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Scarleteen Confidential: Ten Questions with Dr. Karen Rayne about Parenting, Sex, and Communication

This is part of our series for parents or guardians. To find out more about the series, click here. For our top five guiding principles for parents or guardians click here; for a list of resources, click here. To see all posts in the series, click the Scarleteen Confidential tag above, or follow the series on Tumblr at

You've probably seen all kinds of adults writing about teens and sex. Some of that writing is well-researched and thoughtful. Some --- most, sadly -- is hysterical and full of fearmongering and shoddy (or no) research. I was lucky enough to interview an author who belongs solidly in the first category.

Dr Karen Rayne has spent the past ten years actively and thoughtfully supporting parents and teens in their conversations about sex and sexuality, and she's released a new book called Breaking the Hush Factor: Ten Tips for Talking to Teenagers about Sex, which we think is accessible, compassionate, and incredibly useful. Keeping with the


Scarleteen Confidential: In Defense of Teen Media

This is part of our series for parents or guardians. To find out more about the series, click here. For our top five guiding principles for parents or guardians click here; for a list of resources, click here. To see all posts in the series, click the Scarleteen Confidential tag above, or follow the series on Tumblr at

For two years, I worked in a bookstore that was aimed primarily at children and teenagers. It was a job I quite enjoyed, but I quickly discovered that when you work near books, people always want to tell you their opinions on said books. That's fine most of the time. But I noticed a pattern when parents or adults would refer to The Hunger Games series. They would express dismay over a child wanting to read the book, wondering what they saw in it, and either implicitly or explicitly stating that they thought the book was not good for youth to be reading. I would usually give a neutral response about how yes, the book is dark (for t


You Can't Test for Virginity

Tammyluvgurl asks:

Hello I'm 13 and don't plan on having sex but my mother says that when I'm 16-18 she is going to get me checked to see if I'm still a virgin because I'm religious and we believe in no sex till marriage. Even though I don't plan on having sex, does masturbation affect the test the doctors going to take? And how do they take this test? Because I don't want to masturbate and find out the doctor says I'm not a virgin. Is there even a way for the doctors to test it (because my mom could be bluffing)?

P.S. me and my moms relationship is good so she would trust me if I told her I didn't have sex plus if I did she would be understanding.

Of Condom Charity and Open Houses

As you may have read a few weeks ago, we are in dire straits when it comes to sustaining all that we do here at Scarleteen, and need more support to do so now.  Since we put out that call, we've raised around half of what we need to keep doing all we currently do, thanks to a few hundred generous individuals. Thanks so much to everyone who has given us your help so far!

However, halfway there is only halfway there. When I was in my teens, I was offered a 50% scholarship to the college I most wanted to attend: that was one hell of a scholarship, but attending meant I needed 100% of the tuition, not 50%. That 50% all by itself couldn't, and didn't, get me there.

Halfway won't get us to where we need to be, either. We need to be at that 100% by May 1st, or at least see enough new donors giving in ways we are pretty sure will be more than one-time by then to be sure that within the year, we absolutely will get there.

We're doing our part to get creative about this and find new supporters,


That Guy

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. The one adult I could count on over time to be unilaterally supportive of me had (still has) serious mental illness. I had to take more adult responsibility at the end of my teen years than anyone else I knew. Like many adolescents, I constantly heard directly or got indirect messages from adults who talked about how awful teenagers were, how awful I was, how difficult, how impossible, how loathesome. Four days after my sixteenth birthday, the first real-deal big-love-me-lover I had, who tre


Heather and Dan on How It Gets Better

In hindsight, I knew when I was around ten or eleven that I was queer: that I had and was experiencing growing sexual and romantic feelings for people of all genders, not just those of one of for those of a different sex or gender than me, feelings I'd continue to have throughout my teen years and my adult life to date. I didn't have the language for it then, though, even though there were queer adults in my orbit I could have gotten it from, adults I naturally gravitated towards without realizing a big part of why was because I saw myself in them and I really needed them. Looking back, others identified my orientation before I did: a homophobic grandparent, an uncomfortable parent as well as a comfortable and readily accepting parent, and, most important to this particular tale, a group of teenage meanies in the blessedly brief time I spent in a suburban public high school in the 80's who sometimes whispered but other times yelled, "Dyke!" or "Lesbo!" as they passed me in the halls.


One of the 80 million ways young people are my s/heroes

On top of doing what I do here at Scarleteen (and everything else I do), I also do some outreach sexuality and sexual rights education for a youth homeless shelter here in Seattle. My partner also now works full-time at that shelter, and when he came home last night and filled me in on some things that had gone on that day, I got struck very hard in the gut with some feelings I hadn't fully realized for myself until then, both about that work and the young people there, but also about some of my experiences with some of the users at Scarleteen.

So, I wrote the residents there a letter this morning that I'd also like to share with you, because the way I feel about them is also the way I feel about plenty of you. Because most of Scarleteen happens online, very few of our users are currently homeless or transient, but some have been or will be. In addition, plenty over the years have shared similar struggles, either being in the foster care system or in unsafe homes, surviving loss, ass


On Identifying Identities

Teenagerhood should be a time of dreams and expansion. We should be allowed to open our inner selves up and absorb as much light and life as we possibly can. We should be, but other people are often too often invested in what they think we should be to let us be what we are.

Preventing Teen Pregnancy: Three Words Most Likely to Make My Blood Boil

I hate, hate, hate that phrase. Nearly everywhere I go or look as a young adult sexuality educator anymore, I run into it incessantly.

Let me be clear: I don't hate doing all that we can, to help people of every age to avoid pregnancies or parenting they do not want or do not feel ready for. I'm so glad to do that, and it's a big part of my job at Scarleteen and elsewhere when I work as a sexuality and contraception educator and activist.


Information on this site is provided for educational purposes. It is not meant to and cannot substitute for advice or care provided by an in-person medical professional. The information contained herein is not meant to be used to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease, or for prescribing any medication. You should always consult your own healthcare provider if you have a health problem or medical condition.