You probably heard that Siri, the digital assistant on the iPhone 4S, could help someone find Viagra or a sexual escort, but not a family planning clinic, a local pharmacy to get a birth control prescription filled or an abortion provider. Whether that was intended or a glitch, it was understandably very upsetting. At Scarleteen, people can get easy help finding those important services and more through our SMS service, our fully moderated message boards, our growing Find-a-Doc database and, of course, our exhaustive information about contraception, abortion and other reproductive choices, sexual healthcare and so many other sexuality and sexual health topics.
Some people sure paid a lot of money for a tool that didn’t serve them or others well. Scarleteen users get those services and much more for free. We give teens and young adults real people to talk with, for nearly 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, when the thousands of pages of in-depth, thoughtful information at Scarleteen don’t have all they want or need. While all of that is free to our users, providing it to them costs money.
You may have appreciated a recent piece on sex education at the New York Times. It profiled a sex educator who doesn’t limit sex ed to a dry curriculum, simplistic sound bytes or fearful warnings about the terrible, horrible things that will happen to teens if they engage in sex. We certainly appreciated it. Approaching sexuality as something potentially positive and enriching, rather than as only harmful, damaging or merely neutral is something we’ve always done. You may have seen this piece on why inclusive sex education is important. We know that, too: Scarleteen is inclusive of a spectrum of orientations and identities, including in our leadership and staffing. And we aim to be inclusive with more than just orientation, but also with gender identity, embodiment, relationship models, reproductive choices, socioeconomics, cultural and religious beliefs and more.
We know sex and sexuality aren't just about the bad things that can happen. We also know healthy sexuality and relationships aren’t things only heterosexual, gender-conforming, able-bodied, middle-class or white people can attain, and that one of the most important protective factors for healthy sexuality and positive sexual experiences and outcomes is real inclusion in sexuality education and support. Holding those kinds of positions limits our access to resources other organizations and initiatives who take a different stance have. But even when we’ve had to fight a long battle like we did with the ACLU over the COPA to defend these positions, we know this is what serves people best and is what we intend to stay true to, with or without media or political support.
Every year, millions of teen and young adult readers get the truly comprehensive sex and sexual health information, education and support they want and need at Scarleteen. Scarleteen users frequently express they find a level and a quality of education and service here they have not found anywhere else, including in school-based sex education and at other organizations or sites with exponentially greater resources.
We need your support because what we do costs money.
Scarleteen is an independent, grassroots organization without federal, state, institutional or foundational funding. We are, as we always have been, supported primarily by private, individual donations from people like you. And unlike some sex education services for young people that have come on the horizon lately who seek to charge them for information, we recognize the realities of the social and economic status of young people, and aim to always provide our services to them for free.
We often need to explain to potential supporters what it is we do and the many ways that we help young people. The fact that we’ve got more pages of original, thoughtful, in-depth and progressive sexuality, sexual health and intimate relationship information online than anywhere else makes some of what we have to offer obvious. But what might be less apparent to someone who isn't one of our young users is all of what we offer here and how much it can benefit them.
There’s also the user who utilized our text service after a sexual assault to get help gathering courage to go to the emergency room: we stayed on the line with her all day and into the night, giving her support throughout the many steps of that process. There’s the user who grew up in a socially conservative environment and married young, which was supported by his community, but who found himself without help or support from the same community when his wife filed for divorce, and when he realized that the strict gender roles he was raised with had resulted in the loss of his most cherished relationship. Or the evangelical user who engaged in sex before marriage and who struggled horribly with immense levels of guilt she felt unable to disclose to anyone in her community: she came to us for those conversations and that support. Or the homeless youth in Seattle this year who received pro-choice options counseling via our partnership with a local shelter: three young women made difficult choices with pregnancies, but all left these conversations with extensive resources and support for their different choices to terminate, arrange adoption and parent they didn't have before and couldn't get elsewhere.
Young people like these have said that without Scarleteen, they don’t know how they would have gotten through what they did and come out on the other side as well as they did. Young people like these rely on us to give them a kind of information and support they often say they couldn’t find anywhere else.
We know bad things or unwanted outcomes can happen. That’s why we dedicate so much time and energy to serving young people dealing with difficult trauma, issues or circumstances. However, not all of the young people who use Scarleteen come to us in crisis. Plenty come to us without traumatic experiences, or before they've engaged in any kind of sexual activity or sexual relationship. And that's just as important: we help young people create a foundation most likely to support healthy, happy sexualities and sexual lives and informed sexual choices they feel good about.
Users frequently voice surprise that we remember who they are as they come and go. Yet this isn't surprising for an organization who deeply engages with the people it serves as a core part of its model. We think this level of engagement and commitment is essential to serving young people well, particularly with issues as diverse, personal and complex as sexuality, core parts of their identity and intimate relationships.
A phone robot won't know or remember these stories and these people. Organizations who invest more time and energy in acquiring funding than in service, who base or change their missions or aims on the politics or whims of funders rather than on the expressed needs of those who need and use their services will not have a staff and volunteer staff who know all of these stories by heart like we do. Sex education initiatives which get hamstrung by social or political battles or by foundational or institutional red tape often never get off the ground to hear these stories or speak with these youth.
This level of service requires people with deep and abiding dedication and care, but it also costs money.
It can be easy to look at all we do for the many years we've consistently done it for and think we've got all we need to keep doing it. But we don't: the amount of funds we have to work with in a given year is typically about the same as the median income for one family in the United States, a budget which means closed doors for most organizations. We're proud of our ability to do all we have with so little, and proud of the profound commitment of our staff and volunteers. However to sustain our organization and all that it does and can do, we need continued and increased support.
That’s why we’re reminding you how much we need and depend on you.
You can assure Scarleteen remains available to the hundreds of thousands of young people who find what they want and need here each month by making a donation today.
Your contribution is something you can feel proud of because of the many young people's lives it helps us positively impact together; because of the dedicated passionate and compassionate education and support it provides them in an area of life where so many so often are undereducated and unsupported. Your contribution gets a thank you every single day through every young person who is able to use a fully comprehensive, caring service like ours. And it gets a big thank you from all of us at Scarleteen, who know exactly how valuable what you can give is, and who are grateful to you for helping us continue to do the work we so love doing.
If you'd like to know more about who we are, what we do and why and how we do it, or how else your contribution will be utilized, we've provided the links below as great starting points. We're also always happy to answer any questions you may have directly, including discussing larger contributions or private grants: feel free to email us anytime.