This is a guest post from Wendy Blackheart, at Heart Full of Black, for the Scarleteen blogathon. Want to take part? Toss us an email and we'll get you in touch with Laura, our blogathon organizer!
Ah, Scarleteen. I can actually remember a time before Scarleteen – they started up in 1998, when I was in 8th grade. See, I went to a school where 99.9% of our sexual health information was from an abstinence only program.
The school sex ed actually started out okay – in grades 3 and 5 we had health classes where we learned about the human body and how it works. In 5th grade, we separated out into groups of just boys and just girls, and got some of the details of puberty and what would happen to our bodies. We learned where babies came from and all that before the abstinence-only programs were started.
By high school, however, we were not getting much in the way of good information. We didn’t learn about birth control at all – it wasn’t even mentioned, not even in a negative way. We saw lots of photos of what STD’s can do to your body. But nothing I would consider really useful. Very little mention of alternative sexualites. Very little information on how to deal with interpersonal relationships. I can remember the anger from teachers, some of whom I had as teachers in my past sex-ed and health classes, at not being allowed to teach properly. I’m pretty sure that one of the teachers, who continued to push the envelope, was fired or quit, as she disappeared shortly after.
Hell, my younger sister went through the same program right behind me, and she didn’t even know that blue balls wasn’t a real thing that she needed to be concerned about. She gave many an unwanted and unnecessary blow job before one of her boyfriends set her straight.
People argue that schools shouldn’t be involved in sex education, and that it should rest on the parents of children to teach them instead, but this has problems too. When I, at a young age, found a copy of an age-appropriate book on where babies came from and started to read it. I read *everything* at that age. (I think I was about 6. I started to read quite early.) My mother found me reading it, took it away, and slapped me. My later maternal sex education included gems like “You don’t need to go to the gynecologist, you don’t need to go until you are married” (At the time, I was 2 weeks into my first period, which would last for another 2 weeks. I probably should have seen a doctor). At 22, she told me that I shouldn’t do something until I was married (she made weird hand gestures explaining this). Generally, all sexual health questions were answered vaguely, incorrectly, and with anger.
However, I, even as a youngin’, tended to be extremely pro-active about things I wanted to know about. I rode my bike to the library, and got whatever the current new edition of the Teenage Body Book, and other sexual health text books. I had been given an adult access library card since I had already read my way though most of the age appropriate fiction and had moved on to adult fiction by then. Thankfully, my mom was tired of having to go to the library to check stuff out for me on her card and got me my own.
So, I have always been a big fan of outside research for sex education. If it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t know half the shit I know today, nor have the skills to find them out.
Scarleteen was the only site I found on the internet at the time that I trusted. They gave honest, accurate information in a relatable, understandable non-judgmental way. By the time I was checking the site regularly, most of the information was already known to me, but it became, for me, the gold standard of websites.
When people came to me for information, I sent them to Scarleteen. When they had a question I didn’t know the answer to, I sent them to Scarleteen. When I needed to give someone information about something, I sent them a link from Scarleteen. All of my youngest sister’s friends used Scarleteen, because part of my drive-by sexual advice (I used to wander by and drop a tidbit off ‘Never use oil based lube with latex condoms!’ ‘Some antibiotics make birth control pills less effective!’) was a link to their website. Because no matter how cool of an older sister I was, there were still things they didn’t want to ask me yet.
To me, the idea that we had to go looking for this information was so sad. I sincerely wish that schools were all required to have honest, comprehensive sexual health information. This is information we all NEED, to be healthy, effective adults. That fact that we don’t have this is a sad thing – but thankfully, there are resources like Scarleteen available to kids and teens today to get them the information they need.
I’ve noticed, at least in my own little bubble, differences between the kids who have access to this information and those who didn’t – my sister and her friends are much more pro-active now about maintaining their sexual health, and dealing with issues with their partners. So far, none of them have had an unwanted pregnancy, which is not something I can say about my graduating class. They are willing to talk, and ask, and question in ways my generation wasn’t quite ready to to yet – and this is only an age difference of seven years.
What also is important to me is the fact that many of these children are LGBT, Queer, or questioning, and they have a fabulous resource available to them while they figure themselves out, again, something my generation was only just starting to have.
Scarleteen was an important stepping stone in my sexual education. Because of them, I was able to go into my early sexual experiences with knowledge and agency. I was able to make good decisions, and I was happy with the decisions I made. Actually, I waited quite a while before I finally had sex, and again, was able to go into this experience physically and emotionally prepared. These are Good Things. All kids should have that opportunity. (The Sex Readiness Checklist was a great resource for that, BTW. I think it should be given to anyone who ever may have sex, ever.)
We’ve made leaps and bounds in a remarkably short amount of time in non-standard, alternative sexual education and information, and the accessibility for those who need it to find that information, and that is a beautiful thing.
However, unsurprisingly, this takes money. Scarleteen does not have any federal, state, or local funding. The majority of their funding comes from private donors, and to continue to provide such outstanding service, they need donations! Scarleteen has always managed to provide outstanding information and outstanding services on a tight budget, and I can only imagine what they could do with more. They’ve done such good work for so many, and I for one want to see them continue to do this work!
So, if you can, I encourage you to donate to Scarleteen! They do so much good for so many kids and teens who need it. That’s all I can say – donate if you can. Hell, in a few more generations, we might even be able to get good sexual health information back into the schools, if we can educate enough of the kids today who will turn into the administrators of tomorrow!