**The following post was originally written by my good friend and fellow sexuality educator, Megan Andelloux. It has been re-printed with her authorization.**
So, You want to be a Sexuality Educator?
How does one become a Sexuality Educator? Is it really a legitimate field of study? Can I get a degree in Human Sexuality? It can be a pretty confusing road to travel down if you don’t have some guidelines on how to break into the field. Well lucky for you, I have created this section to provide some tools to help you find your way to becoming a sexual health educator/sexuality educator
So what do Sexual Health Educators do?
We create an environment in which people of all ages can gain information, skills, and motivation to become sexually healthy individuals. We educate on many aspects of sexuality, such as; homosexuality, sexual orientations, sexually transmitted diseases, birth control options, self-esteem, abortion, sexual violence, healthy and unhealthy relationships, masturbation, puberty, menopause, pregnancy, values, reproduction, decision making, communication, safer sex, parent-child communication, sexual harassment, body image, sexual pleasure, life skills, GYN care, and many other topics.
Comfort and skill in public speaking is a must to become an effective sexual health educator. We talk with as few people as 2 to as many as 400. Sexuality Educators need knowledge and skills to develop, implement, and evaluate programs focusing on or relating to sexuality. We suggest getting in touch with a sexual health educator early on in your journey to become a sexual health educator and asking if you could shadow her/him during a workday. Then you can observe first-hand how they interact with their audiences, the skills they possess, the information they know, and just ask them questions. This shadowing can provide an extremely valuable opportunity. One can discover a direction that they would like to follow and information they might have never known they needed.
There are basically two different paths one can take to become a sexuality educator. There is no one correct way. One path is more individualistic and unstructured while the other is more formal and academic. Each approach has its benefits and challenges. We will walk you through both paths to give you more information about which route might be best for you.
The Informal Route:
The advantages of this route are many. Most people who work in the field of sexuality education did not plan on being sexual health educators. They "fell" into the field. Here are some examples from Sexuality Educators:
Some individuals choose to become interns at the end of their college years at organizations that housed Sexuality Educators. Rocking the company's world as an intern can be extra incentive for them to hire you!
One person who was working in another field saw an ad to become a sexual educator. Her values were right in alignment with those of her own life and so she applied and got the job!!
It is important to note that higher education is usually a requirement for Sexuality Educators. Most Educators/Trainers hold at least a Bachelor’s Degree, increasingly, more are now the proud owners of a Master’s.
So you can see that people can become Sexual Health Educators/ Trainers (or Community Educators) from an informal route, and it was beneficial to them. Some obvious benefits include: they did not need to find a school that held majors in human sexuality; they were able to apply their skills acquired from previous experience to sexuality education; and they are able to holistically approach sexuality education as they worked in other fields that can be brought into this line of work.
However, there can be some challenges as well. The challenge most often mentioned by educators who went the informal route is feeling the need to “catch up” on memorizing and understanding basic information crucial to the field of human sexuality, such as anatomy, physiology, birth control methods and sexually transmitted infection/disease information. It can also be difficult trying to break into the field; knowing whom to contact, which organizations are sex-positive, and how to learn the appropriate information.
Once you decide you want to become a sexuality educator, apply for an entry level position at sex positive organizations, such as some listed at the end of this document. Be prepared and willing to work a flexible schedule that includes early mornings, afternoons, evenings, nights, and weekends. Keep in mind that starting salary can be barely above minimum wage. This is called “paying your dues”. The money will increase, along with the satisfaction that you are doing something you believe in!
So the steps that these informal paths seem to have in common include:
Apply to a college/university and graduate in a field you enjoy
Find a job in your field of interest.
Get some professional experience under your belt (to become more marketable!)
Look around at different areas of sexuality education (would you be interested in educating on HIV, Men’s issues, birth control, abortion rights, sexual orientation, tolerance, etc).
You should also consider researching organizations that work in your area of interest. Write, stop by, call and ask these organizations if they have a volunteer coordinator you could speak with about volunteering your time.
Put in some time with the organization. Keep your eyes open for job postings. One might be the one for you!
The Formal Route:
Then there is a more formal and academic route. The advantages of this route include: knowing what your basic interest is early on in your academic years and expanding into an area of more focus; not having to "catch up", you’ll be aware of the newest information that has come out; and you will also have at your fingertips individuals who can assist you in the journey to becoming a sexual health educator. This can be a major benefit -- who you know can do wonders for your career path! Not to say that there aren’t disadvantages to going the formal route-for example, trying to find a college/university that has a major in human sexuality is pretty difficult. If you do graduate with a degree in human sexuality, you can be limiting yourself in terms of the job market. There are not a plentitude of Human Sexuality Educator jobs available once you graduate so you may have to do something else until your dream job opens up. A prospective employer could look at your resume and see that you majored in Human Sexuality and not take your discipline as a serious matter. So you could choose to major in another field of study, but focus your attention on "sexuality". Here are some tips to help you if you choose to go the formal route:
If you’re in college or looking at colleges look for bachelor degree programs: psychology, biology, education, anthropology, sociology, women’s studies, public health, or other similar majors. Then look to see what courses are offered in each of these majors. In some colleges you can receive a major in any of the above, but focus your study in Human Sexuality. For example, in the following fields look for these classes:
Psychology of Gender
Psychology of Homosexuality
Psychology of Sexuality
Human Sexuality Education
Anthropology of Sexuality
Sociology of Gender
Sociology of Sexuality
Biology of Gender
Biology of Reproduction
Neurobiology of Reproduction
Human Development and Family Studies
Early Childhood Development
Human Sexuality 101
Marriage and Family
History of Birth Control
For those of you who are determined to receive a degree specifically in Human Sexuality, the options are not as wide as the ones listed above. Colleges and universities that offer a major in Human Sexuality usually list it in the Education Department, the School of Medicine, Psychology Department or Sociology Department. Some say it is more difficult to receive a degree in Human Sexuality and be taken seriously by the scientific professional community unless you have a higher degree from another field. But it can be done if you are determined enough! Please be warned that in some cases you will need to be accepted into these departments before you can be accepted into the Human Sexuality program. Remember to keep pursuing your dream, but do it by setting reasonable goals that you can accomplish.
Also, when you are researching potential schools, check out the research the professors are involved in at the school. Call, write, or e-mail these professors and talk to them about their particular field of research. Does their interest mesh with yours? If so, that is potentially a good match. If not, look around until you find one that interests you.
What else can I do while I am on the way to getting my degree?
Become a Peer Educator!
See if your college has a Peer Education program. Peer Educators are individuals who teach people of their own age group about sexuality matters, drug/alcohol information and discuss relationship issues. Peer education is effective because people are more apt to understand and apply information presented to them because it came from someone of their own age group. It also is empowering to the peer educators themselves!! They are learning valuable, marketable skills like public speaking, education skills, and health information. Peer Educators receive intensive training that enables them to educate and provide resources and referrals to other students on various health-related issues (sexuality and relationships are often key). Once trained, peer educators then design workshops for their peers and present them at residence halls, fraternities, sororities, health weeks, and large events held on campus.
Get a Mentor!
A mentor is an individual who guides you through the process of getting into the field of human sexuality. Someone who challenges your thoughts, peaks your interest on new information, and is someone you can bounce ideas, thoughts, concerns off of. They can also bring you to major events and introduce you to important people in the field. Try to find a certified sexual health educator, counselor, or therapist in your area by looking in the phone book, newspaper, HMO directory, alternative newspapers, or AASECT. The most important organizations for those working in the field of Human Sexuality, as they are the people who give the certification of being a reputable sexuality educator, counselor, and/or therapist. Anyone can say they are a "sex educator" but to be backed by AASECT shows that you have undergone numerous requirements and that not only are you a sexual health educator, therapist, or counselor, but that you are reputable. A certified sexual health educator, therapist, or counselor can help you in numerous ways by linking you with all the right organizations, events, people, and issues that are taking place in the world of sexuality that you might not know of. Ask if you can donate your time to help them with their work (grading papers if they are a professor, scheduling appointments if they are a counselor, etc.).
Internships are highly recommended because they are a good way of opening the door into the field you want to work in. At the end of this section there is a list of organizations that are dedicated to the field of human sexuality. Write them a letter stating how you would like to intern at their organization. Not only will you gain valuable skills, you will be adding to your resume!
Experience a SAR (Sexual Attitude Reassessment)
A SAR is required if you are planning on becoming certified through AASECT. A SAR is an intense professional learning experience in which you are "bombarded" with a variety of sexually explicit media (relating to a variety of sexuality issues). Then with the assistance of skilled professional facilitators you process your feelings, values, and experiences. SARS can last as few as two days and as long as five. It is a way to put you in touch with your "trigger points" and identify your comfort level with different aspects of sexuality and sexual expression. You can find out where SARs are located in your area by contacting AASECT or SSSS (Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality).
Join a Professional Society
Some societies will only accept scientists with publications behind their names, but some of them accept interested lay people or students as well. Some relevant professional societies include:
American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT)
American Board of Sexology (ABS)
Association for Reproductive Health Professionals (ARHP)
Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA)
Sexuality Information Council of the United States (SIECUS)
Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality (SSSS)
World Association for Sexology (WAS)
Subscribe to a Journal
There is no better way to be on top of all the major issues taking place in the study of sexuality than to read about them. Some relevant professional journals include:
The Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality
The Journal of Sex Research
They can be accessed at a college or university library, or on line.
How do a find a CERTIFIED Sexuality Educator, Therapist, Counselor?
Call, write, email AASECT (American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists). They have established minimum educational and supervisory criteria for certifying sex counselors, therapists and educators. HMO directories as well may have this information. They have listed all the certified individuals working in the field of sexuality in your area. They also have a booklet that describes everything one needs to do to become a certified AASECT member. It is strongly recommended that one become certified if entering into this field as it gives you much more authority.
There are a variety of ways to break into the field of sexuality education. For example, The Good Vibrations Magazine has a special section named: Sex Education Profiles. Every two weeks they highlight a sex educator to show how other professionals have begun (and continue to) work in the field.
Regardless of which path you choose or what environment you work in you will be affirming that sexuality is a natural, healthy part of life and that all individuals have the right to manage their own sexual health. Through your work you can help individuals access the knowledge and information to realize that right.