A young woman I’m close with reached out recently on Facebook because she’s worried she might be pregnant. In her late teens, living in the South, and newly sexually active, this isn’t the first time she’s come to me with sex questions. How exactly do condoms work? Can you get pregnant if he pulls out? If he says he loves me it’s okay, right? Right?
Today she told me that she had unprotected sex, even though she’s not on the pill anymore.
“I guess I feel like if a guy wears a condone that means he doesn’t love u as much that might sound crazy but that’s y I don’t… Idk I just feel like if he wears a condom that also means he might be doing it with multiple girls but if he doesn’t use a condom that means he’s only doing it with me and I want it to stay that way…”
It was all I could do to not drop my head on the desk and give up on everything.
I walked her through all of the ways that her “logic” was faulty – men who love and respect you want to make sure you’re safe and protected; he can fuck a million girls or just you and you could still get pregnant; you’re 18 and your body WANTS a baby right now, even if you don’t – and I think I got through to her. I hope so. I also hope I wasn’t too late.
Every time we talk about this stuff, I realize what she’s up against. Having grown up in the age of abstinence-only “sex education,” she doesn’t have the information she needs to make good decisions about her sexuality and her body. While her hometown has a Planned Parenthood, getting there during open hours is difficult for her because she doesn’t have a car. She also doesn’t know the questions to ask and is intimidated by the thought of going to what is, in her mind, a doctor’s office and abortion clinic. She feels weird talking to her mom about it (and let’s be real, what teen doesn’t?) and she doesn’t want to talk to her friends, probably for fear that they’ll slut shame her.
“Ugh what to do..I have no one to talk to… Like I can’t talk to my mom I can’t talk to my friends it’s so complicated”
While this young woman has me – a former social worker whose known her since she was little and told her years ago that she could come to me with any sex questions – most girls (and teens of every gender) don’t. Teenagers are hungry for information about sex and they’ll get it anywhere they can. In this age of high speed internet, the first and only resource they have is usually porn. While porn may teach them exactly what an oversized dick looks like as it slides way too far down a woman’s throat or how to maneuver double penetration, it’s definitely not going to tell them about how to keep from having babies or which conversations to have about love and intimacy.
And that’s not porn’s job, is it? It’s our job as adults who care about these soon-to-be adults to teach them the things they need to know. It’s our job to show them how to respect each other and themselves. It’s our job to teach them about consent and choice and the fact that sex is supposed to feel good for everyone involved.
It’s our job to protect them by giving them the information they need until they know enough to protect themselves.
I was walking home from work later that same day, thinking about what I could do to make a difference for not only this young woman but others like her. My mind went back to something I’ve been dreaming about for a long time – a sex positive community center for teenage girls. A judgement-free space where they could go and speak to adults and each other about their fears, their questions, their concerns and, yes – their desires.
The problem with that, of course, is that there’s no way I’d ever get away with it, at least not in the States. Our culture is too sex negative and way too scared of teenage sexuality to ever condone anything so radical. The very same thing that has created the need for this service – a near total lack of honest and open conversations about sex between adults and teenagers – is what prevents someone like me from starting it.
But then I remembered the internet.
The first time I heard about Dan Savage’s It Gets Better Project – in which queer adults and allies record videos speaking directly to queer kids about how their lives have gotten better as they’ve gotten older – was on his weekly podcast Savage Lovecast. There had been a rash of suicides by young queer kids and Dan was, understandably, heartbroken. He talked about how every time one of these suicides happened, all he wanted to do was reach out to those kids before they jumped off the bridge or slit their wrists or took the whole bottle of pills and tell them that “it gets better.”
But, as an openly gay man who makes a living talking about sex, Dan knew that he wasn’t allowed to talk to teenagers. Accusations of pedophilia are some of the most vicious bombs hurled at gay men and even a man with as much name recognition as Dan Savage wasn’t willing to walk through that minefield. And average queer folks who don’t even have fame to protect them? Forget about it.
The It Gets Better Project circumvents the need for permission or parental approval by allowing adults to speak directly with kids via YouTube. Any queer teenager who’s contemplating suicide can log on and watch hundreds of thousands of hours of adults who went through the same terrible shit they’re going through talk about how life is really worth living. Even the president recorded one and I think it’s fair to say that this one project has saved countless lives.
I’m not Dan Savage (although I’d like to be as famous and respected as he is some day) but I am someone with experience in the tech/startup scene and a background in working with teens. I think there’s a real need and opportunity for a site that talks directly with teenagers about sex, the same way I did with that young woman the other day and the same way Dan and the It Gets Better Project talks with queer teens. I don’t need their parent’s permission and I don’t need society’s permission, either. The beauty of the internet is that I can just do it.
This isn’t a new idea – there are sites out there already that try to fill the gap that George Bush blew in our sex education system. Planned Parenthood has info on their site, but they’re not specifically oriented toward teens and they also feel kind of… clinical. Scarleteen is a teen-oriented great example with a ton of information but their look isn’t quite what I’m envisioning either.
What teenagers today need is a site that’s not only informative but also cool. Something with a fresh design; somewhere they wouldn’t be embarrassed to have their friends catch them hanging out. Somewhere that the kind of adult that they want to be some day is too because, even though no teenager will ever admit it, they really are looking up to us.
I think it’s doable and I think I can do it. If you’re interested in joining me in these initial stages of planning and brainstorming exactly what this online sex positive teen center is going to look like and how it’s going to work, email me here. It’s time for us as sex positive adults to stop being scared and stand up for the teenagers who need us so badly. It’s time for us to do our jobs and educate, inform – and protect them.
Photo by victoriagrayphoto via CC License on Flickr.