Can We Say That? Communicating About Sex Ed in the Age of Major Spam

By Marcia Quackenbush, MS, MFT, MCHES | January 26, 2018
Senior Editor, ETR

Here at ETR, we care about sexual and reproductive health. We produce and distribute materials used in sexuality education. We do research. We train trainers and educators.

That means we often use words such as “sex” in our blog posts and newsletters. Some of the resources we offer or refer to are free. Some of our materials, research and services are geared expressly toward youth, others toward adults.

(By the way, our newsletters are free. They digest the best of our blog each month. If you haven’t already subscribed, consider it. Check here.)

My Spam Analysis: A Bitter Awakening

I believe our blog and newsletters make a meaningful contribution to the field. Our authors bring a lot of thought and care to their posts. They represent a high level of expertise and bring valuable experience to their writing.

So, I was surprised—and more than a little annoyed—to see the results of a spam analysis on a recent newsletter draft. Here’s what it told me:

  • You've used the word "free" and used exclamation marks in the body of your email, this is considered spammy.
  • You've used the word "sex" (even as a part of another word e.g. "Middlesex"). Try to avoid this where possible.
  • The words "free" and "sex" were found within your email, this is incredibly common in spam emails, you should consider rephrasing.
  • The words "free" and "adult" were found within your email, this is incredibly common in spam emails, you should consider rephrasing.

Facing the Music

Yes! I overuse exclamation points! I do it whether I’m talking or writing! And yes (sigh). I can give this up in a newsletter.

Our team has already learned that including the word “sex” in newsletter email subject lines is likely to condemn it directly to a recipient’s spam folder.

But limiting words such as “free” and “sex” and “adult” in the body of a newsletter? (“Not necessarily in the same sentence,” the analysis pointed out.)

Keep Your Trusted Resources in Mind

We’re not going to stop writing about adolescent sexual health risks. Neither are the other organizations that are doing so much important work in this field.

So, do keep us all in mind. Remember to make the occasional check of your spam and junk folders and mark us as “not junk.” As for your own work? Keep writing, researching, talking and teaching about healthy sexuality. It’s a great thing to do.


Marcia Quackenbush, MS, MFT, MCHES, is Senior Editor at ETR. She can be reached at



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