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How Scarleteen and Sex Ed Saved My Life

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Submitted by Scarleteen Gues... on Thu, 2010-10-28 04:47

This is a guest entry from Shanna Katz, M.Ed, as part of the month-long blogathon to help support Scarleteen!

When I was 10 or so, I discovered the wonders of the internet. It was back in the mid-90s, before most people had access, but my father was a computer scientist, and I was rocking out on Mosaic, way before IE or Eathlink or Netscape or AOL made their brands so popular. I didn’t use it for much, as there wasn’t that much info out there pertaining to me, but I did have an email, and learned how to search.

Around the late 90s, I was in my “oh em gee, want to learn everything possible about puberty and sex” and after my parents exhausted the info available at the local library, I was lucky enough to discover Scarleteen.

It was still quite young back then, but it was knowledge, and that was something I was desperately hungry for. More importantly, it was more than just information; it was interactive. I could learn from older teens, from educators, from people my age. I became obsessive about checking the forums every day. It was a way for me to connect, to get information, to teach myself about sexuality, to have my questions answered, and to get to know my body.

I didn’t really get any sort of sex education from school until I was a Junior in High School (age 14), and accidentally ended up in a Parenting and Child Development class (amusing, since I definitely didn’t want and don’t want children). In that class, we spent a good week or two on birth control and contraception. I got 100% on every assignment, and impressed the teacher, as I already had learned most of this info from Scarleteen.

High school was hard for me. I graduated at 16, so I was always about 2-3 years younger than most of my peers, and that caused endless taunting and worse, being ignored. I had my inner circle of friends, of course, but more importantly, I had the knowledge that on Scarleteen, I was equal. My questions and answers were just as valid as a popular cheerleader, or another braniac. To me, sex education was my great equalizer. I might not be cool, or popular, or the social ideal of beautiful, but because I had information that no one else had, I was still interesting. I might get teased, but people still wanted what I had (knowledge) and so I wasn’t the brunt of as much hate as I might have been.

Sex education made me a better person. I understood my body more, and I chose to respect myself more. Not in the “I’m going to wait till marriage” kind of way, but in the “I’m going to do what I want to when I’m ready, and not when everyone else is” kind of way. I was sexually assaulted when I was 17, and my knowledge of sex education, paired with what I was learning in my Human Sexual Behavior class, and then compile all that with my info and ability to talk to others on Scarleteen, and I made it through. It was so easy to just curl up and want to die, but my knowledge of sexuality made me want to live again.

I wanted to learn more, and to teach others in order to help them know more, and love themselves more. I joined the sexual assault prevention and hotline group, V.A.T. I trained on how to talk about sex with others. I drove friends up to Denver to buy their first vibrators. I bought book after book, searching for more knowledge. I experimented a bit on my own, and wrote a lot about virginity — what was it, why the hell did it exist, what did it mean to “lose” it and so on. Because of all of my background in sex education, by the time I chose to have intercourse (what many people define as “sex”), I had just turned 20, and although I later realized I wasn’t really interested in men, it was actually quite a good experience. It didn’t hurt very much, we used lube (as I had learned to do) and pillows to prop up my hips. I went in really WANTING to have sex, with knowledge about how to protect myself from STI transmission and pregnancy, and tips on how to make it as comfortable of an experience as it could be. I have met few people that had such a communicative and fairly enjoyable first time. While that friend with benefits didn’t last long, I’m forever grateful to my sex education (and his willingness to cooperate) for helping to create such a positive experience.

Sex education made me feel powerful. Knowledge IS power, and even more so when it is about your own body, choices, options, etc. Sex education made me feel as though I belonged, as though I was just as good as everyone else. Scarleteen made my life so much better than it could be. It made me more confident, it helped me to know myself and respect myself more, and to make the healthiest decisions for ME about myself and my sexuality.

I actually did my thesis on sex education in middle and high schools, and how it helped college women to view their bodies. Not shockingly (back in 2005, although I doubt much has changed), the more information on sex education that the subjects I interviewed received in their teens, the more confident they were about themselves and their bodies, and of course, their sexuality. It is proven, and not just by my tiny study, that sex education is crucial to our society. People with sex education are armed with the power to make the best decisions for themselves — whether that is waiting to start sexual activity, providing protection for their own activity, education their friends, and exploring their sexual identities. Without sex education, we leave youth without the tools for good decision making, and take their agency away.

Sex education should be available for everyone. Scarleteen is such a place where EVERYONE can learn, can share, can ask questions, and can be an equal. Scarleteen saved me from some dark places, and I know it has helped countless others as well.

So please, if you can spare something, ANYTHING, please keep Scarleteen going. Even $5 or $10 can help to create change. I donated what I could. It wasn’t a lot…but if it means not eating another cupcake until 2011, it was worth it to support such a great site. And if you can’t afford anything, then please, spread the word about this amazing and FREE resource we have in our community.

What Scarleteen Needs: Last year, Scarleteen needed increased donations in order to get through the end of 2009 and into 2010, in large part because private donations for a few years previous had been so low and left us in a very financially precarious position. We increased our financial goals to reflect the need for a minimum annual operating budget of $70,000. Thanks to generous contributions from our supporters in response to that appeal, while we were not able to reach that level, we were able to raise what we needed to not only get through 2009, but were able to use the funds wisely to sustain the organization through 2010. Our goal now is to continue to work toward that annual operating budget. Ideally, we would like to see a minimum of $20,000 in individual donations each year to combine with funding from private grants. In order for that to happen, we need for current donors to keep giving, and we also also need to cultivate new donors.

This minimum budget is exceptionally cost-effective for the level of service we provide, especially compared to other organizations and initiatives whose budgets are far higher, including those which do not match our reach and our level of direct-service. If you would like more details about our budget and expenses, just contact us via email and we’ll gladly share that information with you.

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.

We’d be grateful if you’d share our appeal with your own networks to broaden ours, and let the people who care about you know why you care so much about us. We’d love it if you’d Tweet about your post, share it via Facebook or add a link to your emails. Please feel free to quote from this email or from information given in the links below.

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