Long before Paris Hilton made the term “sex tape” part of the vernacular – in fact, even before Paris Hilton was born – Sheri Tepper and I created what were without doubt the first explicit sex tapes of their kind. Not, mind you, the grainy, green, night-vision, sweaty, or passionate video kind, but audio tapes providing straightforward, factual information about a variety of topics focusing on human sexuality. Even more remarkable, the tapes were disseminated by Denver’s Lutheran Medical Center via their state-of-the-art Tel-Med system. (Click on this link for information about Tel-Med as implemented at a different medical facility.)
If you don’t know about Sheri Tepper then you have missed out on a great story-teller. She has authored over 40 novels (mostly science fiction/fantasy, but also mystery, and coming-of-age) with a strong feminist and eco-sensitive slant. (Click on these links for an overview and an interview, respectively.)
When I met her, she was Executive Director of Rocky Mountain Planned Parenthood (RMPP) in Denver, and I was working for an applied research firm. I had just won a contract with the Centers for Disease Control to develop and deploy a series of audio tapes on human sexuality for a Tel-Med system. Two factors in my proposal contributed significantly to being selected: we were the only bidders not running a Tel-Med system, and we were the only bidders to include Sheri Tepper as a consultant.
Sheri was a fabulous writer. She was responsible for a number of pamphlets for RMPP, written especially for young people. One of my favorites was titled, “So your happily ever after isn’t.” In addition to straight facts, her work was humorous and easy to understand, and beautifully illustrated by Gary Barnard. (Of all her good works at RMPP, I think Sheri was most proud of her ability to keep RMPP fully functional without Federal funds, allowing them to serve constituents’ needs without the impediments of government restrictions).
We convened a panel of health professionals, social workers, educators, teens, and representatives of the hospital to define the specific topics. Sheri and I began to write. She arranged for a former newspaper editor to whip our prose into shape. Scripts went through many drafts, with the Lutherans making sure that we didn’t get racy. By the time we were getting ready to record the audio, Katie and I had moved from Denver to DC and I was sharing an office and staff with The Bicycle Federation of America, of which Katie was the new Executive Director. Her secretary was originally from the Bible Belt and every single time that the script held the word “orgasm” the secretary typed “organism” – every single time! But I digress.
I narrated the topics written for a male voice, and my only staff person, Pam, narrated the female voice tapes, and we delivered them to the Lutheran Medical Center in the summer of 1981. They were great! They were informative! They were easy to access and understand! They were obsolete shortly thereafter because of the Internet!
I was sad when I learned that Sheri had retired from RMPP, fearing that she would never write any more of those wonderful pamphlets. I needn’t have worried – much of her subsequent work was just as educational, just as humorous, just as satisfying to read. I was sad today when I learned that Sheri died on October 22nd, just two months ago. To borrow a phrase from my other favorite author, “So it goes.”