Hi, it's me again. I'm a pretty strong believer in youth rights, and also tend to participate in transformative fandom - fanfiction, fanart, the like. Lately, due to multiple reasons, there's been a large pushback in transformative fandom against minors who want to explore their sexuality through fandom - I don't know what it was like before, but many people are at the point where they refuse to interact with minors at all due to fear of being labeled abusers or getting harassed. Due to how fandom works and the reasons why most minors enter online fandom, this is further alienating and hurting lonely teenagers, and it breaks my heart. I know I would have had a much worse time if I hadn't found people online who accepted that I had a sexuality even though I was a minor at the time. Unfortunately, most social platforms have terms of service that make it against the rules to have the kinds of communities I'd like to see, with people who are underage being banned from accessing any kind of not-safe-for-work content. In addition, there are also beliefs that such things are illegal - I don't know what the reality is, but if Scarleteen is within the law, why can't we have more places like it? And of course it'll seem like I'm dissatisfied with Scarleteen through this, but I'm looking for places that are more suited for transformative fandom, where we discuss ideas and theories, and create and share transformative content. I believe that minors have a right to exploring their sexuality in a safe and healthy way, and sometimes the safest and healthiest way for someone to explore their sexuality is through fandom, like if they don't know anyone offline they can explore it with. Many teenagers in fandom are alienated from their peers offline, and/or don't have a great family. I want to help teenagers in fandom who have those issues to be able to explore their sexuality safely and without shame.
Please don't ever worry that to use our site or its services you need to have some sort of fealty to us. We're not only well aware we can't meet every need our users have, we always hope that we aren't the only people, resource, or community a user has with anything in the areas of life we cover. And for sure: a creative sexual space is a different place than an informational one!
I hear you and am witnessing all of this. Fandom is very clearly a really good arena for a lot of people, especially young people, to explore and express sexuality in creative ways, and to feel a sense of community.
You know, I've been at all this a very long time now: almost 25 years. And during that tenure, I have constantly witnessed people either misunderstanding the law when it comes to this stuff, or being so afraid of legal ramifications paired with general harassment that they just assume things are illegal and act accordingly because that's what they need to feel safe. Over the years, I have heard a lot of "Well, Heather, it's safe for you to do what you do with Scarleteen but not me, so I am glad you do it." As you can probably imagine, I have a lot of feelings around that, especially as someone who has been stalked in person and online for what I do, and experienced a lot of other kinds of harassment over many years. That said, what other people don't feel safe doing, or don't want to take safety risks to do, even when things are within the bounds of the law, isn't really something I can judge. All I can do is respect and honor people's limits.
What's legal and what isn't online has always been confusing for a lot of reasons, including that the internet is international, but laws are national and local. A lot of the law when it comes to sexual things also often comes down to "community standards," which is a legal way of saying "what people in a given place tend to think," or, for things that come to court, what the standards of the judge and/or jury are. That vagueness is often a big piece of why people err on the side of caution, and tbh, that's pretty wise, especially in American culture with sex and sexuality -- particularly, too, is anything queer or trans is involved -- in phases like we're in again now where homophobia, transphobia, and all kinds of weirdness about young people's sexuality loom large.
On top of all of that, there are some real dangers for vulnerable young people in online spaces where sexuality is discussed. There's a reason all of our user spaces are so actively moderated, for instance, and why we have never had PMs enabled here -- predatory people can and do find ways to harm young people through these avenues.
That was a lot, I know. Given all of that, what are you thinking? Are you wanting to create or organize a space? Is there a space that already exists you want to reach out to to see if they can't find a way to safely -- for everyone -- include younger people?
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead
I was linked here by Heather because I made a somewhat-similar post (viewtopic.php?f=14&t=12318) asking about online spaces when I turn 18, but I didn't really go into my fandom experience as a minor.
Since I was about 13 I've been interested in nsfw fanworks, fanfiction, fanart. I was taught well though and was very aware about the dangers of being a minor in adult spaces. I have never shared my age online (I share it on this website, but there's no way to find my other social medias on here), nor any personal information (where I lived, my real name, there aren't any pictures of myself online). I liked writing and drawing NSFW things, and I published writing on AO3, but I never made a social media where I posted my art publicly or tried to talk to other people about it.
All the spaces where that sort of art was posted had large warnings about "THIS IS 18+ ONLY NO MINORS DON'T FOLLOW ME OR I WILL BLOCK YOU", which I largely respected. ...I wouldn't follow them, but I will admit I did look. I was in a friend group of people who drew that kind of art (though they wouldn't share it with me because I told them not to), and I heard a lot of their reasoning for why they were so against minors following them. Most of which didn't have to do with comfort, but worrying about legality ("If the police find out I was sharing nsfw material with a minor, I'll go to jail!").
Some people in those spaces would even ask for *photo IDs with you next to them to prove you were an adult not a minor*. Which is....... Uh, I don't think I even need to explain how unsafe that is.
I stopped being around that group BUT I remember it.
It often felt like there was no spaces at all to share NSFW art or talk about it with other people, and trying to seek out other minors online to discuss NSFW seemed odd. Like, how would they know I'm also a minor, and not just a predator? Even if they did accept it probably wouldn't be safe to and they should maybe learn better.
...Except, I was never ASKING for "real pictures" or nudes or anything about them, I just wanted to talk about cartoon character's kink headcanons!!!! There's not really anything dangerous about that!!! I did end up making friends with a teen my age and discussing nsfw headcanons with them, and later I found out their parents took their computer away because of it.
What I finally ended up doing was creating a secret blog where I would post all my art, drawing, headcanons, WHATEVER and setting to make it public after I turned 18. SIGH
So basically YEAH I highly agree there should be more easy to access for teens to be able to discuss nsfw with each other, and more places for teens to talk about it with adults. Personal experience has shown me it is a PAIN to find spaces to be able to discuss these topics, even when it has nothing to do with irl at all.
I know a lot of adults tend to forget being a kid or teenager, and this can lead to really stupid comments like suggesting teens never think of sex ever and that stuff is only ever 18+ always, so I want to make a large effort to remember how LONG I had to wait and how annoyed I was never being able to discuss even just totally fictional things related to the topic.
At least I finally found this website! It's just too bad I'm 17 now and about to be an adult anyways. sighhh. I could've used this years ago! As OP said, this site is really useful for real life advice and learning, but it's not like anybody is going to be posting their fanfiction here. There should be some other spaces for that.
I absolutely agree with all of this stuff here from both of you. I know I felt so excluded being a minor online - I honestly made a lot of choices I would make differently now back then because of that, though with the knowledge and experiences I had at the time, it feels like those choices were... inevitable, in a way. The only way to experience having a sexuality in the community I was a part of.
Another problem for me in particular was that I joined fandom when there was a big divide going on that's still felt in fandom today - between "pro-shippers" and "anti-shippers". ("Shipping" is a term that means creating or consuming content about certain characters being in a romantic and/or sexual relationship. If you like the idea of two characters (or more, if you were a rare poly-shipper) being in such a relationship, you "ship" them.) "Anti-shippers" believed that certain ships should not be "shipped" - believing that they were abusive or otherwise inappropriate, and because their interpretation of the ship was that way, that meant people who "shipped" that ship were morally wrong for doing so. "Pro-shippers" believed that any ship was fine, so long as it's kept within fiction. Neither side was a monolith; many anti-shippers had different standards of "bad" ships, and many pro-shippers had their lines that they also thought were wrong to cross - a common one being RPF or "real person fiction", which is basically fan content about people like celebrities or athletes. I was a very slight anti at first - I had no problems with what people wrote in their fanfiction that only a few hundred people would ever read, but believed that published fiction like commercial manga or TV shows should endeavor to do good representation of marginalized groups. Then I got kicked out of a small Discord server for reblogging a pro-shipping post on Tumblr, which kind of radicalized me as a pro-shipper. As I went into the pro-shipping community, I began to notice that many, many pro-shippers had a personal vendetta against minors in fandom. Even SFW blogs would put "Minors don't interact" or the like. As I read blogs and developed my own beliefs on the matter, I noticed something - while there definitely were more underage anti-shippers than underage pro-shippers, many people not only ignored the existence of the latter, but complained about and blamed minors for the anti-shipping movement. My experiences showed me a different picture - that new underage members of fandom, who had been sheltered for most of their lives offline, encountered fandom content that upset them because they didn't understand it - incest, age gap, noncon, the like. The kind of things I know now that are perfectly healthy to have fantasies about, but still would have been a shock to me at 13 or so. Then when these new members of fandom react in predictable ways, the adults who'd been in fandom a long time made no effort to educate the new members or explain themselves. They were used to people having moral issues with their content - they saw these teens as just another group of haters. Then these teens, further upset by how they've been treated, would find other people who agree with them - who say "That's totally messed up, I agree with you" and comfort them. But instead of educating them on why people make that kind of content, they made "anti-shipping" into a moral crusade.
It's my belief that if fandom were more welcoming to new members and especially underage members, that discourse wouldn't be as bad, if it existed at all. There have always been people who make it their problem to crusade against what they see as morally wrong, especially in fandom. But the real problem I've seen is how "pro-shippers" just got more and more hostile to minors, blaming them for being brought into a movement that was practically cultlike. I've been out of fandom in general for a while because of mental health issues, so I don't know what the climate is like now, but it was really bad back in the day. Someone once called me a future rapist for saying that I believe minors should be able to view NSFW content.
So, to make a very long story short, I am very strongly of the belief that not only should teens be able to talk about sexual stuff with each other online, they should be allowed into most general NSFW spaces as well. For one thing, requiring an 18+ age just incentivizes teens to lie about their age, which puts them in more danger than if they could join those spaces but still tell people their age, IMO. For another, not only do teens want more than just education, they should have more than just education - experience. You can only learn how to keep yourself safe by practicing. Education helps, of course, but it means nothing if you're never given the chance to put it to practice. It results in 18 year olds who don't have the experience they need when a world of sexuality is suddenly open to them. And besides, no teenager wants to be told they're too young for things - especially for having a sexuality, which I believe is a basic human right, being allowed to have a sexuality. Despite the belief that it keeps minors safe, I believe they'd be safer if it wasn't that way, because then they'd have the tools to protect themselves instead of simply being blind to the whole world of sexuality. Because predators don't care about legality, and they'll use minors' lack of knowledge against them.
Moving back around to the topic at hand - I would say that I'd prefer to find a place that's already established for youth to be able to talk about sexuality. Due to the aforementioned mental health issues, I don't think I could handle moderating such a place, but I would love to help one that already exists grow. This is a very important issue to me, after all. If I ever made a public Discord server, I'd feel bad having to lock NSFW channels from minors due to the Terms of Service, because that's directly against my beliefs. But I know that the chances of finding such a space are extremely slim... So I was asking here to see if there's any platforms where such a place wouldn't be against Terms of Service.
I will say this, though: I'm so sorry to hear what you've been through from standing up to help youth learn about sexuality. Please know that your work is appreciated deeply, at least by me. I remember finding a link to this site several years ago - I didn't use the site much at first, but just seeing it, I was so, so happy that there were people out there who were thinking about and trying to help minors who need help with sexual and/or relationship topics. I had truly believed that such people didn't exist.
Also: I absolutely agree with you that the choices most people have made of distancing themself from youth sexuality is a wise decision, but that doesn't mean I don't hate it any less, haha. It's so sad to me that USA culture is such that just expressing support for such things can ruin you. But it's almost even sadder to me that so few people seem willing to risk it, because our youth really does need the help, and they're being abandoned by the adults who actually have the power to change things. I never want to grow up to be someone who abandons youth in need, regardless of what the cost to myself ends up being.
So maybe in the future when I'm healthier I'll make a place for youth sexuality in fandom. I could think of worse things to dedicate my time to. I'm not entirely sure why I phrased my initial question the way I did - I think it's mostly because I wanted to have a conversation about this, to hear (or rather, read) thoughts from people at Scarleteen on my desire for such a place. I so wish I could create or contribute to such a place, or at the very least, promote the place so that I can help at least a few young people have a better experience than I did.
Yeah, this is a lot... I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about this issue, and fandom in general. I brought up anti-shipping vs. pro-shipping because it's the thing that led me to believing so strongly in this. So yeah.
1. I think adults can and SHOULD have their own separate spaces. It's not fair to ask them to babysit or include minors in their spaces if they don't want to. The issue arises when minors have nowhere else to go. There are not public minor communities where ppl can openly share fanfic with each other, and if there are they're probably very suspicious because the kinds of people active and joining them would probably include predators.
2. I really dislike all the... proship/antiship stuff. (Not saying you're wrong for using it or finding community and opinions in it, I'm just going on my own rant about personal experience here.)
The labels are vague and undefined so people will just attribute meaning to them that is whatever makes the other side look worse, and also makes it impossible for people to communicate because of it. One proship person might be a "ship and let ship" reasonable human being and then other people who use the proship labels might be uhhhhh unspeakable? and then antishippers can be anything from "ship and let ship just don't get me involved" to "I will send you threats over some sfw adult x adult fanart you made even though you're 20 years younger than me". I just don't believe the labels are very useful because no one agrees on definitions.
Before the proship/antiship stuff when I was young I made an online account where I posted art for a ship of an adult character and another adult character, who in the original media was a child but I aged them up. For weeks and weeks I got targeted harassment from a large "cringe" blog accusing me of horrible things, when the mods of it were 30 and I was 13!
I quickly learnt how to avoid "shipping drama", as it is one of the most pointless cruel debates that can be had on the internet. I pretty much refuse to look into the profiles of anyone who uses proship or antiship labels because those are often red flags. Not all people who use them are bullies- but the most vocal ones are, and the vocal ones are often the people who put it in their profile.
I definitely agree with you that the whole pro-ship/anti-ship thing is like... there are plenty of toxic people on both sides. It's why I call myself "pro-fantasy" instead of "pro-ship", because while I initially felt pretty welcome in pro-ship spaces, I didn't feel welcome for long. Spaces like that are really hostile to minors - I once got called a future rapist for saying that I believed minors should be able to look at porn. I was always just... I felt too strongly about my beliefs to not speak up when I saw things going on, so I was bad at avoiding drama.
As for your first point: I think that, yes, adults should have spaces where they don't feel the need to "babysit" others - but so should minors. Just because someone is a minor doesn't mean they need to have their hand held, and for some people, it's better for them to be able to explore their sexuality in a place that focuses on equal peer relationships between members. Would you want to talk about your sexual fandom headcanons with your sex ed teacher? Probably not, right? It's the same thing here. Of course we should provide spaces for people who don't know much about sexual stuff - that's why Scarleteen exists - but I bet a teenager who already knows a lot about the topics they want to discuss wouldn't feel great when everyone keeps treating them like they're clueless. Also, there's no reason to segregate spaces by any other demographic (except for spaces that are exclusively for a marginalized demographic - which, minors are VERY MUCH marginalized in contrast to adults), so why by age? Age does not equate to maturity, and there are plenty of adults who are way less mature than most teenagers, and vice versa. And yet we give adults responsibilities that minors are not allowed, based on the assumption that they are mature enough simply because of their age. So essentially, not all minors need to be "babysat", and deserve equal access to all spaces, including sexual ones.
I've been cautiously aware of these shifts in online culture and fandoms and honestly much of it is pretty depressing.
While I'm sure some of these folks/spaces are cautious of making young people uncomfortable, much of the rhetoric that I come accross seems like it's good old cliquey behaviour: broadcasting your brand of dogma to people who identify with it, and disciplining those who don't... along with testing eachother on how well everyone knows all the lingo (of which there is sooooo much).
I liken it to dating profiles where someone demands "Don't swipe right if your profile photo is shirtless" despite the fact that their ability to 'swipe left', makes that request completely irrelivant to the shirtless masses - but perhaps more importantly it functions as a low-key come-on to other shirted anti-shirtless pro-shirters who, presumably, will think "I hate shirtless people too, lets match!". i.e. it's not aimed at who it says it's aimed at.
But as Heather says, there are options for running a space that is not so dogmatic, but is still mindful of risk.
"In between two tall mountains there's a place they call lonesome.
Don't see why they call it lonesome.
I'm never lonesome when I go there." Connie Converse - Talkin' Like You