Few of us can fathom how very much sexuality is a part of our children's lives (and the word child in this letter is used to denote progeny, not a given age), and fewer still how very much real estate it takes up in the lives of young adults.
Sexuality is a large facet of their lives, and often at earlier ages than it was for many of us, and certainly than it was for our own parents. 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 it away, it is there, and it is with them -- and with all of us -- whether they share it with others or not. No matter what choices we would like them to make, much as we would not keep the telephone number for the fire station from them for fear of causing a fire, we should not withhold information they need in the event that they might need it. It is not our intent to tell your children what choices they should make. I feel it is neither my place, nor is it productive and healthy. Instead, we aim to furnish them with comprehensive sexuality information to consider, 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.
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, I would say that, many teens newly entering their first year of high school are either already sexually active on some level, intend to be quite shortly or are waiting for some opportunity to be sexually active in some respect. If they get any accurate sex education at all, most will receive information through school and the home long after they require it, and most of them turn first to their peers -- who often have as little accurate information as they do -- or to mainstream media to glean this information.
Though my intention is not to scare you, it is quite possible that is exactly what I am doing. It can feel terrifying. We provide Scarleteen out of absolute necessity. Peers are usually not an accurate (and certainly not an unbiased) source of sexual information, often 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. The media, television and movies are not 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 child doesn't need 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, or the 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.
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, 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 child can really create 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 supplementary information and our own stories as experiences as partners to that personal development.
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. 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.
One of my favorite parts of doing these sites is allowing teens to see that adults CAN understand. I am often about the same age their parents are, but have the benefit of being an anonymous third party, of whom they are not generally fearful of judgment nor punishment. We hope that bridging that age gap sometimes allows them to take the further step of bringing these questions and concerns to you, and hope that, in turn, they might learn someday to be as open with their own children. We live in a time in which this information and approach is crucial. Without it, there are both emotional and physical consequences which can traumatize, and sometimes completely ruin or sicken, a life.
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.
- Heather Corinna
Founder and Editor, Scarleteen