LOS ANGELES — If one goes to Google on the Internet and types in the word “sex,” the first Web site listed is the place where about 60,000 adolescents a day go for their sex information, with the kinds of questions they are not likely to want to ask their parents.
The site is called Sex, Etc., and it is written by adolescents, under the supervision of experts at Rutgers University.
Sex, Etc. started as a newsletter in 1994, and 2.2 million copies of the newsletter are still distributed annually. But, because some of the topics touched on have included masturbation, lesbianism, and even French kissing, the newsletter has been banned by some school districts, which is one of the reasons why the Web site was started.
And, it is on the Internet that Sex, Etc. is now having its biggest impact, Nora Gelperin said at the annual meeting of the Society for Adolescent Medicine.
The number of daily visitors to the Sex, Etc. Web site has grown from an average of a little more than 10,000 a day in December 2002 to an average 60,000 a day now, 70% of whom are individuals aged younger than 21 years.
The fact that so many young people turn to this source is evidence of its need, said Ms. Gelperin, director of training and education for the Network for Family Life Education at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, Piscataway.
Adolescents today live in a confusing culture, where sex is freely discussed, but much basic information is scarce. Sexual content appears on television, at the same time that an increasing number of school districts are adopting abstinence-only sex education programs, Ms. Gelperin said.
“Teachers aren't free to talk about anything more than the plumbing, and parents generally aren't saying anything at all,” Ms. Gelperin said.
According to one survey, 97% of persons 15–24 years of age have gone on the Internet for any reason, two-thirds have gone on the Internet for health information of any kind, and 4 of 10 who have searched out health information there have changed some kind of behavior as a result.
Currently, the Web site has more than 200 teen-written articles online, more than 250 frequently asked-questions and answers, and a glossary of about 440 different terms, ranging from “areola” and “vulva” to “choad” and “smash” (choad is slang for a penis that is wider than it is long and smash is slang for sex). There are interactive diagrams of male and female anatomy, and also an “ask-the-experts” service, for which questions are answered within 72 hours, and a “help-now” service for crisis questions, which are answered in 24 hours.
According to the Web site records, the most frequently asked questions by males are about masturbation and penis size. The most frequently asked questions by females are about “can I get pregnant if …” and painful sex. Questions asked have included whether it is normal to shave one's pubic area and whether it is true that the yellow dye in Mountain Dew soda pop kills sperm.
Females ask about twice as many questions as males, and the average age of those who submit questions is 16 years, the records indicate.
Although the ask-the-experts questions are not answered by adolescents, most of the rest of the content in the newsletter and on the Web site is written by teens, and that is something the Rutgers administrators consider very important because adolescents listen to each other differently from the way they listen to adults, Ms. Gelperin said.
Anyone who visits the site cannot help but notice the Rutgers logo on the home page, and that is what gives the site credibility in the visitors' minds, she said.