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We will likely be quiet and pretty inactive on all our social media channels for the next week or so.

Our much-loved and intensely-used UBB — the first direct service we created, and still our most utilized, with close to 70K in registered users! — has not only been dying a slow death, it’s been trying to take other parts of our site with it to the grave. (It’s been acting like one seriously pissed-off zombie.) This has been, as it turns out, the primary cause of our technical issues lately.

So, it is time for us to let it go in peace and create a new message board system. Because summer for us involves both more traffic, but also often less volunteer availability, we already have our hands very full during the summer as it is.  We would not have picked this time to make such a big change and do such a big project, but ultimately, we don’t have a choice.

So, we’re limiting what other efforts we can to hopefully get this up and running, put our dear, old UBB in its final resting place (we can’t migrate any of the data or accounts, but it will be made a read-only archive in perpetuity) and get our site back at its usual zippy speed and functionality.

We’ll be back on all our channels soon, and appreciate your patience! :)

Hey Y’all,

We’re looking to make some changes to our social media presence, and we’re looking to get some thoughts and feedback from our followers and users.  So, if you’ve got a minute, we’d love to hear from you!

Just a brief request from us to the world-at-large, primarily with the aim of making our users lives a little easier. Secondarily, it’d also make the lives of those of us who work to help them daily in these areas easier, too, which would sure be nice.

Please do us and everyone else a favor and stop using certain words with very specific meanings as general shorthand.

Often some of these words and frameworks just really aren’t shorthand for what you mean, and they confuse the heck out of people and make something even less clear that’s already confusing enough. We do have clear, specific language we can use for many of the things people tend to use vague language or shorthand for, and when it comes to something as complex as sexuality and sexual and reproductive health, it really helps people out most when we use the right words to express what we mean.

In other words, this isn’t about us or others being nitpicky jerks about semantics. Rather, it’s us — and usually others when they ask for the same — trying to do what we can to help people understand things clearly, and feel less confused, rather than more.

For instance:

When you say sex, do you mean intercourse? Then say intercourse, not sex, which can mean an incredibly wide range of things, of which intercourse is only one. Do you even more specifically mean penis-in-vagina intercourse? Okay: then please just say that. So easy!

• On a similar note, when you are talking about rape or sexual assault, that is what you’re calling it, right?  Not sex or “unwanted sex?” If you’re doing the latter, please stop.

When you are talking about any vaginal bleeding in general, are you calling it a period? If so, please stop. A menstrual period — which is actually not even mostly blood in the first place! — is a very specific kind of flow that occurs for very specific reasons. But either vaginal bleeding or uterine bleeding can happen for any great number of reasons, none of which are a menstrual period: from vaginal abrasions or cervicitis, from spotting with ovulation, the withdrawal bleed for those using hormonal methods of birth control, breakthrough bleeding from those methods, from some sexually transmitted or other infections, ovarian cysts, polyps or fibroids, pelvic inflammatory disease, the side effects of some medications and even things as seemingly unrelated as something like celiac disease or thyroid disorders. None of those things, or any of the other many, many causes of vaginal bleeding are a menstrual period.

When you say “pregnancy symptoms” do you mean things happening with the body expressly, and only, due to someone actually being pregnant? If not, please stop saying that. Things like feeling tired, having weird food cravings, breast changes, missed periods, bloating, weight gain, increased discharge, frequent urination and a host of other things that certainly can and often do occur with people who are pregnant but which also happen to occur for a wide array of other reasons, both for people who are not pregnant as well as people who are.

When you say vagina, do you specifically mean the vaginal opening and canal? If not, please don’t use that word. We have language that accurately describes the genitals, and when we all do our best to use them, it helps people to avoid freakouts for no good reason, to best describe issues to healthcare providers so they can be served best, and to best communicate clearly with partners when it comes to what they are and are not consenting to with sexual activities.

When you say bottom or butt, do you mean the buttocks? Or do you mean the anus? Or the rectum? Or the entirety of someone’s genitals? (Or that someone is bottoming to someone else who is topping?) Whichever it is, do try and be specific. Consider this: someone saying it’s okay for a partner to touch “their butt” may mean their buttocks, not their anus. We’ll want to know, and be clear, what is meant.

When you say “safer sex,” do you mean the tools and practices we can use to reduce our risks of sexually transmitted infections If so, great!  Or, when you say that, do you mean contraception or birth control, the methods or devices we can use to reduce the risk of pregnancy?  If you mean the latter, there are your words: contraception or birth control.  Family planning is another one used to describe pregnancy — not STI — prevention.

When you aren’t sure what’s going on with something or someone, or do not know what to call something, do you just grab for some vague shorthand, or use words for that thing that you’re not sure are the right ones?

If so, allow us to introduce you to one of the most helpful, honest and gorgeous phrases — in my personal opinion — in the English (and every other) language:

"I don’t know."

(Insert the sound of angels, unicorns, spaghetti monsters or whatever-you-want on high with harps and sparkly things here to express the glory of this phrase adequately.)

"I don’t know" is such a wonderful thing to say, especially if and when we really just don’t. Giving someone the idea we do when we don’t doesn’t help them, and often it only sends them on a wild goose chase to follow whatever trail leads after the wrong crumb was left for them.  We get to not know things — us, you, everyone.  No one is the expert of everything, and good gravy, no one should be expected to be.  If you’re working in sex ed at all, be it more formally or DIY, you are not going to know things a LOT, because sex and sexuality has some serious legs that for everyone to always have an answer, you would basically have to be an expert on everything.

So, we strongly endorse, “I don’t know,” as well as a follow-up to that that involves doing our best to refer someone who wants an answer we don’t or can’t have to the kind of person or service which more likely would know, or could do whatever is needed that we/you/whoever can’t to find the answer.

There’s also an extra bonus to saying “I don’t know” as a practice when you don’t and you are working with young people. As anyone who has ever been a young person knows, you can easily feel like you’re a big jerk because you don’t know everything, but everyone else seems to. When the everyone-else are people older than you, that also often involves them lording that over you, and giving you the idea that you can’t know things and they can (even when they don’t), so you’re lesser than them.

Of course, eventually, you figure out everyone really doesn’t know everything, it’s just that an awful lot of people act like they do.  But before you figure that out, not only are you likely to give people authority — including in areas where that choice can really impact your life and how you are making your choices — who sound like they have it, but probably don’t, you also feel like a dope for longer than anyone needs to.  So, when you start to hear people you respect saying they don’t know everything, it can cut that dopey-feeling-time down substantially, leave you feeling like a lot more of an equal, and also helping to assure that you don’t make choices based on information that isn’t sound. In other words, “I don’t know,” not only is the best thing to say when you really don’t, it also gives the gift of making clear to a young person that they are not the only one who does not know things and that it’s okay not to know things. Sweet.

There’s a pretty long and wretched historical precedent of people using unclear or vague language when it comes to sex, sexuality and sexual health that has most often arisen out of the desire to assure people don’t fully understand things as best as they could.  We’ve got a long history in most of the world of sex, sexuality and sexual and reproductive health being used as ways to control people, and intentionally enabling ignorance or obfuscation has always been a big part of that. So, while it may seem small, in a lot of ways using clear language also does a pretty kickass job of pushing against that kind of stuff, and little by little can go a really long way when it comes to empowering people in these areas. We get a lot more control and agency with our own lives and bodies when we have clear ways of communicating about them that are earnestly meaningful.

Ah, the bonuses of communicating clearly: they really do never end! :)

We love having polls on our site so you and others can speak for yourselves — rather than the media or older adults doing it in your stead — and see how others feel, too. But our favourite part of the polls were always the comments, where we could all read what you had to say, rather than just seeing what short answer you chose of the options we wrote for you.

So, we’ve swapped out the multiple-choice format and built a graffiti-wall instead, where what you and others have to say gets written right in the middle of our front page, with all the answers in rotation. If you’re a registered user, it goes right up the minute you click save; if you’re not, it’ll go up as we go through our moderation queue.

Then you and anyone else can always read all the answers to a given question on the permanent page for the poll, like this one. The full archive of all our polls, in both the old and new format, lives here.

Enjoy! We really look forward to reading having what you have to say and seeing it front and center, right where we always want youth voices to be.

You can check it out near the bottom right of the front page here: http://www.scarleteen.com/


Intimacy: The Whys, Hows, How-Nots, and So-Nots

A great Scarleteen article on intimacy by Heather Corinna with a few cute example illustrations! More illustrations in the article :)

We really appreciate sound, nuanced discussions of sexting and sexual expression via new media.  And this one’s golden.

We will never get tired of reading people like s.e. smith who so seriously don’t just get what we do, but GET IT, period. :)

One of the most common things that comes to light when we’re talking to people with the ability to leave any kind of abusive relationship, but who are choosing not to leave is the sense that person has or expresses that, for whatever reason, they deserve abuse. If and when someone in that spot finally does leave or start taking steps to leave, it is almost always only once they finally get they do NOT deserve abuse. Thinking we deserve it is probably the very biggest thing that keeps us stuck in abuse.

We rarely will tell anyone that they are absolutely right or wrong about anything that isn’t strictly factual, but this is one of those things where we can, with certainty, every single time: if you think you deserve abuse, or aren’t sure if you deserve interactions and relationships that are safe for everyone involved, you are wrong.  Utterly, completely, totally wrong. You just couldn’t get it more wrong than this if you tried.

No one — no one — deserves to be abused.  Everyone deserves safe relationships and interactions. Everyone is worthy of kindness.

That includes you.

Zoranoran246 asks:

I have a weird identity problem that nobody I know seems to share. I have lots of LGBTQ friends, and it seems like lately it’s a bad thing to be straight. I identify as mostly hetero, at least for now, but my friend group almost looks down on straight relationships, the way that many bigoted communities view LGBTQ people. I sometimes feel embarrassed about my orientation around my closest friends! I have no idea what to do. I don’t think that the fact that I’m straight detracts from how weird and wrong all this is. Perhaps I require a different perspective? Please help!

Sam W replies:

To start off with, I can assure you that you’re not the first person to be in this situation. So you don’t have to feel as though you’re the only straight person traveling in queer circles who’s ever felt uncomfortable with the way straightness is discussed. And believe me when I say the advice I’m about to give you is very much colored by my own experiences (I mean, all advice is to some extent, but let’s just say your question rang a lot of bells for me).

As a quick aside, I’m going to use queer as my go-to term here. I find it encapsulates the widest number of identities, especially in terms of sexual orientation, which is what you seem to be referring to (an obvious caveat is that not every LGBTQA person identifies as queer). You don’t mention gender identity specifically in your question (and I know some trans folks don’t associate with the term “queer”) but what I’m about to say applies regardless of which specific, marginalized sexual orientation or gender identity your friends identify with.

Now, you don’t go into specifics of what exactly your friends are doing, so I’m going to offer up some different scenarios (some of which are, given the patterns that exist in our current world, more likely than others). Are your friends harassing and picking on straight students because of their orientation? Are they writing mean things on their lockers or trashing their stuff? Do they shout rude things at straight couples holding hands, or ask invasive questions about the sex lives of their straight acquaintances? If so then yes, they are doing the same things that straight students do to queer students, and you should intervene and try to get them to stop. If talking to them directly about their behavior doesn’t work, I would involve a teacher or other adult at the school.

But, if I had to make a guess, your friends are probably not behaving that way. If they’re anything like the vast majority of queer folks, they’re mostly making jokes and comments about straight people and how much they’re annoyed by them/wish they would stop doing x thing/ wish they would all go away.

Essentially, they’re venting. And the reason they’re doing so near you is that you’re their friend (or you’re all hanging out in a safe space together). They’re using this feeling of safety as a chance to say all the things that politeness and/or a desire to avoid a nasty conflict, keep them from saying in the moment where they first think them. And if this is what’s happening, and you spend the majority of you time with these friends, then that may indeed give you the sense that it’s “bad to be straight.”

But here’s the thing: when your friends talk about how annoyed they are by straight people, or how much they hate them, those emotions have less to do with the identity of straightness and more to do with how they are/have been treated by straight folks. I doubt they think straight people are inherently sinful, or unnatural, or faking their identity for attention or to cause trouble (all of which, BTW, are things people assume about those with queer identities).

Instead, “straight people” is essentially shorthand for the nasty behaviors that your friends have been on the receiving end of. To be sure, there can be unpleasantness and bigotry directed from one part of the queer community to another, but the majority of nastiness that queer folks (your friends included) face comes from straight people. So, when they say things like “I hate straight people,” they’re expressing their anger, frustration, and exhaustion with the stuff they face everyday, be those micro-aggressions like looks or comments from people, or bigger aggressions like ostracization or violence at the hands of their family or their peers.

But it’s a hell of a lot simpler(and for some people more cathartic) to say, “I hate straight people.”

Read the rest here