics she chooses to write about and that her mother ‘sparked’ her interest in writing for Sex, Etc.According to Rana Barar, program manager for Answer, a national organization dedicated to providing and promoting comprehensive sexuality education to young people and the adults who teach them, some teen editors ‘become a resource for their friends.”I think that many teens … don’t realize how restricted this information is in other parts of the country,’ Barar said. ‘This is a unique opportunity for them to write about these issues.’Barar said the program recruits teens from journalism and writing classes. The teen editors go through journalism and sexual health training, and meet monthly to generate story ideas and themes for the magazine.Sex, Etc. was formed as a ‘peer written resource’ in the mid-1990s, Barar said, and ‘it was very clear at that point that there was a need and a desire from young people to have a resource that was in a language that they could relate to.’Leora Cohen-Rosenberg, a current teen editor, said her passions of writing and advocating for sex education led her to Sex, Etc.’I really love writing, so it just seemed like the perfect marriage between advocating and writing,’ Cohen-Rosenberg, 18, said. She has written on a variety of issues like cutting, HIV, and ‘how to talk to your parents about being gay.’Barar said that because the content is written by teens themselves, teens around the country turn to Sex, Etc. for answers. The magazine has 500 adult subscribers who circulate 26,000 copies to the teens they work with in high schools, youth organizations and clinics.’It grows out of the idea that teens listen to their peers when it comes to these issues,’ Barar said, ‘and that speaking to them in their language and addressing the questions that they really have is the best way to get sexual health info across.’