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Sexuality is a large facet of the lives of teens and young adults, something plenty of older adults know simply because of having once been a young person themselves. It is certainly an option to simply say "no," to partnered sex, and on some level restrict children from some aspects of their sexuality. However, we cannot strip sexuality itself away, it is there, and it is with them -- and with all of us -- whether they choose to share it with others or not, nor does not being sexually active mean there isn't a need for sexuality information and guidance. At Scarleteen we believe that healthy sexual development, and the information and support to encourage it, is essential for sound health and quality of life for all people, whatever their age, sexuality or sexual choices.
No matter what choices adults would or would not like young people to make, much as we would not keep the telephone number for the fire station from them for fear of causing a fire, we strongly feel we should not withhold information they need in the event that they might need it. And they will need it: this is information about their bodies, their relationships, their identities, their lives. Whether they use some or all of this information now or use it later, they need this information.
It is not our intent to tell your children what choices they should make. Instead, we aim to furnish them and you with comprehensive sexuality information to consider and to inform their choices, as well as an active community for support and discussion, so that they may learn how to best make their own choices, and so that they may make them as fully informed, and with as much context, as possible. What we support is whatever set of choices a young person feels are their own very best, based on who they are uniquely, and what their unique circumstances are.
I get letters from teens and young adults daily looking for sexual information and advice, and I have since 1998. Of the letters I receive, an the discussions we have with young people, as well as from broad studies done by others, it's very clear that by the time many teens are in high school, sexuality is a major issue. Some are sexually active, others are not, but for many, if they get any accurate sex education at all, most receive it long after they need it, and many turn first to peers -- who often have as little accurate information as they do -- or to mainstream media to glean this information. That's all the more likely when parents themselves have not established open, honest and non-judgmental communication with them about sex and sexuality early.
Though my intention is not to scare you, it is quite possible that is exactly what I am doing. It can feel terrifying.
But we provide Scarleteen out of necessity, and a self-expressed need on the part of young people for this information. Peers are often not an accurate (and certainly not an unbiased) source of sexual information, even for the older segment of our userbase in their early twenties. Many links on the 'net to sex information are often misrepresented links to sexual entertainment sites, which certainly are not often accurate sources, nor it is their intention to act as such. Adult sexuality education is often not appropriate for or applicable to teens, but neither is basic sex information for very young children. The media, television and movies are rarely an accurate source, but young adults are exposed to sex in mainstream media and on the net en masse, whether they seek it out or not.
I truly hope your teen doesn't need or use Scarleteen as a sole source of information. Ideally, we would like it to be used as a companion to other accurate, unbiased information you are giving your child yourself, or the quality information you insist your child's school gives to them. A varied source of perspectives is often a huge help to young adults when it comes to putting their sexuality in context, so our perspective alone -- without that of other parents, mentors, sources -- isn't ideal. It may do, but a sexual education which comes from more than an online source is far better.
We do not intend either of these sites to encourage your children to be sexually active. (In fact, you will find that in discussing sexual readiness, we often suggest a lot more needs and requirements for safer, healthy sex than most abstinence initiatives do, who suggest that marriage alone suffices as sexual readiness.) However, we cannot discourage any human being to be sexual: all of us are from birth, and our sexuality is as crucial a component of our lives as food, air, water, companionship or ethics and values. The trouble with sexuality does not lie with sexuality itself. When handled responsibly, with care and compassion, and with accurate information at hand, it is in fact not only not a danger, but a great benefit that enriches our lives. However, if enacted irresponsibly or ignorantly, without pertinent knowledge and information, or reactively rather than proactively, it can indeed pose both a physical and psychic danger to everyone.
Only you and your teen can really create and nurture daily a set of values and ethics that can enable them to revere their sexuality, and use it to benefit them and others. No web site, book, or sex ed class can do that. That responsibility lies with you. We see our responsibility as providing information and our own stories as experiences as partners to that personal development as well as the education you do together.
What you can do to enable this very important development is simply to be open, to be candid, and to be as honest as you can. If you don't have the most up-to-date information use this site, or other sites and resources we recommend below, to get them. However, if you look, there is plenty of information like this out there. What is lacking isn't the information, but instead a the presentation to teens in a manner they can feel safe and secure in, from the adults they respect and love. Don't get discouraged if you're doing your best to be open and informative, and your teen doesn't respond: it's normative for young adults to prefer to do most of their talking about sex with peers, extended family members, siblings or mentors. Even when that is the case, it doesn't make what you can offer, the door you keep holding open, any less valuable and important.
We hope, with your help as parents, to help our children to grow into their sexuality in good health, sound mind, open heart, and above all else, joy and happiness rather than doubt and shame.
Feel free to contact us with your ideas and thoughts, and we're always glad to speak with parents who have any concerns. By all means, if you want to use this site or refer your young adult to it, find out more about us. Much of what you see here has been suggested by parents writing in, and this is truly a group effort. Consider writing your own experiences, if not to publish here, simply to share with your own child. Many teens write telling us they simply can't talk to their parents because they "wouldn't understand." We usually tell them that in fact, most of their parents probably do, they simply have to give you the opportunity to share, and trust that you will treat them with the love, respect and caring in regard to their sexuality that you give them in everything else.
If sexuality has nothing else to teach us (and surely it does), it is that our lives, and the union of our bodies, minds and hearts, is precious, sacred, and wonderful, and needs care and feeding like anything else. We hope to provide that lesson in every aspect of Scarleteen, and hope that it helps you to further it as parents.
Founder and Editor, Scarleteen
Are you looking for some good reading for parents on sexuality issues with your child or teen?
If so, I'd recommend the following as great guides for parents:
You may also want to have a look at some sexuality books written FOR teens and young adults, both to get up-to-date with your own sexual education (so that when you talk to them, you can be sure you're not giving them misinformation: after all, most adults didn't get great sex education, either), and to get a good idea of what kinds of issues are relevant for them now, and what sorts of approaches to those issues they tend to appreciate. You might want to peek at books like:
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