Jane Fonda writes frankly to teens about sex and much more

Actress and activist Jane Fonda, whose Atlanta-based charity launched in 1995 with a focus on preventing teen pregnancy, talks with trademark candor about sex and other matters in her new book, “Being a Teen: Everything Teen Girls & Boys Should Know about Relationships, Sex, Love, Health, Identity & More.”

Fonda, who started the organization while living in Atlanta and married to Ted Turner, still spends a good bit of time here. She and Turner teamed up for a 2012 fundraiser benefiting her charity, begun as the Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention and now rebranded as the Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Power & Potential.

“It was Ted who inspired me to start this organization and make it possible to continue,” Fonda said that night of the guy she calls her “favorite ex-husband.”

Her book draws on her decades of work with adolescents, both through G-CAPP and the Jane Fonda Center at Emory University, begun in 2000 to research adolescent reproductive health.

“It’s information not just about sex and the body, but about values and feelings and identity,” Fonda said. “It’s a holistic look at adolescence.”

At the time G-CAPP was founded, Georgia’s teen pregnancy rate was the highest in the nation. The campaign has reduced helped reduce the number of teen births in Georgia by 45 percent by working with teens on more than just sex.

Her new book, she said, is what she needed when she was a teen.

Fonda, 76, was 12 when her mother died and says she had a difficult adolescence.

“I had sex ed at school to some degree, but that doesn’t include feelings,” she said. “How do you know if you are in a good relationship? How do you know how to say, ‘No’ and still be popular?… Adolescence is so much about feelings. There’s all these hormones, and the brain’s not fully developed. It’s tough.”

The book also includes a lot of things the teenage Jane Fonda didn’t have to deal with, including sexting and cyberbullying, as well as hush-hush subjects such as sexual identity, pornography and sexually transmitted infections.

It also includes what you’d expect from a book for teens about sex: periods and body hair, pimples and deodorant.

While written for a teen audience, Fonda encourages parents to read through it first before giving it to their teens. And for kids younger than 14, it’s really designed to be read with a parent. She calls it a “dip-in book.” You don’t have to read it from cover to cover. Instead, teens can dip into the area that interests them. “That will change over time,” she said.

The biggest question she gets from girls is, ‘How do I know if it’s a real relationship?”

Her answer: ‘If you can’t talk about sex, you’re not ready to have sex. You have to be able to talk about contraception and getting tested for sexually transmitted infections.”

She also talks about components of a bad relationship, such as pressure, verbal and emotional abuse and manipulation.

And boys express a frustration that by treating girls well, they end up as the best friend and not the boyfriend. “Sometimes it takes time until you find the girl that is suited for you,” she says. “The boys that are these kind of boys end up being the keepers. They make you the happiest in life.”

One of the book’s best tips is for teens to write down what they want to be like. “Not what you want to do,” Fonda says, “but what you want to be.” She encourages teens to write a list of the qualities they would like to have as an individual and then asks if their friends move them in that direction or move them away. “It’s like sailing a stormy sea. You should not let the boat drift. You have to set a course for yourself,” she says.

When Fonda showed the book to at least a dozen teens, she was surprised by how much feedback she got about the section on family and understanding your parents. “I didn’t think they expected that they have to understand their parents just as their parents have to understand them.”

Staff writer Jennifer Brett contributed to this article.