First things first. I am dancing. Right now I am doing a little dance. Yes, it makes typing hard. It helps that I have a little song to go along with my dance. The song is “I got to talk to Heaaaaather! I got to talk to Heaaaaaa-eh-eh-ther!” It’s bound to be a big hit on the iTunes.
If you don’t know who I am talking about, Heather Corinna who in our opinion ought to win an award in every category of award winning from best web site to cutest nose scrunching is the boss lady over at Scarleteen.com, a site that has been around since 1998 and contains a crapload of information about sexual health, relationships, and often the politics of teen sex.
The thing about Ms. Corrina that strikes me the most is that she may have a passion for what she does, but she’s one of the most pragmatically passionate people I have met. Even when things aren’t rosy and bright, she’s on top of her game. for example, Scarleteen is in desperate need of financial support and she’s still got a sense of humor about the teens she is doing outreach work with.
I asked her a few questions about her work and even her playtime. I would also very much like to try her stuffing. (Which is totally not a euphemism.) Take a look.
I am sure you have answered this a billion times, but why did you start Scarleteen? Was it personal?
Before I started Scarleteen, before I worked on the web at all (as well as during), I was a Montessori classroom educator. The way things work with the Montessori model is that we base what we teach (we Montessori-heads prefer “guide” though) and how on what a student either asks for, or what we observe they’re drawn to. And that’s basically the same way Scarleteen started and has been done since.
In 1998, I was operating the first adult women’s sexuality hub online (at scarletletters.com, which has sat dusty since Scarleteen ate my life), and started getting sexuality questions in my email from teen women. I would have loved to refer them to a website just for them, but there wasn’t anything to send them to at the time. So, at first, I began just by posting and answering their questions, but they kept on coming. So, by the end of ‘98, I put up a subdomain on that same site for the teens and younger women.
A year after, we got the Scarleteen domain, a year after that, the message boards, and it grew very fast, and has kept on growing as I’ve raced to keep up with it, no easy task for a site with 25K in viewers every day and far more than a few question-askers.
Was it personal?Yes and no. I’m very serious about being an educator: this year will mark the 20th year since my first teaching gig. I’m also very serious about sexuality and treating sexuality as as important a thing as it tends to be in most of our lives. The fact that teens had nowhere else to go on the web — and U.S. teens were also just being introduced to ab-only ed here, so soon would have few places to go, period — for basic and compassionate sexuality information was really not something I was okay with. As a young person, my sexual life and sexuality was of real benefit to me, and something mostly fantastic that really tempered parts of my teen life that were really horrific: I hated then and still hate now that so often it’s something people work so hard to make young people feel scared or ashamed of when it should be a positive.
I also grew up with parents who agreed on very little, save that when someone asks you for help, and you can help, that’s what you do. So, long story short, some folks asked for my help, and I could hep, so I did. They keep asking, and I still can help so I keep on helping. And almost above everything else, I take anyone trying to keep information from others very personally: withholding or hoarding information from people about anything, especially something as important as sexuality information, is a basic and major human rights infraction, as far as I’m concerned.
Over the years what has changed for you about the way you view human sexuality? Have you had any major breakthroughs or break downs?
I came into this already pretty darn geeky about sexuality, both when it came to books and study, but also to what I will delicately call extensive field work. So, walking in, I already had a very good sense of the diversity of human sexuality and had very little notion that I could ever possibly know all there is to know about it. The biggest shocker to me, once it really became my full-time job, was discovering how many people had such a hard time with it, how many people felt so awful or fearful about it, how many people felt dissatisfied or sexually stymied or lost. I also came of age up in-city and in the arts community, so while I wasn’t sheltered from much, and had some experiences with cultural bigotry, I honestly didn’t realize the level of hatred and fear so many people had about us queers until I started working in sexuality.
I also never cease to be amazed by how solid some people’s ideas about human sexuality are based on very limited experience, exposure and education. I hit a near-breakdown at least once a week everytime I have to hear someone telling me “how men are” or “how women are” based on little other than their own bitter and their own bias. People continuing to act shocked that young people are sexual, even though they have been since the dawn of time, is another one that puts me in a perpetual headspin.
Let’s talk about food! I heard it through the Vegline that you are vegan. I know I personally find this time of year a little daunting because it is all about going to see family and they aren’t always on top of the vegetarian game. What is your favorite vegan holiday recipe?
I’m half Mediterranean, so I love to cook: it’s my favorite meditation. I don’t usually do holidays, but I make a righteous vegan stuffing: cornbread crumbs, cranberries, walnuts, celery, shallots and a vegan apple-sage sausage. It’s best served in a bucket.
As a sexy woman who talks about sex do you ever run into situations where you’ve felt like people think you are welcoming objectification? (like, do total strangers send you really smutty personal sexual emails and think it is okay because you talk about sex?) And how do you deal with that?
I’m finding aging helps with that. Ten years ago, I had to deal with that a whole lot more than I ever do now, and I think I’ve my grey hairs and my increasingly cantankerous personality to thank.
But when I first started working in sexuality, it was pretty crazy. Two of my favorite emails like that I ever got — and when I say favorite, I mean comically appalling — were these: the first was a photo a French man sent me that I thought was of him making naked soup of himself, and I thought he somehow had the mistaken impression I was a cannibal. As a Shel Silverstein fan since childhood, I went to that Me-Stew place before I realized he simply had an exceptionally small metal bathtub.
The other was a letter from a man who told me in great detail how he looked at my work as a morning ritual during which he put cream in his coffee. By cream, he did not mean that tasty Silk soy creamer. Rather, he explained how he masturbated with his penis in his coffee cup until he ejaculated, thus “creaming” the coffee.
It’s a really good thing I love coffee so much, because otherwise, I may not have ever wanted a cup again.
What are you reading right now?
Too much! I always have a pile of five or six books by my bed. I just finished Marge Piercy’s Sex Wars and Julia Child’s My Life in France. Now I’m in the middle of Sin and the Second City by Karen Abbott, Hos, Hookers, Call Girls, and Rent Boys, Evelyn Resh’s The Secret Life of Teen Girls and this adolescent psychotherapy treatment planner that’s dreadfully boring, but helpful for work. I’m also reading through some articles for a spot I really like having on the editorial board of the American Journal of Sexuality Education.
What about your photography? Are there any series that you are especially attached to? (My personal favorites are your portraits and head shots)
Most of my work is portraiture, but a lot of it has been with subjects who wanted to sit for me to work on their own body image and to try and see themselves differently. While I love many of the photographic results of that work, my favorite part of it (as is the case with most of my artwork) is the process, not the product.
Showing someone sitting for that reason a few shots right on my camera, right in the moment and when we’re only just getting started, and seeing how it can create a change in self-image right there and then, and for the work that follows, is always the best part.
When you’re having a rotten day what can drag you out of it?
To come back to my senses, literally: cooking a great meal, having some sex, hula-hooping, improvising on my spinet, getting outside on my bike or in the garden, a long bath, a primal scream… or ideally, all of the above!
What’s currently going on in the sexual activism world that you wish more people knew about?
Some of the initiatives young women are working on are amazing. We’re talking about people who have more than one arena of huge discrimination to deal with, and yet, who are kicking ass better than many of those who are swimming in privilege. Jessica Yee’s Native Youth Sexual Health Network is so inspiring, for example, as is the I Am Dr. Tiller project and what Shelby Knox has been doing.
I’m not regretful I got into this work a little later than some activists are, because my years working in alternative schools and classrooms and doing other kinds of activism were clearly important foundations for how I do what I do now. However, I like to live a little vicariously by watching and cheering on younger activists, and I’m always so excited to see what they’re stirring up. We endlessly hear how young people don’t give a crap about anything, but that’s just not been my experience of young people at all.
In honor of the holidays this year, please consider giving your financial support to Scarleteen.com. Thanks- MTSS