Sex, etc. Magazine Under Fire at Pinelands Regional Junior High

Public Opinion Divided Over Publication Associated With Rutgers
By RICK MELLERUP | Nov 01, 2017

As if the Pinelands Regional Board of Education and school district administration don’t have enough on their plates already with the high school temporarily closed because of construction problems and all district students attending split sessions at the junior high, along comes another potential controversy.

In last week’s SandPaper, Peter and Theresa Cardillo of Little Egg Harbor, parents of a Pinelands seventh-grader, wrote the editor to complain of a publication that can be found in the Pinelands Junior High School media center called Sex, etc. The long letter, which was edited for length and, to some extent, content (more on that later), expressed a number of complaints.

One was the target audience.

“We consider this publication totally unsuitable for junior high school students, particularly for seventh-grade readers,” the couple wrote. “Our son is 12 years old with his innocence intact (not an easy thing these days). We resent the exposure he has been given to this magazine.”

Another concern was the magazine’s staff writers.

“Teens (18 or older called ‘sexperts’) answer the questions of other teens (under 18) – a seriously flawed approach for obvious reasons.

“If the school feels it necessary to keep material on hand to help answer sensitive sexual questions of 12- and 13-year-olds, why not provide a magazine where careful answers are provided by mature adults? Would other parents send their preteen son or daughter to an 18- or 19-year-old to help answer their questions about sex?”

The letter said several copies of the magazine were “scattered throughout the media center, along with other back issues of Sex, etc.

The couple’s greatest wrath was reserved for the magazine’s content.

“In the Q&A section, one girl writes: ‘I usually feel insecure about how long it takes me to reach orgasm and I don’t know how to communicate it to my boyfriend.’ Another 16-year-old asks: ‘Is the hookup culture acceptable? I feel like everybody views it as a taboo, and I’ve never minded it.’ To this question a staff writer replies that there is ‘absolutely nothing wrong’ with ‘hooking up’ as long as you and your partner ‘know what you’re getting into.’ This 18-year-old male staff writer (or ‘sexpert’) gives his studied opinion to a 16-year-old male student (a minor), assuring him that there is ‘absolutely’ nothing wrong with having sex whenever, and with whomever. Our 12-year-old, impressionable son can read this, along with other discussions about penis sizes (that rather graphic discussion was omitted by a SandPaper editor), breast sizes (again, a case of editing) and even references to anal sex.

The couple was offended that their parental influence would be countered by Sex, etc. being allowed in the junior high.

“We parents,” they later wrote returning to that subject, “not the school district, are responsible for the moral formation of our children. My wife and I certainly are not on board with current trends and agendas. Nor should public education embrace a particular agenda, as it has done by providing this magazine. The school is not neutral on these issues, and the magazine Sex, etc. is anything but neutral on sexual ethics.”

The couple went on to say Pinelands students are not getting both sides of the sex story.

“Why don’t they share statistics that challenge the kind of sexual promiscuity many of these teenagers are dangerously involved with? Scientific studies, not religious convictions, consistently point to serious problems associated with early sexual experimentation: trauma, long-term psychological issues, post-abortion syndrome and increased risks for suicide, especially among girls.”

The couple did not limit criticism to the magazine but extended it to the district.

“When Student Based Youth Services comes into the health education classroom to present on contraception and abortion there is a heavy bias at work. A passing nod is made to abstinence as the only sure way to prevent sexual disease (core curriculum standards require it), but the sum total of the presentation afterward encourages kids to embrace early sexual activity.”

Peter Cardillo also wrote, “There could be a legal issue here, one I intend to explore, namely ‘contributing to the corruption of a minor.’”

He had gone to the school board with his complaints and was told that a committee would explore the situation and report back within 30 days. He added a postscript to his letter to the editor when that report was received.

“On Oct. 20, my wife and I received a letter from (Interim Superintendent) Maryann Banks detailing the outcome of the committee’s discussion along with its recommendation. This letter informs us that the committee, which was put together by a junior high school principal, has recommended that the material, which they deem entirely in keeping with curriculum standards and goals, should continue to be made available in the junior high school media center. Dr. Banks also chose to tell us that it was a unanimous decision, and further, that the content in the magazine Sex, etc. is actually suitable for sixth-graders as well.”

The SandPaper reached out to the district and a representative from Sex, inc. to defend their points of view.

Sex, etc. Rep

Cites Research

Banks deferred to Lucinda Holt, director of communications for an entity called Answer, a national organization that provides training, resources, technical assistance and advocacy in support of comprehensive sexuality education. It has been around for over 25 years, originally called the Network for Family Life Education. Answer also publishes Sex, etc. The organization is based at Rutgers University.

Banks had received a congratulatory email from Holt after the district decided to keep Sex, etc. on the junior high media center’s shelves. She forwarded it to The SandPaper, made Holt aware of that fact, and told her to expect a reporter to be contacting her. Here is that email:

“Dear Superintendent Banks:

“I recently read about a parent at Pinelands Junior High School who was very concerned about the presence of Sex, etc. magazine in the media center. I completely understand that parents are concerned that sex education may lead to kids having more sex or having sex at younger ages. The truth is that 30 years of public health research (Holt didn’t reference any studies) has shown that young people who receive comprehensive sex education are actually more likely to wait to have sex. They also have fewer sexual partners and are more likely to use condoms and other contraceptives. On the other hand, studies (again, not referenced) have shown that abstinence-only programs fail to demonstrate any effect on delaying or decreasing sexual activity, and some programs may lead to increased risk of pregnancy and STDs.

“Answering young peoples’ questions and being trusted resources for them supports them in making healthy decisions now and in the future.

“As the publisher of Sex, etc., a sexual health educator, and, most importantly, a parent of a 7th-grader, I was glad to see that after reviewing the resource, the committee deemed it appropriate for middle school students.

“Thanks again for advocating for honest and medically accurate information for students. Please let us know if we can do anything to support you or your school district.”

Sex, etc. promotes itself as providing “honest and accurate sexual health information backed up by professionals.” It is also proud to say it is “written by teens, for teens” and that it publishes articles about “timely topics that are relevant to teens’ lives.”

The magazine currently has 13 young staffers and contributors, ranging in age from 16 to 19. Five are boys; eight are girls. Although they write the magazine’s content, they are backed by “adult sexual health professionals.” It is published three times a year, in September, January and April, with each issue currently having 20 pages. It has a sliding subscription rate – $15 for one year or $5 an issue up to $165 a year for 100 copies of each issue, or 55 cents per issue.

The SandPaper asked how long Sex, etc. has been published.

Sex, etc. has been in publication for 23 years,” answered Holt. “It started as a black-and-white newsletter in 1994. We launched the website Sexetc.org in 1999 and re-designed the newsletter as a full-color magazine in 2006.”

How nationwide in nature is the magazine?

Sex, etc. has subscribers in 46 states,” said Holt.

What is the magazine’s circulation?

“Each year,” she said, “30,000 copies of the magazine are distributed in the fall, winter and spring to schools, libraries and health centers. Our subscribers are nurses, librarians and health educators. Health educators will use copies of the magazine with their classes in conjunction with the lesson plan we produce with each issue.”

Considering the magazine’s connection with Rutgers, is the magazine sent to all public schools, or at least middle, junior and high schools, in New Jersey?

Sex, etc. is not sent to all public schools. We send the magazine to subscribers only. No one is sent the magazine without subscribing to it. Most of our subscribers are high schools, and we have a few middle school subscribers.”

The SandPaper’s next set of questions was an important one. How is the magazine financed? Does it receive any funds from Rutgers – in other words, are taxpayers footing any of the bill? If so, what percentage?

Sex, etc. is privately funded by foundations and individual donors,” Holt responded. “You can find a list of the private foundations on the front-inside cover of the magazine.”

Has Sex, etc. received complaints like the Cardillos’ from other parents?

“A few years ago,” said Holt, “a parent in Iowa asked to have Sex, etc. removed from the teen section of the public library. The library board voted to keep the publication in the teen section of the library.”

Samples of Sex, etc. can be found online at sexetc.org.

Reaction

Is Mixed

Facebook chatter about Sex, etc. and the Pinelands District, spurred by the letter to the editor that appeared in The SandPaper, has so far been limited. It has also received a mixed response.

“An 18 year old giving a 16 year old sex advice is by law a sexual predator!” read one post.

“I would not be happy if my son got his hands on this garbage,” read another.

“In 8th grade my daughter had to read a book about a crack whore,” a mother posted. “‘Crack whore’ was on a spelling list that week. I spoke to the principal, who said he would check it out.”

But one woman said, “It’s ALL available online & worse!”

“FACT: The county library has circulated this resource for many years. There is nothing new here!” led off another post.

“I think it’s appropriate,” wrote a woman. “I’m glad the board has decided to keep it. We can’t start banning books and magazines. We live in the 21st Century. Age-appropriate information should be available to every reader.”

rickmellerup@thesandpaper.net

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