Scarleteen is a website born before its time.
Now over 20 years old, Scarleteen is a frank, fun, sex-positive, trans, non-binary, LGBTQ+- and survivor-inclusive sex education website for teens. But it’s helped a lot of adults over the years too, offering up a style of sex education so many of us were denied in the uncomfortable classroom videos and adverted eyes that marked the formal sex education of our youths. In a world where sex ed still often doesn’t even mention the existence of trans bodies, queer people, or non-reproductive sex— which contributes to the disproportionate rates of sexual and intimate partner violence for trans/non-binary people— Scarleteen sees us, saying in their coming out guide, “we hope every time you open up to someone about your truth they respond with love and kindness. But we also want to make sure you’re prepared in case they don’t.” In 2016, they had a series called “Trans Summer School” featuring Sam Smith, that covered big ideas about gender and the small steps to actualizing them. And pretty much everything they write about sexuality includes an approachable but comprehensive discussion of trauma, triggers, and consent. With its focus overt inclusiveness of all sexual orientations and gender identities, as well as on consent, Scarleteen is basically the perfect source of sexuality information for trans survivors.
Ah, consent. Scarleteen defines it as “an active, mutual process of willingly and freely deciding and negotiating sex of any kind with someone else.” Sex in the absence of consent is sexual assault, so consent matters a lot. And becoming fluent in it can help keep ourselves and our partners safe from harm. More than any other source I can think of, Scarleteen has worked to break down verbal consent into bite size components that will even fit in mouths that have never stopped making out long enough to ask “is this okay?” Scarleteen teaches us that consent is a skill, a routine, a habit that we are all capable of learning, even though it is also an individual process requiring not just rote memorization, but reflection and self-knowledge.
To support the latter, they created a tool that is the subject of this blog post: the Yes, No, Maybe inventory. It’s an exhaustive (6 pages!) list of romantic and sexual possibilities with blanks next to them where one can write abbreviations for yes, no, maybe, I don’t know, fantasy, and not applicable. For example, how do you feel about giving manual sex? Receiving it? What about spanking and being spanked? Being naked with the lights on? What about with the lights low? There are also some prompts to write in words you use for body parts, body parts you don’t want touched, etc. The whole list is not just survivor-centric, it also uses trans-inclusive language: specific body parts are listed but they’re not associated with a gender
The existence of this list is an acknowledgement that we don’t automatically know everything about our sexualities and desires, or even all the possible sexual and romantic acts we could engage in. We are not magically imbued with the knowledge of how we feel about frottage. So when someone asks what we want, it is normal to sometimes freeze up and be uncertain. It’s also normal to have likes and dislikes change over time. This tool allows for that complexity and fluidity. This may be particularly relevant for trans survivors, whose preference might change through shifts like coming out, transitioning, and healing from trauma.
As the website explains, the list can be used in at least two ways:
- As a tool to know yourself, to know what is possible, and to take space with yourself to reflect on how you feel about the possibilities.
- After filling it out alone, to compare notes with a partner, to find the places your desires and interests intersect, and to learn each other’s boundaries. Scarleteen cautions against doing this on the first date, saying “If you are going to do this with a partner, also be sure you’re both earnestly ready to know and accept all of each other’s truths (and to be truthful). Make some agreements in advance about the way you’ll both address this with each other with maturity and care.” While the list may be a daunting amount of fine print and disclosure for a first date, it can also be a useful introduction to each other’s needs and quirks that may be better suited to earlier in the relationship.
The list helps ease the awkwardness of disclosing trauma and dysphoria triggers, and can prevent the pain and panic of suddenly finding them bubble to the surface during intimate moments with someone you recently met. It gives a literal space to say “don’t touch my elbow” so you don’t have to yell it—or dissociate—when it happens unexpectedly.
Scarleteen’s yes/no/maybe list is not the only list of its kind. There are several others, which are lovely for more specific contexts. But Scarleteen’s list is the most accessible and the most comprehensive, covering a bit of everything: a bit about relationship style, a bit about kink, a bit about reproductive choices (again, without linking it to a specific gender). It is a good beginning, a path to the base camp of sexual self-awareness, as well as a hike pretty far up the mountain. You don’t need to know terms like top and bottom or sub and dom to fill it out. You just need to reflect on whether you’re comfortable with, say, exposure to body fluid. The list offers a safe space in which to get to know ourselves and someone else—and maybe safely get it on too.