Scarleteen: Sex education trailblazer

JESSICA LEEDS-RICHMAN, Arts & Life Editor Emeritus — Sex is always a hot topic of conversation, but we might not always be the most educated and informed when discussing sex—particularly sex education. For the last twenty years, Heather Corinna has worked to change that. 

“Sex Ed for the Real World: A Conversation with Heather Corinna and Hanne Blank” took place on Nov. 7, 2019, as the latest installment in the Laura C. Harris series coordinated by the women’s and gender studies program. Corinna founded and created Scarleteen, the first fully comprehensive sex, sexuality, and relationships education website for young people. Hanne Blank is a visiting assistant professor in Denison’s women’s and gender studies program and was one of the first collaborators and volunteers for Scarleteen.

From the very beginning, Scarleteen has been inclusive and pleasure-oriented. The inspiration came from the frustration Corinna and Blank experienced when they discovered sexuality sites were inaccessible to underage visitors—oftentimes sending young users to sites such as Disney or Nickelodeon, instead of providing them with adequate educational materials. 

As one of the first people doing sex-positive sex education, Corinna became an internet pioneer. 

“When you’re in the front of something, you’re the person fighting to normalize the thing,” said Corinna. It clears the path for future educators to continue the work.

When reflecting on how Scarleteen has changed in the last twenty years, Corinna notes that the site’s user base has expanded to include a wider age range and a more international audience. With an international user base, Scarleteen has placed more emphasis on cultural education. Depending on the context, “you can’t give the same question the same answer.”

While much has changed over time, certain questions remain as popular as ever. One of the most popular questions has always been “am I still a virgin?” In fact, the plethora of these questions motivated Blank to write one of her books: Virgin: The Untouched History. 

“People could ask us anything and we had to figure out how to respond,” said Blank. As sex education trailblazers, clear-cut answers didn’t always exist so Blank and Corinna had to research and create new content for the users who frequent Scarleteen

Another theme that is ever-present is the shame and guilt that people experience around sex and sexuality. Corrinna makes it clear that “desires are not actions” and “what you want is okay if it’s okay with everyone involved.”

The next event in the Laura C. Harris series, “The Rise and Decline of Patriarchal Systems” is at 7 p.m. on Nov 18, 2019, in the Burton Morgan Lecture Hall.

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