As a sex educator who puts myself out there, I get a lot of people asking me the same question: how I do get into the sex educator field?
For the purposes of this blog, I am not going to be talking about advanced degrees. That is a whole blog topic in and of itself. My tips are geared more towards those who are looking to get into the field out of college or perhaps wish to change careers.
One thing to always keep in mind is that you really need to do your research before you contact any specific person or agency. It is counterproductive to just call up agencies without having a clear idea of what you are looking for. This decreases the chance of wasting every ones time.
When I made the decision to embark on a career in sex education, I was tenacious. I researched the hell out of it! One common job came up repeatedly in my searching and that was for an outreach worker. Eureka! I now had a tangible job title to help me on my quest.
What is an outreach worker? The easiest description I have is to think of a mobile sex educator. Outreach workers (OW) literally reach out (get it?) to the most under-served, highest risk, and hardest to reach populations. In San Francisco this meant that OW's hit up sex clubs, what people would call sketchy neighborhoods, public restrooms, places that are known for "cruising", high schools, public parks, youth groups, homeless youth, and sometimes colleges and universities. No joke, I wanted in to this job!
The internet was hugely important in that I could search for organizations and sometimes individuals who specialize in this work. Don't get me wrong, a lot of my initial efforts went unanswered. This is where my attention to detail, perseverance, and gentle stalking abilities can into play. Eventually, I did come in contact with someone who assisted me towards becoming a State of California Community Outreach Worker (CHOW). This training, sadly, is no longer offered.
So if this no longer exists, how is this remotely helpful to you? It was during my CHOW training that I learned about other agencies who do Peer Health Education and HIV/STI testing.
If you are looking to get into the field of sex education, I highly recommend you contact the city and county health clinics closest to where you live. Ask about volunteering in their clinic and what you need to do in order to make that happen. Don't be surprised if they ignore your calls. Be proactive. Check out their website for what services they offer and also make sure to find the "contact us" or "meet the staff" pages. Most city and county clinics are large enough that they even have their own volunteer coordinator. Because you will be volunteering in a health clinic, most places require fingerprints, photo id, proof of recent tb testing, and sometimes even a chest xray.
You can also research which health related and community based non profits are in your area. Many non profits are community specific, so you need to search terms like youth, asian, american indian, black, latino, LGBTQIQ, HIV/AIDS, etc. Again, most non profits get by on the valuable assistance of community volunteers. The agency I worked for served HIV positive youth. We often choose our full time employees from those who were already volunteering with the agency.
You may also want to search the term "hiv testing clinics" for your particular area. Again, thoroughly check out the individual websites and then approach them about how to become certified as an HIV tester or how to volunteer in the clinic. I should point out that most HIV testers now hold Phlebotomy certificates because they are required to draw blood for various HIV/STI tests. Google the term "phlebotomy training" to find out more information.
You may have noticed that I didn't suggest you contact Planned Parenthood. I have no idea if they use volunteers but I bet you can find that information on their website. What I understand about Planned Parenthood is that they primarily provide services related to reproduction. They are less about sex education and more about reproductive health. I could be totally wrong, so check out their website for more accurate information.
You probably also noticed that all my suggestions are volunteer based. Volunteer = no money, so that is a factor you need to seriously consider. If you are lucky enough to find a job as a Health Educator, Peer Counselor, or HIV Tester you need to know that the pay sucks. When I first started as an outreach worker I was working only 20 hours a week at $11/hour and it included a 90 mile commute.
So there you have it. My top tips for becoming a sex educator! It basically comes down to this: figure out which population you want to serve, do a lot of research, then contact specific agencies for potential peer educator or volunteer opportunities.
If you are trying to get into the field and encountering a lot of road blocks, I would be happy to speak with you individually.