Depending on your view, the answer to that question might seem really obvious or very tricky and hazy.
At a recent conference I was part of in London, Alan McKee presented Healthy sexual development: a multidisciplinary framework for research. What McKee and his colleagues determined to be the core parts of healthy sexual development had me jumping up and down in my seat with joy (literally: I may have disturbed my fellow attendees with my bouncing). It summed up the things we try to support, encourage and inform our users with and keep core at Scarleteen so well, and so much of what I think -- after many years of thinking hard about and working with these issues, and being fully and broadly immersed in them with a very diverse population -- truly is central to healthy sexual development.
I'm delighted to have permission to excerpt and reprint this framework here.
I host consent workshops professionally, and at one point during past workshops, when the audience is generally settled and feeling comfortable opening up, I have asked, “Who here has ever had something silly and awkward happen during a hookup? Even slightly awkward.” Hands have shot straight up and we all ended up getting a good laugh out of it. It just goes to show how awkward connecting with sex can be, whether you're in bed, thinking about it, or just talking about it!
I think a lot of these awkward moments happen because of the conversations we are having around our romance, or, should I say, the conversations we aren't having.
When it comes to sex and sexuality, I was a very, very, very late bloomer.
Raised in a Pentecostal Christian home where sex and sexuality were rarely discussed beyond, "No sex until you are married," as a teen I assumed I would not have sex until my early- to mid-twenties, after I had finished undergrad.
I assumed any boys/men I met would share my religious beliefs about sex. I assumed my values would never change. And I assumed my husband and I would know how to sexually please one another, in spite of having no sexual experience before our wedding night (which, of course, would be a night of unbridled passion and ecstasy).
When we're quality sex educators; when we are or aim to be inclusive, forward-thinking and do sex education in ways that can or do serve diverse populations, we will tend to define sex very broadly, far more so than people who don't work in sex education often tend to, even if and when their experiences with sex and sexuality have been broad. Often, the longer we work as sexuality educators, and the longer we also just live and experience our own sexual lives, the more expansive the definition becomes. If we live and/or work on the margins, like if we or people we serve are queer, gender-variant, culturally diverse, have disabilities, the diversity in our definitions of what sex can be will become even greater.
I'm writing today to make a modest funding ask of our allies and our readers capable of financial contributions on behalf of our volunteers.
What we're looking to do is to raise enough funds for all of our volunteers, who are able, to fly to San Francisco this April and attend the sex::tech conference together.
Earlier this week, in the context of another conversation, one of our users at Scarleteen mentioned that her feelings on abortion had changed to a negative when she learned that her mother's pregnancy had been unplanned, and that her mother considered abortion. She said that upset her, because she really liked existing. She did say she was still pro-choice, but her sentiment bothered me all the same. Some of why it bothered me was political, and also about the work that I do and have done. But in thinking about it, I came to the conclusion that the ways it bothered me most were intensely personal.
The truth is, I envy her. A lot. I envy she was able to have a discussion in which her mother made clear she had the right to choose and she chose to remain pregnant and parent her.
If you haven't been living under a rock the past few weeks, you'll have noticed that there's big media hoopla about one Julian Assange. Everyone seems to have an opinion and something to say about him, and between Swedish arrest warrants, Interpol searches, public defenses by people like Michael Moore, and protests to these defenses by many feminist bloggers, it's getting hard to separate fact from bias and get to the bottom of what is really going on.
So, what IS going on here?
Anyone who knows me or who knows anything about me usually knows that my pre-teen and teen years were incredibly difficult. I dealt with neglect and abuse in my family, starting from about the time I was 10. I was sexually assaulted twice before I even became a teenager. I was queer. I was suicidal and was a self-injurer. I struggled to find safe shelter sometimes. Few people seemed to notice, even though after I gave up trying to use my words, I still used my eyes to try and tell them constantly.
I'm 40 now, and in a whole lot of ways, I felt older at 16 than I feel now. Some days, I am truly gobsmacked that I survived at all, let alone with my heart and mind intact and rich.
A lot of why I survived is about having gotten support.