Scarleteen, sex ed for the real world

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Submitted by Lena on Sun, 2008-12-14 18:01

This week's Spotlight on Scarleteen interview will be with Abbie a.k.a. JamSessionVT. A self-proclaimed "recycled" hippie, Abbie embodies many of the characteristics commonly associated with her progressive, idyllic home state of Vermont: she’s open-minded, hardworking, supportive, and maple syrup loving. While that last part was stretching it, even she admits that the long, cold winters, as picturesque and perfect for skiing as they may be, sometimes leave her pining for warmer days. That said, Abbie has no plans to leave Vermont or Scarleteen for greener pastures– in fact, just as she considers the Green Mountain State her down-to-earth home, Abbie considers Scarleteen her warm and welcoming virtual home. This is great news for Scarleteen users and volunteers alike; in addition to dishing up great advice on the message boards with an upbeat tone, Abbie's glad to pitch in behind-the-scenes. She's more than willing to lend a hand to a fellow volunteer or fix broken links– the web equivalent of mucking out stalls– so we can focus on the prize ponies.

I always look forward to Abbie's blog entries, which are truly a refreshing mix of eloquence and profoundness. That may seem like a grand statement for some words on a page; however, I encourage you to read them here, here, and here to see for yourself. Time and time again, Abbie turns an everyday event– often an unpleasant or unfortunate occurrence– into a positive educational experience that really resounds with Scarleteen readers. Her blog entry on how an unexpected visitor opened the door to an important discussion with her boyfriend, "An Unfortunate Combination: Periods and Pants," was published a year ago but remains one of the most popular and commented on blog entries at Scarleteen. It has encouraged many unregistered users to sign up to leave comments, which have taken on an empowering, you-go-girl life of their own. Those positive words of support include the following, from "Thank goodness I found this blog… Finding this blog makes me appreciate womanhood and that ladies can be open to discuss this experience," to "These stories from each and every one of you have made me smile. The embarrassing moments happen to all of us." Step back Seventeen magazine's awkward Traumarama; step forward, Abbie, to take a bow for this positive piece!

A few days ago, Abbie was so kind as to sit down to give us the scoop (Ben and Jerry's, of course!) on her life on the boards and behind-the-computer screen. Here it is, straight from the horse-lover's mouth. Please feel free to comment or ask Abbie any questions directly by leaving a message on this page or in the Staff Stuff area of the message boards.

Hello and welcome to your Spotlight on Scarleteen interview, Abbie. Let's get started with the questions!

Could you please share some basic information about yourself?
Hi! I'm Abbie, and I'm a 21 year old college student from Vermont.

What do you do at Scarleteen?
On the boards, I moderate Gender Issues, Pregnancy & Parenting, Sex Basics & Sexual Health as well as Abuse & Abusive Relationships. My big thing on the main site is blogging; I'm a lot better at writing candid blogs about personal situations that I run into. Periods and Pants, Don’t Be a Bystander: Abuse in the Public Eye, and Don’t Let Someone Choose For You: Protecting Your Reproductive Rights. I do behind the scenes work as well, adding links, fixing broken ones, finding resources, linking to informative threads on the boards, etc.

How did you get your username?
Jam Session was what I changed my Thoroughbred's registered name to. His racing name was "Crohn Of My Own", which just sounds ridiculous. I do dressage with him, and the first freestyle-to-music test we did was to a jazz song, aptly named "Jam Session #1". It fit very well.

How long have you been active at Scarleteen? When did you start volunteering?
I've been hanging around Scarleteen since the spring of 2004...and to be honest I can't remember when I became a volunteer. I think it somewhere around fall of 2005, maybe early 2006.

What initially brought you to Scarleteen, and what's kept you around?
I found the site by accident, and it's so easy to get hooked because there are so, so few resources like us. To find an open, honest, and caring community of people who try their hardest to give out the most reliable information and advice possible is pretty tough, and to find such a group on the internet is even more amazing. So it doesn't take much to figure out why I've stuck around.

Do you have a favorite ST article, thread or other site feature?
I love Be A Blabbermouth! The Whys, Whats and Hows of Talking About Sex With a Partner. The first few sexual encounters with a new partner can be so nerve wracking; I've read this article so many times, it's really pretty irreplaceable advice. Even those who've gotten comfortable with their partner can learn a thing or two!

What's been the best part of volunteering? What have been some of your most memorable moments here?
We are lucky to have such an amazingly diverse group of users who come in. I'm constantly learning how best to interact with others, and how to tailor my advice so that it it benefits them as much as possible. It's humbling to be reminded that all of the staff, including myself, started out as regular users with questions of our own.

If you are willing to talk about it, could you please share the biggest challenge you'd faced while volunteering at Scarleteen?
It's been hard for me to come to terms with some of my own views, especially those that I'm constantly confronted with everyday, just being around the site. There are a lot of things you see on the boards that you just don't think about in everyday life. Like many of the staff, I am also a sexual abuse survivor, so it can sometimes be troubling to read through posts that remind me of my own situations. Seeing how courageous and strong some of the users are, however, encourages me as well.

Now that we have gotten to know more about your involvement behind-the-scenes at Scarleteen, let's move to getting to know the person beyond-the-computer-screen.

Could you please tell us more about your life outside of Scarleteen. What do you do?
I am a university student, though I'm a year behind because after I graduated high school, I decided to take a year off before college and travel. I felt pretty burnt out my senior year, and I wanted to take some time for myself. It was an incredible experience; I started in Ireland and Great Britain, and made my way through a bit of Spain, France and Italy. I met so many amazing people and took in so much, it's hard to believe I did it at all (and on a shoestring budget, too)! I now attend a state school in Vermont to get my BA in Equine Studies, with a minor in Sustainable Agriculture.

How do you typically use the computer and internet? Are there any other sites you like to frequent or recommend? Do you have a blog or something else you'd like to share?
I don't do my own blog anymore; I found I just didn't have the time, though I do journal in a notebook. The only blog I follow religiously is Fugly Horse of the Day!. It's a riot; the blog basically is a collection of posts about backyard horse breeders (and even some well-known ones) who continue to breed horses with poor conformation, genetic diseases, etc., and add to the already overgrown population of unwanted horses who end up going to slaughter. While it's very witty, the author has a real message under all the posts. I've been known to Facebook, but if I'm ever incredibly bored, I peruse sale horse ads on I have one horse, an ancient Thoroughbred gelding named Ernie, who is the love of my life, but it's fun to pretend that you might someday be able to buy a $65,000 Grand-Prix dressage horse!

Where are you coming from? Could you please share some of your roots with us?
I'm a born and raised Vermonter, and we pride ourselves for being hardy, honest and hardworking people (though that doesn't mean I don't complain about the ridiculous cold or feel the need to be a lazy bum on occasion!). Family is important to me; I grew up living on a dairy farm, above my grandmother and directly next to my aunt and uncle, so I truly value how they've shaped me as a person. My grandmother would take care of me when my parents were at work, and her influence on me has been more than I could say. I grew up around a lot of men, which has made me tough, but the women in my family are all very strong, and it's given me a real sense of pride. I'm the first one to call myself a tomboy; pink and glitter is not my thing, and even now, you're more likely to find me outside or in the barn than almost anywhere else.

Whom do you turn to for advice and support?
My dad has been an amazing support line for me. I am truly his child in almost every respect, and his admiration of my spirit and vivaciousness has always made me feel comfortable in my own skin.

What are some of your hobbies, interests, and passions?
I'm very active; both my parents were trained weightlifters. My dad would have gone to train in Sweden for the Olympics had he not met my mom! Naturally, they got me into weightlifting as strength training for soccer, which I've played since I was 5 and continue to play in college. I love to run, go for walks, anything outdoors. If I'm not active, though, drawing and writing are my time-fillers. I love to write short stories and poems about the small experiences I have; it tends to remind me that everything adds up in your life, and documenting it seems like a good idea.

There used to be a popular bumper sticker that said, "I'd rather be dancing." What would you rather be doing?
If I had that bumper sticker, it'd say "I'd rather be at the barn". I've spent a lot of time just hanging out in barns, working, cleaning, riding, caring for horses, and even a few late-night emergency vet calls. When you've had to sleep on a make-shift bed of hay bales for two nights so you could wake up ever hour to check on your sick horse, you start to appreciate the place

Would you mind sharing your plans for the future or long-term goals?
I'd love to be at a place in my life, at some point, where I could start a rescue farm. I see horses as being the main part of my life for a long time, and after having owned a rescue horse myself, I know how far trust can go. Until that point, though, I will be looking to work with off-the-track Thoroughbreds. They are, by far, my favorite breed.

Now that we've heard about your involvement at Scarleteen as well as your personal life, could you please share how how your tenure at ST has affected your life offline and vice versa?
You learn so much here, it's hard to pinpoint on thing! I think my attitude has been affected the most. I remember coming to Scarleteen thinking I knew everything, and I can't help but look back on old posts I made when I first found the site and thinking "Jeez, I would have slapped myself for saying that now!"...I've done some serious introspective thinking since getting involved with this start, and it's still and ongoing process.

Thank you very much for taking the time to share and giving us the opportunity to get to know you better, Abbie. Good luck in all your future endeavors, and see you around Scarleteen!


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