Scarleteen is an independent, grassroots sexuality and relationships education and support organization and website. Founded in 1998, Scarleteen.com is visited by around five million diverse people each year — around 5,000 of whom we typically speak with directly through our direct services and in-person outreach — most between the ages of 15 and 25. It is typically the most popular and most widely used site specifically providing sex and relationships information and support for young people worldwide and has been so for most of its tenure. Scarleteen and its founder, Heather Corinna, have been the recipients of many awards for our work, including The Champions of Sexual Literacy Award for Grassroots Activism from the National Sexuality Resource Center/SFSU; The Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, Western Region’s Public Service Award; the Our Bodies, Ourselves’ Women’s Health Heroes Award; the Joan Helmich Educator of the Year Award; The Woodhull Foundation’s Vicki Award; the Steinem-Waters Award, and the Golden Brick Award.
Most of our users find Scarleteen through search engines or when provided a link or verbal referral from friends, other websites or magazines; parents, guardians and other family members; healthcare providers/clinics or other sexuality/sexual health education programs and resources. Nearly every day, young people and adults who care about them let us know how valuable they find our services.
- Online static content: Scarleteen contains over 2,000 original comprehensive sexuality, health and relationship articles, guides, factsheets and in-depth advice answers, extensive external resource lists for each topical section of the site and a collective blog. Our content is written by an adult or emerging adult educators and writers is highly inclusive, and is always informed by current, medically-accurate information.
- Interactive services: Our message boards are staffed and highly moderated to provide a safe space which provides accurate information. Our users use them for questions and answers from staff and volunteer on sexuality, sexual health, and relationships, for emotional support and to engage in safe, respectful peer-to-peer discussion. Our staff and volunteers use them as one way of finding out directly from young people what they need and what their lives, thoughts, and feelings are. We also have a text/SMS service for help and information via mobile phones, an online live chat service, and maintain an active, largely-followed social media presence.
- Referrals: We make user referrals to other sexual/reproductive healthcare services, such as STI testing, contraception, and prenatal or abortion care; for mental health care, LGBTQA support, general children and family services, and sexual abuse and other critical care. Staff can be available to users to make screening/intake phone calls if they feel nervous about first calling themselves or if they are not sure a service is bonafide.
- Other outreach: We also provide offline teen outreach and staff training, primarily through sexual/reproductive health clinics, community and school groups and teen homeless/transitional shelters in and around Seattle, Washington. Additional outreach, training or education is provided nationally at colleges, universities, schools, community centers and conferences to students, parents and to fellow teen and sexual health workers and educators. Scarleteen regularly donates copies of our sexual health guide, S.E.X. (DaCapo Press), to young people, parents and clinics in need. Scarleteen is also frequently asked to speak with the media about teen and young adult sexuality, sexual health and sexuality education, and has been included in numerous articles in print and online on both topics.
- Mentoring and leadership: Scarleteen provides ongoing mentorship and guidance for our volunteers, and participates in and supports youth leadership events and initiatives outside the organization. Scarleteen is considered by many to be an influential leader in progressive and inclusive sexuality education, and we have directly participated in and supported activism to influence and change public policy, like teaming up with the ACLU to fight the COPA.
Our Model & Our History
When Scarleteen was first created, we had to start from scratch. When we went live in 1998, around a year after the first abstinence-only mandates began, there wasn’t anything like it, online or offline, we could look to in building our model. Scarleteen was created out of an expressed need from young people themselves: young people had written Scarleteen’s founder letters asking for sexuality information and support through a website they maintained about adult women’s sexuality, and there was scant little online Heather could refer them to that provided comprehensive sex education and support for young people.
Scarleteen was created and built based on what young people asked for, through existing experience in alternative education, writing, social justice activism, health and sexuality Heather and a few volunteer writers shared, with an understanding of human sexuality as an ideally positive, beneficial part of life. We sourced sound sexuality, relationship and health data and perspectives from reliable, reputable resources and got feedback, support and help from progressive thinkers working in the field of sexuality. To date, that remains our central approach, but we now benefit from a larger network of sexuality resources and individuals working in sexuality who generously provide feedback and advice, from increased cultural conversation about and support for sex education, and from a larger and more diverse group of young people who share what they want and need with us each day.
Founder Heather Corinna continues to direct and manage Scarleteen with the help of our small but mighty team of international volunteers, the majority of whom are under the age of 30. We also benefit from the generously donated skills and talents of guest writers, educators, and consultants.
Our educational model and philosophy is and has always been guided by both unschooling and the Montessori method. Our content and approach is original and strongly youth-driven but is also in alignment with current guidelines for comprehensive sexuality education for adolescents such as those suggested by SIECUS (US), UNESCO (International), the National Health Education Standards (US) and Sex and Relationships Education (UK). We also meet the standards suggested in the new American School Health Association’s National Sexuality Education Standards: Core Content and Skills, K-12. It is in alignment with the core of most current, quality comprehensive sex education curricula, such as Our Whole Lives, Advocates for Youth’s Life Planning Education program, F.L.A.S.H., and is in particular accord with the newly-released It’s All One Curriculum, developed by the International Sexuality and HIV Curriculum Working Group.
Scarleteen and its accomplishments have been recognized by organizations as SIECUS, UNICEF, Planned Parenthood, The Association of Reproductive Health Professionals, Family Health International, Advocates for Youth, the International Association for Adolescent Health, The Boston Women’s Health Collective, The Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality and much more. Our content has been used or provided in many clinics, outreach programs, by numerous sexuality educators, health care providers, counselors and therapists and other youth-serving workers and agencies. Scarleteen is one of the few sexuality and relationships education and support resources online that is national or international and that is specifically intended and created for young people.
Scarleteen is completely independent, grassroots education and media: we are not affiliated with any other organization, nor do we receive funding or other organizational support or direction from a larger organization, foundation or governmental agency.
We feel sexuality education for young people is best guided by what we consider our core values and aims:
- A foundation of equality, respect, dignity, fairness, consent, liberty, freedom of thought and expression and other core human rights.
- Materials and services which are fully opt-in and opt-out, most strongly guided by what young people are themselves asking for and which is delivered to them with care and courtesy based on current, medically accurate standards of physical and emotional health and well-being including the understanding and knowledge that development and expression of one’s own sexuality is one part of typical human and adolescent development.
- Content and interaction which seeks to provide developmentally and culturally sensitive sexuality education and information that reflects the diversity of people and sexuality; that aims to serve all sexes, genders, economic and social classes, sexual orientations and relationship models, types of embodiment and more, including information on contraception, safer sex and sexual health, reproductive choice, masturbation, anatomy, sexual orientation and other aspects of sexual identity, gender identity and equity, pleasure and human sexual response, body image, sexual and romantic relationship formation, communication and negotiation, sexual and other interpersonal abuse, self-esteem and care and compassion in sexual enactment that is not intentionally exclusive to any one group, save privileging those in their teens and twenties.
- Respectful messaging encouraging critical thought, self-care and care for others, rather than shame or fear, which suggests and supports non-participation in sexual activities until such a time or a situation in which an individual wants to participate in those activities for themselves; until an individual feels prepared to manage and handle them well, including care for physical and mental health, adequate assertiveness and esteem and the ability to recognize and enact the import of mutual consent and benefit.
- A nonjudgmental and unbiased attitude of acceptance, tolerance and understanding for young people, whether they choose to be sexually active or not, both to best educate and to best support positive self-esteem, self-efficacy, personal identity and well-being.
- Encouragement to know as much as possible, and from an educated standpoint, to make sound choices based on personal ethics and values gleaned from family, role models, life experience and oneself.
- Open, ongoing, moderated and guided conversation about sex and sexuality in a safe, supportive and inclusive environment with an aim both to educate and to help foster critical thinking, civic engagement and the ability to engage in compassionate, respectful and honest discussion of sex and relationships with peers, partners, and adults.
- Clear acknowledgment that human sexuality poses both potential benefits as well as potential detriments, and education and communication about sexuality that communicates and recognizes both, providing information that makes risks of unwanted or negative outcomes clear and educates learners on how to reduce their risks as well as how to sustain sexual well-being.
- A necessary flexibility of thought and approach, understanding that no one kind of education or delivery of information is best for everyone, that information about and the study of human sexuality is still in many ways in its infancy and that human sexuality is highly diverse. We are always ready to adapt, revise or shift how we do what we do to stay as pioneering as we have always been, and to best meet young people where they are, in ways they find and express work best for them.
As with previous generations, many young people in their teens and twenties today have already begun or desire to soon begin enacting their sexuality with others, often with little to no accurate and inclusive sexuality and sexual health information. We know that comprehensive sexuality education has been proven to have positive outcomes, whatever choices young people make, including increased condom and contraceptive use, lower rates of unintended pregnancy, and a decrease in sexual debut that occurs earlier than youth may want or be prepared for. We also know the kinds of negative outcomes that are far more likely to occur without that information and support.
Ideally, sexuality education like Scarleteen will be paired with education, information, support and compassionate communication from parents and guardians, and additional accurate sex and health information from school, community services, and healthcare providers. While Scarleteen is intended primarily for young adult use, it can be an excellent resource for adults who care for this population, too. Many parents, guardians, and educators have used it to inform and initiate discussion with teens about sexuality. Some homeschooling parents have used Scarleteen as curricula for sex education; colleges add our articles to their sexuality syllabi often. Ideally, we love to see Scarleteen as part of a diverse sexuality education that comes from other venues as well, such as through school sex education and discussions with parents or guardians. But while we strongly support and advocate for in-school and at-home comprehensive and inclusive sexuality education, we also recognize that there are many young people without access to one or both.
An increasing number of states and schools have now rejected abstinence-only programs — programs that are misleading, inaccurate and ineffective — and some federal funding streams are now reopening for comprehensive sex ed, but as of 2009, around half of all 50 states in the US still provided abstinence-only sex education. Internationally, some nations fare better than others, and areas with the highest rates of sexually transmitted disease, unintended pregnancy, maternal mortality and/or sexual abuse also often lack accurate, comprehensive and/or complete sexuality education. In the United States, around 1.5 million students are homeschooled. In 2007 alone, over 6 million students over the age of 16 in the United States no longer attended (and did not complete) high school. Transgender and other gender variant youth, lesbian, gay, bisexualqueer and/or questioning youth — around 5 – 10% of all young people — are rarely included or addressed in sexuality education, even in comprehensive in-school programs. Even with the best in-school programs young people can and do attend and access, the school environment itself creates limitations in sexuality education for students, teachers, and administrators.
Young people at home often don’t fare much better. A 1995 survey by the American Social Health Association found that only 11% of teenagers get most of their information about STD prevention from their parents or other family members. A 1996 poll found that 82% of the mothers polled believed their daughters had not been [sexually active], but only 70% of the daughters had not been; 70% of the mothers believed their sons had not been [sexually active], but that was only true for 44% of them. A national survey published in 1997 found that mothers of children over the age of 11 rated themselves “unsatisfactory” at talking with their children on several topics: 40% said they were unsatisfactory at talking about preventing HIV/AIDS; 47% on sexual orientation; and 73% on how to use a condom. (“Do As I Say … Should We Teach Only Abstinence In Sex Education?” Chris Collins, 1997) Another national survey showed that only around 50% of parents had talked with teens about issues like contraception, STIs and safer sex, sexual readiness and negotiation, and that male teens often go without in-home discussion more often those female teens. Unfortunately, many teens go without discussion of sexuality at home at all, and many who do have talks are often not given accurate information as many parents have not had good or recent sexuality education themselves.
Young adults clearly — and very, unfortunately — cannot rely on school nor their families alone for comprehensive, accurate sex education.
We want the sexual choices young people make to be well-informed choices. We feel belying judgment, affording respect and furnishing teens with the facts and context they feel they need, whether or not they are or intend to be sexually active, supports them in learning to best make and own their own choices and lives. We feel humane, accurate, holistic and interactive education, made as pertinent and appropriate to the wide diversity of young people, greatly aids them in making their best sexual choices. We know that sexual choices made during this time of life can often have a particularly strong impact. Sex education at a time of life when negative outcomes can be particularly hard to manage, and in a time period in which people are often very interested in (and thus best retain) sex and sexuality information is key. But we aim to educate not just for this time of life but to help provide a sound foundation for a lifetime of sexuality. Whether Scarleteen is a young person’s only source of sex education, or whether we play but one part, we want to do what we can to provide young people with the accessible sexuality information, support and discussion they want and need now, and may very well benefit from for a lifetime.
For more information on Scarleteen and our approach to sex ed, see:
- Why do our readers love Scarleteen so much?
- About the Staff & Volunteers
- Scarleteen Is…
- What is Healthy Sexual Development?
- What Would Maria Do? One Sex Educator’s Ever-Evolving Manifesto
- What is Feminist Sex Education?
- A Calm View from the Eye of the Storm: Hysteria, Youth and Sexuality
- Why We’re Pro-Choice
- All About S.E.X.: The Scarleteen Book!
- Who’s been talking about sex education at Scarleteen?
- For Parents or Guardians
Want to get in touch with us?
You can reach us directly about anything pertaining to the site by email here. If you’d like your email forwarded to a specific staff member, volunteer or author, we’re happy to forward your mail to that individual. If you want to send us something via post, you can reach us at Scarleteen, 1752 NW Market Street, #524, Seattle, WA 98107.
If you appreciate and value what we do at Scarleteen, please consider pitching in to financially sustain us. We are an entirely independent organization without any kind of public funding: we are and have been funded solely by private, individual donations and grants. Since the majority of our users do not have their own incomes with which to donate, fiscal support must come from adults. We are an extremely cost-efficient organization, serving a number of individuals few, if any, organizations can serve with our budget. Staying afloat and continuing to provide all that we do is often exceptionally challenging, so every donation counts and is greatly appreciated, no matter how small. To donate to Scarleteen, click here.