Six Tips to Becoming a Sex Educator
Sex education is a unique line of work. It’s often fulfilling, rarely dull, and for better or worse, people remember what you do for a living.
I’ve known I wanted to be a sex educator for as long as I knew the occupation existed, but what took me a while to discover was how to go about getting work in the field. People frequently ask me, “How do you become a sex educator?” So I wrote up six tips based on my experience in the field.
1. Explore what type of sex education you want to deliver.
As with law, medicine, or teaching more generally, there are as many different types of sex educators and specialties within the field as there are areas of need and interest. Some sex educators teach puberty education in primary schools, while others work exclusively with adults. Some work entirely online, while others work at universities or at community centers.
Megan Andelloux, founder of the Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health, has a comprehensive list of paths you can take in her article for sexualityprofessionals.com. Sex educator extraordinaire Charlie Glickman has conducted a number of “Sex Educator Profiles” for Good Vibrations online magazine, including an interview with me about my work in 2009. Take a look at his series for an in-depth look at the myriad of ways people have found meaningful sex ed work.
2. Think about why you want to be a sex educator.
What is it about the field that interests you? What motivates you to want to teach people about sex? The answer can be a key part of your message in creating your own niche.
Sometimes people have a formative experience that drives them to their interest in sex ed and it can be useful and motivating to connect with that. Frequently, I hear sex educators say they went into the field because they grew up with terrible sex ed and wanted to be a force for good in the world. Others say they had great sex ed, but recognized the rarity of that learning and it drove them to wanting to share that gift.
There’s an emotional component to sex education that often goes unrecognised and it can be helpful (and enlightening) to explore what emotions motivate your career choice. I’d argue that empathy is the most important characteristic in a sex educator and understanding your own processes is part of fostering that skill.
3. If you’re going the academic track, pick the right school.
I often get asked about choosing a university by aspiring sex educators. Very few schools offer sexuality-specific degrees, especially at the undergraduate level, and it can be difficult to determine which courses are best suited to inspiring a budding sex geek.
Instead of just focusing on majors and specific degrees, look for universities that have sexual health peer education programs. These can offer provide broader, more practical, and more relevant experience than academic classes and can give you something sex-ed-relevant to put on your resume even before you graduate. If your university doesn’t have a peer education community, you can start a Sex Geekdom hub and build one like they did at Sonoma State University.
4. Don’t limit yourself to schools with sexuality specific programs.
I’ve heard mixed things about sexuality-specific programs from former students. Some people love getting to throw themselves into the niche disciplines they love, while others find it limiting. I’m in no way trying to discourage anyone from going that path if it’s inspiring to them, I just want to encourage thinking about degrees more broadly.
Early in my career, many more-experienced sex educators advised me to study sexuality through a related discipline, rather than looking for “human sexuality” in a major or program title. I decided to get a BA in Anthropology, and I often find that this background gives me a useful lens through which to examine sexual health issues. While my required “History of Anthropological Thought” class was rather like watching paint dry, I’m grateful for the perspective I got from a theoretic background (and I got to meet sex-positive fellow classmates like Airial Clark).
After graduation, I wanted to pursue a grad degree with a little more practical application, so I chose to do a Masters in Public Health. There’s no one academic path that works for everyone, but I feel confident I chose the right one for me.
5. Have realistic but ambitious career goals.
It’s likely that you won’t have full-time sex educator work straight from the get-go. Many sex educators I know volunteered (or worked very cheaply) for years before they found a full-time sex ed gig.
It can be helpful to “keep your day job,” as they say, while you build up the career of your dreams. There are a number of jobs that aren’t sex-related specifically, but help you build skills relevant to your dream job. Tangentially-related competencies like web design, anything involving public speaking, and research assistance work (to name a few) can give you a more reliable pay check while also building skills to make you a better, more marketable sex educator.
So, have your dose of pragmatism, but also keep you eye on the horizon. I’m a big fan of having written (and frequently updated!), clearly articulated goals to remind you where you’d like to be eventually. Leading into tip #6, I often find that my Twitter network of sex educators helps remind me of those goals, which in turn helps me stay inspired and motivated.
Social media can be a sex educator’s best friend, particularly Twitter. Twitter allows you to create connections with experienced sex educators with or without a formal introduction, giving you daily access to the latest sex education news, research, and personal stories of people who could be your mentors.
If you’re new to Twitter, this is an excellent intro guide to the medium. In addition to your social media resources, check your local college or university for sexuality-related events. If you have a feminist sex toy store in your community, that can be a fantastic resource as well.
Most sex ed jobs aren’t listed on recruiting websites like monster.com – they’re found through word of mouth. The more people in the field you know, the more likely you are to find work. Obviously, this is true for most fields, but because sex ed requires a lot of trust and the fostering of safe space, organizations often want to hire people that are a known quantity – at least through one or two degrees of separation.
Connecting with other sex ed-minded folks is great for professional reasons obviously, but also has implications for your mental and social well-being. Sex ed work can be confronting, and can feel like you’re fighting a tide of prejudice and tradition, and a network of similarly-minded and -motivated peers can be a powerful remedy for burnout.
Creating community for sex ed folks is particularly important to me, so I started organizing Sex Geekdom get-togethers several times a month in Melbourne, Australia. Now there are Sex Geekdom hubs all over the world. Having a community of folks to support me is not only key to maintaining my business connections, it’s key to my self-care.
To that end, she writes articles and facilitates workshops on how to build amazing relationships. You can find out more about Kate at KateMcCombs.com