I remember it very clearly. I was a senior in high school and we were all noshing together in the lunch room when Darla, who was two years my junior, blurted out that she had seen her boyfriend naked and that they were planning to have sex soon. It would be her first time, although we thought he probably had more experience. “I sure hope it gets smaller before it goes in, because my hole isn’t that big” she declared and we all laughed together. The thing is, she didn’t know whether it would or not, and none of us were willing (or able) to give her much information. Within weeks she recruited another friend to purchase a pregnancy test with her, but I don’t believe any of us considered STI tests.
Back then I was a youth leader of our church youth group’s True Love Waits effort, a national program supported by Catholic church that encouraged chastity until marriage. Yes, one of my classmates shot herself in the head on a carefully laid plastic tarp in the basement of her family home in despair over her parents’ response to her disclosure that she was gay. I’m surprised I didn’t lose more friends for the same reason, as several other queer friends tried to end their lives at least once. Yes, several of my peers contracted STIs and/or became pregnant before graduation. There were numerous whispers about abortion. At least one of us caught HIV. And yes, I learned later that far too many of us were sexually assaulted during those years by peers, teachers, significant others, siblings and parents. We all attended a Catholic high school, but I’ve since learned that my public school peers often didn’t fare better when it came to sex ed and support. None of these stories should be shocking, especially in the wake of the recent media attention on juvenile sexual assault and young, queer suicides.
Was I fortunate for seeking refuge in the religious virginity fervor? I’m not one to share details about my sexual experiences, so I will simply assure you that True Love Waits did more harm than good. I entered my dating years far behind the curve, with bizarrely fantastical romantic expectations, and a dangerous level of relational naiveté. Young adults in such situations are ripe for abuse at the hands of their intimate partners in the worst case scenarios, and are likely to encounter emotionally damaging levels of social-sexual disappointment and delay in the best cases. There seemed to be only two options as a teen: high-consequence sexual exploration now or even more awkward and equally dangerous exploration later. From what I have seen, this is still the choice for most young people.
I suspect that you and I could sit down over tea and trade many frightening stories from our pasts and those of our friends. Most of us have been there, and if we haven’t then we are close with those who have. It is terribly frightening to know that our own children are facing these same risks, perhaps worse. It is tempting to close our eyes and hope that they will make it through, especially if we do our best to shelter them from the risk-taking behavior that left a scar on our own generations. This is no more the answer for them than it was for us.
Without safe and accurate information on sexual and relational development, our youth are stuck in sexually pathologizing, polarized positions. Neither uninformed, fear-driven abstinence nor unsavvy immediate exploration offer a legitimate path to lower-risk, developmentally appropriate sexual development for our youth. We know this to be true. Our research backs this up, our personal experience supports the research, and our policy and public opinion listen to neither. Clearly, an accessible grassroots solution is needed.
It is natural, normal and absolutely healthy for teens and young adults to be sexual. Pushing them to do otherwise, in my professional opinion, may be comfortable for adults but is potentially damaging for youth. Similarly, allowing our youth to rush forward unprepared, as though they were the first people to discover the uncharted world of sex, is both dangerous and unacceptable. We owe it to them to create and support another option for our children.
Hands down, an important reason for me to be a sex educator is so that you don’t have to be. I’m fine with this arrangement and I would never expect every parent and youth educator to put in the kind of training and experience that I have in this area. We are here to support you and your youth by providing access to essential sexual health resources. One of the finest examples of quality, grassroots sexuality education and outreach just happens to be an online website by the name of Scarleteen. This established, respected and highly utilized global resource is so darned good that I send my own grown-up clients there to catch up on the things they missed during their own youthful blunderings into sex and relationships. Go and explore – I promise you’ll learn something amazing and new. Then come back and tell me how much you wish you had found this site when you were 20, 16, or even 12.
Scarleteen is there, helping countless youth (and my grown-up clients) to have a safer option for their sexual development. This option wasn’t there for you and I when we were growing up, and we have to make sure that we do better for future generations by using our experiences as the impetus for us to support them. In spite of the site’s amazing span, capacity and breadth, it receives incredibly little financial support. I am asking you to join me in ensuring that Scarleteen continues to grow and flourish and be available to all who need it.
I am publicly pledging to donate a portion of every one of my coaching and educational groups to Scarleteen, starting with my upcoming mentorship group for aspiring and current sex-positive professionals. Join me in making your own commitment to contribute to this amazing web resource!
I ask you to click over to Scarleteen and see just how important they are. Then make your own donation to them. It doesn’t have to be so dark and isolated for young adults, and Scarleteen provides a much needed beacon. They deserve and need our support, so they can continue to support our children.