After 20 years, plenty of teen-agers still rely on Ann Lander's sex talk

August 16, 1991|By Mei-Ling Hopgood | Mei-Ling Hopgood,Knight-Ridder

It's a strange kind of best-seller. You can't buy it in a bookstore, though it has sold countless copies. You won't find any high-gloss, racy illustrations to explain its popularity, but the publication does quite well with a simple yellow-striped cardboard cover and a no-nonsense title: "Sex and the Teenager."

Who wrote the book of love? Ann Landers.

The 38-page booklet, even after 20 years in print, still draws requests whenever it's mentioned at the end of Landers' syndicated column.

Sex, of course, is hardly a foreign topic for Landers. Her advice column, syndicated to 90 million readers in 12,000 newspapers worldwide, routinely tackles readers' questions about sexual concerns.

"A great many people will not feel they can talk about the subject to anyone," Landers says. "But they talk to me."

Often, they're young people whose pseudonyms reveal almost as much as their letters -- people like The Dream Become a Nightmare in Michigan, mother of a 7-month-old at age 17. And Learned the Hard Way, who got her first abortion at 15. Or Worried in California, who asked whether he could get a venereal disease from masturbating.

All get answers in the booklet.

Landers says she recognized that teens needed somebody to talk with them about sex. And maybe Mom and Dad needed some help getting the conversation started. So the Chicago-based author drafted a booklet of basic sex education information that teens could turn to, and that even the most skittish parents could hand to their kids.

The booklet is a collection of letters from readers, question-and-answer sidebars, information from experts and, of course, Landers-esque advice.

"People need legitimate straight talk," Landers says. "They need to know about the topic of sex and are ashamed to admit they don't know because it would make them look 'square.' "

The booklet is revised every so often; the last revision was in 1987 -- about the time AIDS became a hot topic.

Landers says the booklet's buyers aren't just teen-agers, but high school guidance counselors, teachers and principals, parents, prison inmates, clergy and special-interest groups.

About eight other Ann Landers booklets occasionally get a plug in her column -- booklets for coping with such concerns as drugs and loneliness. But Landers says she doesn't keep a close watch on how many copies are sold and that she can't say how profitable the booklets have been. "I didn't write them to make money," she says. "It's a matter of public service."

To order Ann Lander's booklet "Sex and the Teenager," send $3.65 to TEENS, c/o Ann Landers, P.O. Box 11562, Chicago, Ill. 60611-0562.

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