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Scarleteen By The Numbers: What's Gotten Better? What Has Not?

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Submitted by Heather Corinna on Sat, 2011-10-15 11:16

I want to focus this entry on the second of the optional questions in the demographics survey. Of the 2,000 participants who completed the survey, this question was answered by 1,530. The question was this: Since using Scarleteen, which of any of the following has changed for you, and by how much?

We saw a couple comments at the end of the survey, from statistics-focused folks, concerned that our aim was to state that whatever improvements users reported were solely because of Scarleteen. That was never the intent.

The intent in asking this questions was primarily to get a picture of what, if any, improvements relevant to what we address here our users were experiencing which may have been due to using our services or may not have been. What we most wanted to see was not the areas where we may have done a good job or where our users already felt things were going very well for them, but areas where it would seem sound to say we currently are not having the impact we'd like to with positive changes. In other words, this question seemed likely to be most useful in identifying our potential weak spots, rather than our strengths, and could give us a clearer sense on how and where we should look most to improve our content and approaches.

We also figured we couldn't expect many users to be able to identity if positive changes or a lack thereof had to do with their use of Scarleteen or not, or, if it did, only had to do with using Scarleteen. We do hear from users in direct services, in email, and did from some in comments to this survey, about how they feel Scarleteen plays or has played a part in improving certain areas of their lives. Some of the answers to this question were, indeed, reflective of some of the positive feedback we get.

At the same time, some of these changes tend to happen for some people as they move through adolescence and into adulthood, regardless. So, in the interest of intellectual honesty, as well as supporting young people's agency, we've framed this the way we did and are now because while we feel it's fair to figure that Scarleteen may have had some of the impact reflected in the answers, as these are issues we work on with and for users, but we also don't feel it is sound for us to claim a given level of authoritative ownership or influence with those changes with a survey like this.

I personally feel some the more illuminating answers, the answers most useful to us as an organization always aiming to improve how we serve our readers and users, and always needing to identify where we could do better or need to work harder, were the ones where a good deal of positive change was not reported. Some of those answers were surprising to me and to the volunteers as well: without that feedback, our awareness of these possible weaknesses would have been much more limited. (Thanks, survey participants!)

Here's that data in text, with the highest percentage of answers to each question bolded:

Since using Scarleteen, which of any of the following has changed for you, and by how much:

My relationships have improved (1,452 answers): No change, 10.4%, a little, 10.9%, some, 21.0% (305), a lot, 15.4% (223), not applicable, 42.4%. Comments reflected that many of the users answering either are not in relationships or feel their relationships are already of high quality.

I feel more able to make and respect my own best sexual choices: No change, 3.6%, a little, 9.5%, some, 22.5%, a lot, 42.8%, not applicable, 21.6%.

I practice safer sex more or more consistently: No change, 9.7%, a little, 4.7%, some, 11.1%, a lot 19.7%, not applicable, 54.8%. Again, some of this is was spoken about in comments regarding not being in relationships, or safer sex seeming to be something participants were already excellent at. However, given that we know from other data sources and one-on-one conversations with users that many people have incorrect ideas about what safer sex is and how to do it properly, and given some of the answers below reflect a good amount of respondents not doing part of safer sex at all, this answer still concerns me.

I use birth control more or more consistently: No change, 13.1%, a little, 3.3%, some, 7.4%, a lot, 17.3%, not applicable, 58.8%. See above, though also bear in mind that around half of our users are not heterosexual and many have no need for contraception when they are sexually active.

I have sought out sexual healthcare: No change, 18.7%, a little, 6.3%, some, 11.3%, a lot, 16.8%, not applicable, 46.9% . Again, some of N/A being the highest answer here is about users who have not yet had life or health experiences that facilitate a need for that care. At the same time, this is an area where we have often experiences many users clearly in need of that care who avoid it, so, this set of answers is a concern.

I have been able to ask a sexual partner to get tested: No change, 20.5%, a little, 4.2%, some, 5.2%, a lot, 9.9%, not applicable, 60.2%. While yet again, some of this may be because there has not been a partner to ask, we do often experience users who feel they don't have to ask or feel testing isn't needed when it is, so this answer also raises concern.

I have gotten tested for STIs more often (or for the first time): No change, 22.5%, a little, 3.6%, some, 6.9%, a lot, 10.6%, not applicable, 56.5%. See above.

I feel more able to set sexual limits and boundaries: No change, 7.3%, a little, 11.0%, some, 18.9%, a lot, 33.0%, not applicable, 29.8%.

I feel more comfortable talking/communicating about sex:, No change, 6.0%, a little, 9.5%, some, 19.4%, a lot, 42.2%, not applicable, 22.9%.

I have worked harder to be sure I have a partner's consent with anything sexual:, No change, 9.6%, a little, 5.4%, some, 12.4%, a lot, 25.8%, not applicable, 46.8%. Again, some of this is likely about a lack of relationships. At the same time, this answer is a concern because we find many people's ideas of when consent is needed and what doing consent well entails are often problematic or one-sided.

My confidence/assertiveness has improved:, No change, 9.8%, a little, 14.3%, some, 21.9%, a lot, 29.8%, not applicable, 24.2%.

I feel better about my sexual identity:, No change, 7.9%, a little, 9.8%, some, 19.1%, a lot, 34.7%, not applicable, 28.5%.

I feel better about my body:, No change, 10.8%, a little, 13.5%, some, 20.7%, a lot, 29.5%, not applicable, 25.5%

I have come out (w/orientation or gender identity):, No change, 17.8%, a little, 6.6%, some, 6.1%, a lot, 8.2%, not applicable, 61.3%.

I feel stronger in healing from sexual abuse or assault:, No change, 11.5%, a little, 4.0%, some, 6.1%, a lot, 8.2%, not applicable, 70.2%. While we see a high number of users who have survived sexual abuse or assault coming to us for information, help and support, the majority of our users have not been sexually abused or assaulted.

I have recognized areas in my life/relationships I could improve/ where I want to make positive changes:, No change, 8.6%, a little, 12.3%, some, 9.2%, a lot, 29.0%, not applicable, 30.9%.

If in school, my grades have improved:, No change, 22.9%, a little, 5.2%, some, 7.2%, a lot, 6.3%, not applicable, 58.4% While many of our users are still in school, our general sense is that the majority tend to already be very high-achieving.

Here's a taste of some of the comments (including a couple which support why automatically associating positive changes to use of Scarleteen would have been problematic):

  • I think I can work on asking someone out now.
  • Your texting service helped me talk about my past abuse in real time; made me feel important and listened to
  • I feel more comfortable around my girlfriend.
  • I have decided that I am interested in undertaking academic work in the field of sex & relationships for people with mental health support needs.
  • I'm just guessing - but these are areas where my life improved thanks to educational resources and mentors like these...
  • I feel more positive about sex, rather than the negative opinion my parents hold and forced on me
  • I answered a lot a N/A because I have never had sex.
  • I feel I have a reliable and accurate place to refer my 14-year-old when he has questions he doesn't want to discuss with me or his father.
  • I now PLAN to get tested :)
  • I feel better about my gender identity
  • I think Scarleteen is great but I can't give you guys credit for the positive changes in my life.
  • I started reading scarleteen after I had dealt with a lot of my stuff, and after being employed as a sexual health/harm reduction educator. It hasn't changed a lot of these areas of my life, hence the n/a's, but is incredibly helpful in my work
  • [improvements are] not just because of this site, but also by immersing myself in the sexpositive community
  • Knowing I'm not alone.
  • I was damn good at most of these before I started using Scarleteen (if I do say so myself).
  • Communication with my daughter about sexual issues.
  • I feel like I can be myself (generally and sexually) because I know I have support from people like me
  • Reassured.
  • Since being aware of my sexuality I've been visiting this website- so i can't tell you if you've improved me. but i can tell you i turned out pretty okay.
  • I have learned more about sex and everything that comes with it. Thank you!
  • I know how to help my friends with their own questions about sex
  • My understanding of the issues younger people are facing.
  • My knowledge of the complexity involved in the many facets of sexuality
  • Scarleteen has given me a better understanding of sexuality and the role it plays in our lives
  • I learned things that had made me nervous before, and now don't feel like a minority or like something was wrong with me. thank you.
  • Have not had sex, but this has really opened my eyes to wait
  • I feel much more confident offering advice to friends who are unsure of sexual issues.
  • I feel I have somewhere to look for trustworthy information.
  • Realize what can and cannot get me pregnant
  • I feel more confident in representing myself and being myself as a woman
  • I have learned many things I did know know about my body. It's like a health class, but 10 times better and more informative.
  • I am more confident in my ability to raise my daughters with healthy attitudes about their bodies and sexuality.
  • Thinking about what I've read on Scarleteen reminds me that there are people able to give so much acceptance and support to others. Gives me motivation to be one of those people.
  • I am being abused less
  • This site gives me hope!

So, where do we think either we're probably doing a good job for our users, or where are they are experiencing improvements already? With self-confidence issues, healthy relationships, body image and awareness, empowerment around making one's own best sexual choices, sexual communication, and sexual or gender identity. This is all great news for our users, whatever role we have played in these outcomes. We intend to keep building on these positives with our content and current approach.

Where do we think we need to work harder, rethink approaches and start trying some new ones, or create more content that addresses certain needs? While we've a great deal of content on safer sex, testing and contraception already, it seems we could stand to have more, and to try some new approaches in those departments. In those areas, it seems like we also need to be doing more to help users feel confident communicating with partners about these express issues, such as by asking for or about STI testing with partners. We've already launched the Find-a-Doc database to help users with access issues that present barriers to them in getting sexual healthcare, but we can certainly pair that with more content about why and how to seek out that care, and how to feel better about utilizing it. We already have a good deal of content on consent, but only one piece that focuses solely on consent, and it seems creating some more content to support it could benefit our users.

The really good news is that if the positives have to do at all with what we do, then we already have some excellent foundation to build on when it comes to working on what we can do to help current users improve their lives in those other areas, where positive change was less reported. For those where a lot of those things were N/A, we also have the opportunity to expand and improve our content and approach before they get to a point in their lives where these issues are something they need to address and deal with. Our goal for those users is to work on those improvements to prepare them well for those issues if and when they do become personally relevant to them.

As with the previous set of data, we're very open to your feelings, thoughts and ideas around these findings. Stay tuned for the last bit of information we have from this survey, from the general comments section, and then my overall perceptions and thoughts about the study findings, including some intersections of the data I think are important to look at.

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