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Getting to Know Heather Corinna: The Activist Behind Scarleteen

Getting to know Heather Corinna Scarleteen
By , 18, Staff Writer Originally Published: August 7, 2014 Revised: August 7, 2014

As teens, we’re used to having a world of information right at our fingertips. A simple Google search can return thousands of hits for almost anything under the sun. We can use this wealth of information and access to it to learn more about the topics that are important to us, including sexual health. One of the people who has led the fight to make online sex ed accurate, comprehensive and accessible is Heather Corinna, founder of Scarleteen.com. In this interview with Sex, Etc., Heather shares with us her ideas about the Internet and its influence on sexuality education.

Sex, Etc.: Scarleteen.com is known for its commitment to “inclusive, comprehensive and smart” sexual health information. Why do you feel comprehensive sexuality education is so important for teens today? 

Heather Corinna: I feel it’s important for people, of all ages, all the time. In order for anyone to make informed decisions about anything, they have to start with information, and information that really includes them, but also leaves as much room as possible for a given person to use it to make their best choices, not just one set of choices someone else feels is best for them.

But we have also been in a spot for a while where there is an awful lot of media that often has a lot of sex and sexuality in it, but it’s usually not very representative of reality, and often has a lot of omissions and misinformation. When teen or young adult sex or sexuality is depicted in or talked about in media, it is often in broad strokes about “trends” that are rarely representative of most young people’s realities. All of that can be really confusing, and all the more so when someone doesn’t have any education about media literacy and critical thinking around media.

Of course, we also have a generation still swimming in abstinence-only sex “education,” or coming out of that, so there is both a lot of poor information to correct, but also a whole lot of manufactured fear as a result of the tone of those approaches to help young people unpack and dismantle before they can even start to be able to learn about sexuality well.

Lastly, we are still, unfortunately, as a world, very stuck in framing sexuality education and people’s sexual lives as primarily about avoiding the “bad” stuff but very little about cultivating and nurturing the good stuff.  Just because nothing “bad” happens to someone around sex and sexuality doesn’t mean a person’s life or experiences around these things will be awesome, or even anything more than neutral. For sexuality education to be truly comprehensive, in my book, it’s got to be more about what we can all learn, and actively do to have sexuality be beneficial rather than just teaching young people avoid the negative outcomes like unplanned pregnancy or contracting an STD.

Sex, Etc.: How did you become an activist around sexual health topics?

HC: Most of my background, when it comes to work experience and education, is in teaching and education. It helps that my mother was a nurse, and we basically grew up hanging out in hospitals and clinics; I was translating medical shorthand to teachers as a kid since my Mom often sent notes to school that way without thinking! I also have a great deal of experience and education in the arts and writing, so I was able to have those skills in my toolbox to work with when I started doing this activism, and doing it the way I do it.

Over the last fifteen years, I’ve also worked in a couple clinics, attended a lot of talks, read until my eyes felt like they were falling out, and I’ve gotten some great education and help from some wonderful relationships with colleagues and mentors.

Most of all, though, I’ve had the privilege of being able to be in the field almost every day during that time, where I get to directly interact with young people who teach me just as much as I teach them. I’d say I learn more through those interactions, and by doing my best to listen, read and observe young people, and be responsive in kind, rather than talking first, than I have from anything else.

There’s more! Check out the next installment to read what Heather has to say about feminism and sex ed.

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