Pregnancy Fear and Anxiety Policy
In our direct services, Scarleteen staff will no longer answer or engage with ANY questions or discussions stemming from or about pregnancy fear or anxiety with people who are not pregnant or who are not or have not been otherwise directly involved with an actual pregnancy.
We WILL still engage in discussions with and provide help for situations that are within our abilities and scope, such as: people feeling scared or anxious who are currently pregnant or are directly involved with a current pregnancy; creating sexual limits and boundaries based on individual needs -- including the need not to become or risk pregnancy -- and/or presenting them to partners; discussion about healthy or unhealthy relationships or sexual interactions; users who want help finding or using contraception or making reproductive choices; who are struggling with anxiety and need help locating qualified care or learning about and engaging in sound self-help.
We have come to this change after years of trying numerous approaches to best serve our users and do what we can within our capacity with this kind of query as they have kept increasing. However, the volume and intensity of these queries has become overwhelming and disruptive to what we should be doing and intended to do as an organization and service, and all we have tried so far has had little impact. After a great deal of thoughtful intraorganizational discussion and consideration of this issue over time, as well as discussion with outside colleagues and consultants, this change is one we have determined is the only right one for us and our community.
It has become very clear to us that:
• These kinds of questions are almost always based in mental health issues or larger situational problems, not in a lack of facts or sexuality education: Most of the time these kinds of queries are not even based in reality-based risks of pregnancy, nor are they resolved when factual education is offered and provided. They are more often based in underlying mental health issues -- most often chronic, ongoing anxiety -- or in interpersonal issues, such as unhealthy or unwanted family or sexual relationships. As we make clear in all of our site policies, we lack the capacity to offer mental healthcare, and our main focus is on providing sexuality, sexual health and relationships education and support. We do have the ability and capacity to work with users to get away from unhealthy relationships, or to set limits and boundaries, however, users in the midst of a panic rarely have the desire or ability to engage with us in that way or to yet make those kinds of changes. To do that, someone has to manage and dial down their own panic through self-care first: we lack the ability to stop someone's panic for them, or to get through to someone when their anxiety is presenting the barriers to communication and understanding that anxiety or panic do.
• Most of the users who refuse to follow site policies, guidelines and user registration agreements, such as engaging in fraud or staff harassment, are users with chronic, and most often irrational, pregnancy anxiety or fear: The vast majority of users who have refused to respect and abide by site policies, or limits and boundaries we set, who do things like harass staff or create multiple identities in our services, are users with this particular issue. This has resulted in us having to invest a great deal of staff hours in things like identifying people using multiple handles to try and get around our set limits or endlessly brainstorming about how to deal with this issue as it gets worse and worse, and creating more and more content to try and manage it, all to no avail. This is not a sound use of our energy, time or funding.
• Nothing we have tried to help users with this issue has ultimately been effective: Providing users in these situations with factual information about pregnancy, pregnancy risks, contraception, emotional support, or reassurance, or referrals to the kind of in-person help that is more likely to help, has not resulted in positive changes for these users. That is most likely because many need to engage with qualified mental health services and/or to engage in self-care or behavioral changes on their own they are not willing or able to do for themselves. Engaging in these kinds of exchanges here has not only been nonproductive for our staff, and our community, but for users, as well.
• Engaging with users' anxiety only seems to enable users in behaviours or thought patterns that just continue or even increase their anxiety. Trying to productively engage with users with this kind of anxiety or fear has not, despite our best efforts, usually resulted in positive changes for users. Most continue the same choices or behaviors that are resulting in ongoing pregnancy fear or anxiety, despite help and advice we give to make changes with choices or behaviours, so as soon as they're through one scare, they just do the same things they did the last time and start another scare anew. We feel part of why this is happening is that we may have been inadvertently enabling users by allowing them to avoid just sitting with their own feelings, engaging in self-care and learning to manage anxiety themselves by coming here for comfort, reassurance and, ultimately, a distraction from the approaches that would be more likely to help. A big part of our goal is to do the best we can to help users make sexual choices they feel good about, not anxious or fearful: engaging with this issue appears to be at cross-purposes with one of our core missions as an organization.
• We lack the resources and staff to manage users' needs with this issue and still do the kind of work we are designed and qualified for and intend to do. Scarleteen is a large site with a tremendous level of reach, but very limited staff and funding. We simply cannot do all things for all people, and must be very mindful about how we spend our time, energy and financial resources. If and when an arena has proven itself not to be a sound use of any or all of those, or seems outside the scope of what we are designed for, we need to exempt ourselves from it. We also need to only do what we are qualified for and capable of doing, and anxiety management is not something we have the education, ability or medium to capably provide.
• Users who want to talk about issues other than pregnancy anxiety or fear - about issues that we aim to and exist expressly to provide information about and help with - have begun to feel that their questions or issues do not belong in our services or that we cannot serve them, and either don't ask at all, or ask with a great deal of hesitation and apology. When all many users see are a flood of posts and content about pregnancy anxiety, they get the message that that is what our services are for, despite the fact that that is NOT actually what our services are for, at all. It is essential that those users can see that our community spaces are for them and their concerns and questions about sexuality, sexual health and relationships, and that we are able to serve them with the time, attention and dedication that we want to and that they deserve.
• It has become deeply disruptive to our community and organization and is the single largest source of staff burnout. The kinds of interaction that often happen with users with this issue are frequently disrespectful of staff and have created a great deal of burnout and a high level of stress, even resulting in some staff having to walk away from direct services for long periods of time who very much want to be working there. This sets our staff up to be less able to serve all of the members of our community in the ways and with the things we can do, and are designed for and intend to do. So many exchanges with users where staff must simply state and restate policies, limits and boundaries users refuse to respect, or ask users again and again not to flood our services or pressure our staff changes the tone of our community spaces from a tone that is respectful, courteous and engaging to one that is full of disrespect, discourtesy and unappealing. Our staff are entitled to an emotionally safe and healthy workplace, and our community members entitled to a community that feels respectful, available and engaging.
We understand that struggling with anxiety of any kind is, indeed, a real struggle, and we're very sorry for anyone who is struggling in any respect, including this one. However, there are sound, qualified and appropriate help resources available to and designed for those struggling with anxiety. An in-depth list of these kinds of resources, including links to hotlines and other help services from organizations which do have the capacity to provide mental health help can be found here.
For information and help relating to other issues or unmet needs that are often part and parcel of pregnancy anxiety or fear, click here.