“Sassy” magazine heralded a new way of thinking about girls and sexuality, encouraging them to educate themselves and enjoy sex. In March 1988, the first issue of “Sassy” debuted with the cover story “Losing Your Virginity: Read This Before You Decide” next to a full-page ad for condoms. The feature’s strategic placement seemed like a shocking oversight to some until editor-in-chief Jane Pratt maintained that the editorial decision had been intentional, signaling the magazine’s prioritization of its readers’ sexual education. The magazine’s approach to sex instruction was structured as a call-and-response, relying on readers to ask questions that young women never heard in class like “Should I talk during sex?” and “How long will it take?” This Socratic format preserved an air of uncertainty that was familiar to its audience and important to its educational purposes. Proceeding with an attitude of acceptance and truthfulness, “Sassy” demonstrated a convincing understanding of adolescent challenges. The result was a nuanced and personalized sex education experience that allowed readers to take stock of trusted facts and reach their own solutions.
Though “Sassy” eventually folded after six years due to a negative letter writing campaign and subsequent loss of ad sales, a close examination of the “Sassy” articles that mention sex reveals that the magazine’s take on adolescent sexuality was never one of pro- or anti-sex but one of pro-sexual awareness. For every article on bedroom tips, there was one like the November 1988 feature “Why Virgins Are Cool” or the April 1996 cautionary tale “I Got HIV After My First Sexual Experience.” It was the incorporation of ambiguity in its advice that made “Sassy” so popular and so pertinent to the concerns of readers stuck between sexual naïveté and maturation.