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Friday, Nov. 16, 2012

How to Become a Sexuality Educator

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Last week, I led a lunchtime discussion at UW-Milwaukee for students who are interested in becoming sexuality educators. I get questions about this whenever I do a workshop on a college campus—people wonder how I got into the field and whether there is a clear-cut path for others to follow. The route I took when I was starting out in the 1990s, which mostly revolved around funding for HIV/AIDS prevention that has largely disappeared, doesn’t really exist anymore, but happily, there are many professional degrees, conferences and certifications that have sprung up since then. Marshall Miller and Dorian Solot, the awesome couple behind I © Female Orgasm, made an FAQ about some of them. Sex education pioneer Tristan Taormino is teaching a Sex Educator Boot Camp at CatalystCon, a conference about sexuality and activism, in March 2013. There are many roads to take today if it feels like sexuality education is your calling.

Whatever opportunities you pursue, please keep in mind that this is, in fact, a “real job,” and that you deserve to get paid for your work. Everyone has to do some volunteering, interning or trading services for publicity at the start of their career, but too often people assume that sexuality education is such a “fun” job that it becomes its own reward, or that it doesn’t require any special skills. As one of my favorite sex bloggers, Epiphora, recently tweeted, “What if you could pay for your groceries with sex toys. I ask because some people seem to think I can.” No amount of “free” swag or “free” publicity (in quotes because they are actually paid for with your labor) is going to pay your bills in our capitalist society.

Also, you are allowed to set and maintain personal boundaries about your own sex life and relationships when you are a sex educator. Many groundbreaking sex educators, such as Susie Bright, Deborah Sundahl, Carol Queen or the aforementioned Tristan Taormino, got their start by writing, filming or photographing very personal accounts of their own sexual explorations for feminist or indie publishers. At the time, they were kicking back against a society that denied female sexual agency and the existence of things like female ejaculation, queerness or consensual kink. Personal narratives that told otherwise were incredibly important, and still are today. But they aren’t mandatory. Despite the fact that it’s now the norm for people to share the most intimate details of their lives via social media and blogs, it’s OK to keep your sex life private if you want to. You can be a great sexuality educator without ever talking about what types of sex you are or are not having, and, in many circumstances, focusing on your audience rather than yourself makes you a better educator. Do what feels right and safe for you.

Laura Anne Stuart owns the Tool Shed, an erotic boutique on Milwaukee’s East Side. She has a master’s degree in public health and has worked as a sexuality educator for more than 15 years. Want Laura to answer your questions in SEXpress? Send them to laura@shepex.com. Not all questions received will be answered in the column, and Laura cannot provide personal answers to questions that do not appear here. Questions sent to this address may be reproduced in this column, both in print and online, and may be edited for clarity and content.

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