Scarleteen is...

Scarleteen is about the realities of teen sexuality:

One of the main reasons young adults⁠ come back to Scarleteen again and again is that they report it to be one of the few places they know they can come with real questions, and not be faced with judgment for having an age-appropriate sexual⁠ life. While we greatly emphasize sexual readiness as a prerequisite to partnered sexual activity of all types at Scarleteen, we fully accept and acknowledge that teens are often sexually active⁠ to some degree, with both same and opposite- sex⁠ partners, and also acknowledge that everyone has a right to age-appropriate sexual activity and full ownership of one's own sexuality.

One-on-one discussion with Scarleteen users is more than a one-question, one-answer process. Because we use the message boards and site for direct advice and queries, we can engage in ongoing dialogue with users so that if they do not understand an answer, or have more questions, we're available for them. Our boards are vigilantly moderated, and staffed with informed, caring volunteers, so even when users pass (often unknowingly) misinformation between one another, that information is often quickly corrected by a volunteer: we are so well-staffed that users with questions will often get an answer from a volunteer within minutes. Our users are also protected from people who might exploit or abuse⁠ them at the boards because we do not provide for sharing of email addresses or other personal information publicly. In addition, the message boards allow us the bonus of being able to keep a history of a user's issues, and we can easily reference that history to best answer their questions in context.

Knowing the realities of teen sexuality, we tailor the information we give in static and dynamic content accordingly. For many teens, sexual information is more often given in a context of sexual entertainment, peer-to-peer bragging or flirtation, and these approaches not only often result in inaccurate information, but in enabling a context of sexual commodity, shame or pressure around sexuality, as well as sexual stereotypes and cultural ideals or collective cultural fears. This given, our approach at Scarleteen is to be friendly and personable, rather than cold or clinical, but to come to sexual education and information in a professional, respectful way, with care for diverse boundaries and viewpoints.

As well, we keep a keen eye out⁠ for youth-at-risk, knowing the unfortunate reality of rising rates of partner⁠ -abuse within the young adult population, as well as the reality of sexual abuse and assault that is widespread, and do our level best to help users to assess their own risks and be proactive: young adults in relationships with signals of abusive behavior, with familial history that may skew their ideas about what is healthy in relationships, with coercion or pressure, with patterns of sexual risk or lack of reciprocity, with self-esteem or poor body image⁠ that may put them at greater risk of negative outcomes or unhealthy choices or relationships.

Knowing, too, that the reality of the way youth most often gets sexuality information -- peer-to-peer -- we do our level best to both moderate discussion to help aid youth in learning how to inform each other better, and do what we can to empower youth to research smartly, ask questions, avoid stereotyping, and communicate with and educate one another with sensitivity⁠ and compassion.

  • By their 18th birthday, six in 10 teenage women and more than five in 10 teenage men have had heterosexual⁠ intercourse⁠ .
  • By their late teenage years, at least 3/4 of all men and women have had intercourse, and more than 2/3 of all teens have had 2 or more partners for intercourse or other sexual activity.
  • More than one-half of all teens ages 15 to 19 report engaging in oral sex⁠ (55 percent of males and 54 percent of females in 2002). About one-fourth of teens ages 15 to 19 who have not had sexual intercourse report ever engaging in oral sex (24 percent of males and 22 percent of females in 2002), compared with 88 percent of male teens and 83 percent of female teens ages 15 to 19 who have had sexual intercourse. Few teens use a barrier method to protect themselves against health risks associated with oral sex, and health clinics generally have given minimal attention to oral sex, compared with vaginal sex.
  • Among all teens, females are marginally more likely than males to report ever giving oral sex to a partner (44 percent versus 39 percent, respectively, in 2002). Among teens who have ever had sexual intercourse, males are more likely than females to report ever receiving oral sex (84 percent versus 77 percent, in 2002).
  • In 2002, only 62% of sexually experienced female teens had received instruction about contraception⁠ before they first had sex, compared with 72% in 1995.
  • The typical individual was 12.4 years old when they realized that they were gay⁠ , lesbian⁠ or bisexual⁠ .
  • 51% of those in school have seen one or more incidents of anti- queer⁠ harassment at their school. 60% of GLBT⁠ youth have been verbally assaulted; 23% have been threatened with physical violence; 9% have been punched, kicked or beaten; and 6% have been attacked sexually (raped) because they were queer.
  • Countries with low levels of adolescent pregnancy⁠ , childbearing and STDs are characterized by societal acceptance of adolescent sexual relationships, combined with comprehensive and balanced information about sexuality and clear expectations about commitment and prevention of pregnancy and STDs within these relationships.

Scarleteen is about improving the public health:

We keep a strong focus on preventative sexual healthcare for those of all genders, on safer sex⁠ practices, on accurate and realistic awareness of health risks from sexual activity. Many young adults need help not only knowing how to practice safer sex, but with what activities, and also need assistance in becoming assertive⁠ enough to set limits and boundaries with partners easily and consistently regarding safer sex and risk prevention. Nearly 50% of Scarleteen users in a recent poll reported having had partners who argued with their limits or boundaries, and over 30% of users polled stated that a partner has coerced or forced them to dismiss their limits. Less than half of our users at Scarleteen report having consistently practiced all aspects of safer sex during their sexual lives, and less than 40% report having consistent preventative sexual healthcare.

  • Of the 18.9 million new cases of STIs each year, 9.1 million (48%) occur among 15-24-year-olds.
  • Although 15-24-year-olds represent only one-quarter of the sexually active population, they account for nearly half of all new STIs each year. Half of new HIV⁠ infections (about 20,000) each year occur among youth aged 15-24.
  • Every year, roughly nine million new sexually transmitted infections⁠ (STIs) occur among teens and young adults in the United States. Compared with rates among teens in Canada and Western Europe, rates of gonorrhea⁠ and chlamydia⁠ among U.S. teens are extremely high.

Sex education at Scarleteen addresses the inequalities of gender and other pervasive cultural issues and problems which effect sexuality:

Like the vast majority of sexuality education resources, our user base is heavily female, with around 80% of users identifying as female, 15% male, and 5% questioning⁠ or identifying as transgender⁠ . Even were that not the case, women's issues are central at Scarleteen simply because the risks of negative consequences of various aspects are far greater for women, and because the sphere of sexuality through most of history -- and in much of many people's sexual education and upbringing -- has defined much of sexuality from a male viewpoint, rather than a balanced, mutually beneficial and equitable perspective. Obviously, only women risk becoming pregnant from opposite-sex activity, but in addition, the risks to sexual and reproductive health are far greater, the risks of intimate partner-violence, sexual coercion or sexual predation, abuse and rape⁠ are greater, and the incidence of issues with body image, sexual shame, dysfunction and dissatisfaction are greater. Too, the burdens of sexual activity are more often put on women than on men: the responsibility of birth control⁠ and safer sex often lies with women, of sexual healthcare (our users often report a vast imbalance between female partners getting or keeping up with STI⁠ screenings as compared to males), or judgment for sexual activity.

We bring these issues to the table often at Scarleteen, not only responding to immediate crises -- including online support for rape, sexual abuse and battering, reproductive options referrals and counseling, gender dysphoria⁠ , eating disorders, STI and pregnancy scares and scenarios -- but also engaging users, male and female alike, in ongoing dialogue and reading about the greater issues of sexual inequities within these issues so that they may all be best able to nurture a healthier, more holistic, authentic and complete sexual life than those of generations before them.

Too, heterosexuality or gendernormativity is never assumed: Scarleteen in a fully inclusive space, mindful of vast variations in sexual and gender⁠ identites, and close to 20% of our users self-report having same-sex partners or partners of varied sex or gender. Scarleteen is also mindful of racial, economic and ableist inequities. In addition, discussions that arise about general health and body issues always focus on mental and physical health, and discourage lookism and hyperfocus on appearance or beauty ideals.

  • At all ages, women are more likely than men to contract genital herpes, chlamydia or gonorrhea.
  • Pregnancies that result in abortion⁠ are almost twice as likely to involve teenage women as they are to involve teenage men (22% as opposed to 13% -- in other words, teen pregnancies are most often the result of sex with an adult male partner). Teenage women are more than twice as likely as teenage men to be involved in a pregnancy, and nearly three times as likely to become parents.
  • The typical U.S. woman wants only 2 children. To achieve this goal, she must use contraceptives for roughly 3 decades of her life. The proportion of women aged 15-44 currently using a contraceptive increased from 56% in 1982 to 64% in 1995, and then declined slightly to 62% in 2002. The proportion of women who are at risk of unwanted pregnancy but not using a method increased from 5% in 1995 to 7% in 2002. As they grow older, both men and women are more likely to rely on female methods of contraception, whether they are married, cohabiting or single. By their late 20s, 45% of men and 44% of women use only female methods.
  • On nearly every indicator--including early parenthood, divorce rates, rates of sexually transmitted infection⁠ and health insurance coverage--poor women and men fare worse than those who are better-off, and minority women and men fare worse than whites.
  • The National Eating Disorders Association estimates that 81% of 10-year-olds are afraid of being fat and between 5-10 million girls and women and 1 million boys and men are struggling with eating disorders including anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, or borderline conditions.
  • Dr. Nancy Signorielli, Professor of Communications at the University of Delaware examined the types of media most often viewed by adolescent girls: television, commercials, films, music videos, magazines and advertisements. While the study did find positive role models of women and girls using their intelligence and acting independently, the media also presented an overwhelming message that girls and women were more concerned with romance and dating, while men focus on their occupations. One author reports that at age thirteen, 53% of American girls are "unhappy with their bodies." This grows to 78% by the time girls reach seventeen (Brumberg, 1997).
  • Women ages 16 to 24 experience the highest rates of intimate violence -- nearly twenty per one thousand women.
  • 43% of rapes and sexual assaults of children under 18 were committed in the victim's home in 1991.

Scarleteen is about reproductive choice:

At Scarleteen, we believe reproductive choice should start before a pregnancy: with complete information about birth control methods, as well as the absolute choice to engage in sex in the first place.

To this end, we educate young men and women alike statically and one-on-one about birth control methods and how to use them, give aid in finding methods best suited for the individual, and counsel young adults extensively about sexual consent⁠ , about the agency to choose sex only when it is wanted, and about sexual abuse and assault prevention. We put great effort into helping users to build esteem and assertiveness -- as well as sexual autonomy⁠ -- to enable them to both enjoy and own their sexuality as well as to do all we can to help them protect themselves from unwanted sex.

Scarleteen is also a staunchly pro-choice site in its approach to pregnancy: in both static content and individual advice, we support all options for managing pregnancy, and do our best to counsel users to make whatever choice is best for them: not for someone else.

  • Of the approximately 750,000 teen pregnancies that occur each year, 82% are unintended.
  • The pregnancy rate among U.S. women aged 15 19 has declined steadily -- from 117 pregnancies per 1,000 women in 1990 to 75 per 1,000 women in 2002. Approximately 14% of the decline in teen pregnancy between 1995 and 2002 was due to teens delaying sex or having sex less often, while 86% was due to an increase in sexually experienced teens contraceptive use.
  • In their first experience with intercourse as adolescents, more than 2/3 of men and women rely on the condom⁠ .
  • The primary reasons why U.S. teenagers have the highest rates of pregnancy, childbearing and abortion among developed countries is less overall contraceptive use and less use of the pill⁠ or other long-acting reversible hormonal methods, which have the highest use- effectiveness⁠ rates.
  • Factors in cross-country differences in teenagers' contraceptive use include negative societal attitudes toward teenage sexual relationships, restricted access to and high costs of reproductive health services, ambivalence toward contraceptive methods and lack of motivation to delay motherhood or to avoid unintended pregnancy.
  • In the U.S., 7 in 10 women who had sex before age 14, and 6 in 10 of those who had sex before age 15 report having had sex involuntarily. Female teens 16 to 19 were three and one-half times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape or sexual assault⁠ .

Scarleteen is about filling the need for comprehensive, respectful, age-appropriate sex education:

We support sex education in as many different contexts as possible: in the home, in schools, in the doctor's office. However, cultural contexts and politics have limited teen and young adult access to sound, accurate, comprehensive and inclusive sex education, especially over the last 25 years.

By virtue of being online, Scarleteen not only provides this information in a medium which is native to a majority of teens, but also allows for young adults to obtain that information with an anonymity often essential to young adult sexuality concerns. The Internet also allows us an excellent means to easily connect users in need with local resources for sexual healthcare, reproductive options, mental health resources and support, and GLBT community and support. Because, unlike public schools and other federally-funded or mediated organizations, we are independent, we are also uninhibited in providing inclusive, comprehensive and honest sex education. Scarleteen can easily be used (and often is) by other organizations, schools, communities and families as supporting material for existing sex education.

  • By 2002, one-third of teens had not received any formal instruction about contraception. There is currently no federal program dedicated to supporting comprehensive sex education that teaches young people about both abstinence⁠ and contraception.
  • More than one in five adolescents (24% of males and 21% of females) received abstinence education without receiving instruction about birth control in 2002, compared with 8 9% in 1995.
  • In 1999, one in four sex education teachers taught abstinence as the only way to prevent pregnancy and STIs: a huge increase from 1988, when the fraction was just one in 50.
  • More than nine in 10 teachers believe that students should be taught about contraception, but one in four are prohibited from doing so.
  • When all districts are taken into account--including those without a sexuality education policy--10% of school districts have a comprehensive policy that addresses abstinence in a broader educational program to prepare adolescents to become sexually healthy adults; 34% have an abstinence-plus policy that treats abstinence as the preferred option, but permits discussion about the benefits of contraception; 23% have an abstinence-only policy that treats abstinence as the only option outside of marriage, with discussion of contraception either prohibited entirely or limited to its ineffectiveness in preventing pregnancy and disease; and 33% have no policy.
  • Overall, 9% of students attend school in districts that have a comprehensive sexuality education policy, 45% are in districts with an abstinence-plus policy, 32% are in abstinence-only policy districts and 14% are in districts that have no policy.
  • There are three federal programs dedicated to funding restrictive abstinence-only education: Section 510 of the Social Security Act, the Adolescent Family Life Act's teen pregnancy prevention component and Community-Based Abstinence Education (CBAE). The total funding for these programs was $176 million for FY 2006.
  • Federal law establishes a stringent eight-point definition of abstinence-only education that requires programs to teach that sexual activity outside of marriage is wrong and harmful for people of any age. The law also prohibits programs from advocating contraceptive use or discussing contraceptive methods except to emphasize their failure rates.
  • Federal guidelines now define sexual activity to include any behavior between two people that may be sexually stimulating, which could be interpreted as including even kissing⁠ or hand-holding.
  • New federal restrictions (on comprehensive sex education) have been expanded to target adolescents and young adults between the ages of 12 and 29 (for abstinence-based initiatives). But their early 20s, only slightly over 1/4 of all women, and fewer than 1/5 of men, are married.
  • Since 1984, the percentage of children with home access to computers has steadily increased from 15 percent to 76 percent in 2003. In addition, the percentage of children who use the internet at home rose from 22 percent in 1997, the first year for which such estimates are available, to 42 percent in 2003.

(Unreferenced statistics are from the Guttmacher Institute, the Bureau of Justice, Outproud/Oasis, and ChildTrends Databank)