How Do I Love Thee, Scarleteen
When I was coming of age sexually there was no Scarleteen. And I was fortunate enough not to need it. If there is such a thing as a charmed introduction into one’s own sexuality, I had it. I had an open-minded mother who, without batting an eye, answered questions like “What’s a peckerhead?” when I was 8, and who bought me a copy of Our Bodies Ourselves when I was in my mid-teens. I had little formal sex ed in school but plenty of books at my disposal (including a copy of The Hite Report that I found in the basement in a box of old books). As a younger teenager I masturbated and was not ashamed, and when I decided I wanted to have sex, at 17, with my 22-year old boyfriend, I talked to my mother about it and despite thinking I was too young she understood that it was my decision and she took me to Planned Parenthood. To add to my good fortune, my mother's sister worked as a nurse at our local Planned Parenthood and so my mother and I both had plenty of confidence in the clinic.
I had high school boyfriends who, no more sexually experienced than I, were equally urgent in the fumbling explorations we pursued while never making me feel guilty for not “going all the way.” The aforementioned 22-year old boyfriend was sweet and gentle and playful when I decided I was ready for intercourse, and afterwards we drank milk out of wine glasses and read the comics in his most recent Playboy.
In college I felt free to explore sexually with my bisexual boyfriend and later came to realize my attraction to women in an environment that was open and supportive to that. When I introduced my first girlfriend to my family they were welcoming, and later when I married a man while disavowing monogamy they were accepting of that too.
Even when I was sexually assaulted, I had a friend who pulled me out of the initial trauma and depression, a mother who was supportive without panicking, and a rape crisis counselor who was clear and honest about my needs, my options, and the importance of putting myself first.
Most teens don’t get so lucky in terms of access to information and acceptance by family and peers. I remember my first year in college when a new friend from down the hall called in a panic: "Can you get pregnant through your pants." As I talked to her about what had happened I quickly realized she'd had no sexuality education at all and was so ashamed of her sexual explorations that she had never talked to anyone before about safer sex. She hardly had the vocabulary to tell me what she and her boyfriend had done. She needed Scarleteen, but this was 1988 and the World Wide Web was still several years in the future.
Sexuality education is important across the life course but when we are teens we are particularly vulnerable to misinformation, to pressure, and to our own insecurities. And ideally sexuality education should come from a range of sources, including schools and families. But independent sources are particularly important because information provided by families and schools is likely to come intentionally wrapped in values and beliefs that unintentionally make us feel terrible about our own curiosities, pleasures and identities.
Scarleteen provides judgment-free, medically accurate independent sexuality information specifically for teens. In addition, Scarleteen provides information on demand. It is always there. And now that so many teens carry their Internet connection with them everywhere, they can essentially carry Scarleteen around in their pockets. In that way it serves a purpose that even the most open-minded parents and teachers cannot.
Doing this work is neither cheap nor easy. Scarleteen is the highest ranked sexuality information site for teens and the people who need it most are least able to contribute to its support. They depend on people like us who care about their access to independent sexuality information on demand. As a regular contributor to Scarleteen (through their monthly automatic donation program) I recently received a call from Heather Corinna, the intrepid founder and director of the service, who explained it like this:
Unlike many other organizations often in a bind because they are solely or highly reliant on foundation or public funding, Scarleteen has always been primarily supported by generous individuals like yourself and small community groups. While this requires we operate at a far smaller budget than other similar organizations, it also allows for a high level of freedom and autonomy and the ability to best provide young people with what they want, rather than seeking to create or adapt content and services primarily to suit what funders want. This approach to funding also allows our staff to put nearly all of our time, energy and money into directly serving youth, rather than into grant seeking, writing, schmoozing and administrating.
We’re asking for your help in either giving a donation of your own or encouraging your readers, colleagues, friends and family to donate. Given our visibility, tenure and traffic, with your help, meeting our goal should not be particularly challenging. A $100 donation can pay half of our server bill for a month, or half the monthly cost of the text-in service, or can fund any kind of use of the site, including one-on-one counsel and care, for around 10,000 of our daily users. However, we very much appreciate donations at any level.
Help teens have ongoing access to this important resource by making a donation. And whether or not you make a donation, please spread the word about Scarleteen by tweeting about their work (and following @scarleteen), sharing your support on Facebook, or putting a button or banner on your blog.