You want to be a sex educator? Great! The world needs more sex educators! This page will give you some more information about how to get started.
If you’re like many of us, you’ve noticed how easy it is for friends to pursue their career passions. If you want to be a lawyer, for example, you can take pre-law courses in college, intern for law firms over the summer, apply to law schools throughout the country, take the LSAT, and you’re on your way. With sexuality education, the path isn’t as clearly marked, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find your way and make a lifelong career out of educating others about healthy sexuality.
For those looking for ways to get started, we’ve got a few suggestions:
First, read everything about sex you can find. Odds are that if you’re interested in this career path, you may already be doing this, but if you don’t, make it a habit to check out the sex section of any bookstore you’re in – look at every book. Most people go to the sex section of bookstores to find something they are personally interested in, or to solve a specific problem they have. A sex educator goes beyond what they are personally interested in to get a grasp on everything other people want to read about. If it’s on the shelf in the bookstore, someone wants to know about it, and if you read it, you’ll be able to educate them based on what you’ve learned.
Next, take a look at who is already doing sexuality education in your community, and see what you can learn from them. One of the best places for this is your local Planned Parenthood affiliate. Many Planned Parenthoods have libraries packed with great information on sexuality, trainings on sexuality-related topics, and opportunities to volunteer. For example, the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts offers a three-day training called the Sexuality Education Cornerstone Seminar. Other agencies that might have opportunities for training and volunteering are HIV/AIDS service organizations; gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender groups; and agencies that work with youth. You might try calling different agencies and setting up “informational interviews” with staff there to learn about what they do and see if there are ways you can get training, volunteer, borrow materials, shadow an educator, etc.
If you’re lucky enough to live in or near the handful of cities with feminist sex toy and bookstores, they can also provide great opportunities for browsing, taking classes, and talking to the staff. Stores like these pride themselves on being friendly, well-lit, sex-positive, and welcoming to people of all genders and sexual orientations.
If you’re ready to dive in a bit deeper, one potential next step is to attend a national conference or workshop on sexuality. The Sex Ed Conference is the largest conference in the United States that is exclusively devoted to sex education. It’s held annually in New Jersey and organized by The Center for Sex Education.
There are two national organizations, American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists (ASSECT) and Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality (the acronym is pronounced “Quad-S”) focused on sexuality education and research and they each hold an annual conference. We’d also recommend spending some time looking at the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) website and the website of Center for Research & Education on Gender and Sexuality, including the information about their Summer Institute.
You also might want to explore taking a SAR, or Sexual Attitude Reassessment. One of the oldest and most respected of these was the Annual Thornfield Workshop on Sexuality, which unfortunately has long stopped its regular summer offerings, but will forever be memorialized in Brian McNaught’s book Sex Camp. You can find an upcoming listing of SARs and other educational offerings here. Depending on your particular interest, there are numerous other conferences on sexuality-related topics, including gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender issues; women’s sexuality; and youth sexuality education. In general, conferences and workshops are a great way to get more education about sexuality, to network with other people in the field, and to learn about other opportunities you might want to pursue.
Marshall is a trainer of teachers for Our Whole Lives, a comprehensive sexuality education program created by the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ Board of Homeland Ministries. OWL is taught in both faith-based and community settings, such as Planned Parenthood affiliates. Even if you’re not in a position to teach OWL, the trainings themselves provide a great learning opportunity for aspiring sex educators. Check the online calendar for upcoming dates.
Believe it or not, it is possible to get a Ph.D. in Sexology. Two of the best known doctoral level sexuality programs in the United States are the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality in San Francisco and the one hosted at Widener University, just outside of Philadelphia. Both programs offer night and weekend classes, to enable students to continue to work while pursuing their degrees. Widener also hosts a “Careers in Sexuality” conference every year. You can see a list of other programs at the Quad-S website. Of course, you can get just about any graduate degree and make the focus of your study (and your dissertation) a sexuality-related topic. Many successful professional sex educators do not have a degree in the field, but it is an option, particularly if you’d like to become a professor at a university.
As you explore these different opportunities, you might want to think about what aspects of sexuality education appeal to you the most, and what types of skills you have that you believe will be most useful for this work. Some people really enjoy writing about sex. Others like public speaking and educating groups. Others want to research sex in a lab. Below is our unofficial list of a few of the different “tracks” a person with an interest in sex could pursue.
School and youth track: This includes school health teachers, guidance counselors, and people who work in school- and community-based programs designed to reduce HIV, STIs, and unwanted pregnancies among youth. While this track may have the greatest number of jobs, it’s also one of the most challenging, given that many youth programs are currently required to teach only abstinence until marriage.
Academic/scientific/medical track: After receiving a graduate degree, you might get a position at a university or a place like the Kinsey Institute, to conduct sexuality research. Or you might be a medical provider who addresses sexual problems, performs gender reassignment surgeries, or provides OB/GYN care.
Academic/humanities track: This includes teaching women’s studies with a focus on sexuality, and gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender studies.
Community health track: This includes people who work in HIV, STI, and pregnancy prevention programs targeted to adults, both in the United States and in developing countries. Many of these programs promote safer sex among populations at high risk for HIV, and are funded through public health grants.