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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

VIEW FROM AMERICA: Kids Magazine Takes Novel Tack on Sex




When Lenny Jones was in his early teens, there were a billion things he wanted to know about sex.


How it felt, for one. And what to do and what not to do - during the act, that is. He wanted to know if condoms were reusable, he says, giggling. Apart from the bragging of his male friends, however, he heard little that was useful.


"Older people are trying to scare us out of having sex," Jones told me. "But everything seems like scare tactics until we hear it from our peers."


I sought out Jones because he's one of the writers in the current issue of New Youth Connections, a magazine that's written by young people and goes out to 75,000 teenagers in New York City. The issue, "Are We Ready to Have Sex?" surprised me because it doesn't offer the usual dictum we offer teenagers about sex.


Which is: Don't do it. Or, think hard about it, and then don't do it.


Because more than half of all teenagers are having sex before they finish high school, this message obviously isn't sufficient. "Are We Ready to Have Sex?" takes a different approach. A dozen young people write about their experiences with having sex or deciding not to. They discuss their fantasies about their first sexual encounters, compared to what they were really like. And, guess what, while some were disappointed, others said it was just fine or even better than they expected.


One girl writes about coming close to having sex with several boyfriends, but deciding not to because she wasn't ready. Other tales come from a girl who got pregnant and decided to have an abortion, and from a girl who had her baby, but regrets becoming sexually active so early.


The articles don't moralize. The young people talk about the temptations they faced, the choices they made, the consequences of what they did and how it affected them emotionally. Jones, who is now 21 and caught gonorrhea when he was 18, said he wrote about his experience because he thought teenagers could relate to it and might not have to go through what he did. He wasn't trying to tell other young people not to have sex.


"I just couldn't tell them to use condoms without giving them some reason," he told me.


Andrea Estepa, 39, one of the co-editors of New Youth Connections, said she and her staff of about 50 writers did the sex issue because they were hearing from too many teenagers who said their sexual encounters "just happened."


"Large numbers of kids are having sex while they're in high school," Estepa said. "To say that it's all horrible and that everything is going to go wrong is unrealistic."


American society treats teenagers like children when it comes to sex. It is a failed approach. By saying no, no, no, instead of encouraging them to make thoughtful decisions about sex, we encourage them to act on impulse or out of panic.


Instead of saying sex is bad for you, New Youth Connections says think about it. Here are the experiences of some of your peers. Learn from them. Then make your own decisions, taking precautions and knowing what your options are.


Sheryl McCarthy is a columnist for Newsday.