Mon Feb 19, 2007
The other day I posted a blurb on Scarleteen and their fundraising kickoff. I know most people who visit this site must have at least HEARD of Scarleteen before, as I mention them often, and the site founder Heather Corinna is one of my closest friends. What I only briefly touched on and wanted to expand on today (inspired by Seska’s posting on Valentine’s Day) is just WHY I think this type of sex education resource is so vital. I’m hoping to do that by talking about my own experience with sex education more than 20 years ago.
My own mother was part of the previous generation of sex educators, in that she volunteered for over a decade at Planned Parenthood as a teen counselor. While she was obviously informed, passionate and open-minded, that didn’t necessarily translate into being comfortable talking to her own two daughters about sex. The one clear memory I have of any type of sex education was her handing me the book “What’s Happening to Me?” when I was around 12, turning a bit red in the face and saying something about “if you have questions, you can ask me.” I guess from her overall demeanor though, I got the message that I couldn’t talk to her at all. She was (IS, in fact) a wonderful mother, I guess what I’m trying to point out is that even with good intentions, it can be difficult for children to be frank with their parents. It’s hard to fake being comfortable, kids KNOW their parents.
Most of what I learned came from listening in on her co-workers conversations at Planned Parenthood, while I waited for her to get off of work. While that was immensely helpful in my knowledge of birth control, it didn’t teach me much else. One other thing I remember my mom saying quite often when I was a kid was that sex was highly overrated. (She doesn’t remember that, btw – we’ve talked about it) So, once I was 19 and made the decision to become sexually active with my first serious boyfriend, I was careful about getting birth control first, but had no idea how to have a conversation about anything intimate, much less how to get what I needed. I didn’t even know how to figure out what I needed or wanted, so when sex was lackluster and non-orgasmic I just figured what I’d been told was true: it WAS overrated.
Speed up a few years, after a marriage and children with an equally repressed and ill-informed husband. Post-divorce I encountered what I think of as the start at least locally of the “sex positive movement”. In the bdsm community, the diversity of activity involved simply required more conversation and exploration than “vanilla” (I hate that term, but I don’t have a better one) sex, and so the people within it were doing just that. Talking, having workshops, play parties – everything was up for discussion and acting out. And I made the fatal mistake I think I’m not alone in, in falling for the first person who gave me a truly stellar sexual experience, regardless of any other compatibilities. I think it’s quite possible that was the experience for both of us – I found out at the end of that long relationship that I’d made him as unhappy as he’d made me, for years.
But it led me to wonder, what if? What if I’d actually had access to information not JUST about preventing pregnancy, but also about the emotional and psychological aspects of sexuality? What if I’d been exposed to the simple concept that it’s OK TO TALK ABOUT. That it’s ok to expect a partner who can do more than give you an orgasm, but can respect you, try different things with you, basically be just what the term is: partner. Equal.
I think the thing that strikes me the most about Scarleteen is that on every level the basis of what Heather Corinna and the other volunteers there are teaching comes down to communication. And it’s inclusive: het, gay, bi, struggling with gender issues, it’s all talked about. And with respect, without condescension. That’s huge.
I think about my own daughters, and how they are bombarded with sexual imagery in mainstream media, but then hear time and again the message of abstinence as the only choice. Our society is still downright bipolar when it comes to sexuality. And I have as difficult a time as most parents talking to my own daughters in detail. Right now when I hear them talk about their classmates, and how about half of the girls in school are supposedly “bi”, yet there isn’t a single boy out as being gay, much less bi, I want them to be able to participate in discussion about it ’cause I can tell you in pop culture it’s all about the Howard Stern girl/girl fantasy. They’re learning from our current culture that being bi makes them more attractive to boys. Ugh. I want education that is emotionally honest.
That’d be my rant on just why the inclusivity of Scarleteen is so very needed. And I cannot wait to hand my daughters a copy of Heather’s book when it comes out in a couple of months. I feel actually very fortunate as a parent of teenagers, that not only do I know where they can go to get good information, but they actually can ask the source her opinion in person.
So.. I guess to sum up: consider a donation. And I want to say that JanesGuide is happy to pledge $1,000 to the cause.