So you want to become a sex educator, good for you!
I, for one, believe there are far too few of us out there. I am very sincere in saying this.
I'm proud to say that I've been a sex educator working in the San Francisco Bay Area for 10 years! This is by far the longest career I've ever had, and I couldn't be happier about my choice of vocation.
I'm not here to say that I am the best sex educator out there right now. There will ALWAYS be others in the field who are more in demand, get paid more, have more impressive credentials, etc.. Realizing this little tidbit (sooner rather than later) is actually a really good thing.
Believe it or not, just being able to talk openly about sex and sexuality does not a sex educator make. Think about it this way--being able to argue a great point doesn't necessarily make you a lawyer. Not everyone is going to agree with my suggestions for breaking into the field, and that is totally ok. My foray into sex education was pretty unique. I can only offer suggestions and talk from my personal experience.
When I first decided that I wanted to pursue a career in sex education, I began with an exhaustive google search. Being close to the city of San Francisco totally worked in my benefit. From what I could tell, there were plenty of people doing the type of work I desired.
When it came down to figuring out what trainings to take it became apparent that I could choose one of two areas: Reproductive Health (i.e. Planned Parenthood) or Community Health Outreach. I'm not knocking those who work at Planned Parenthood. It wasn't the path I saw myself taken--besides the fact that they were not interested in me. I'm not proud to say this, but, I was never even able to get an interview. So, when it comes to Planned Parenthood, I am not a great resource.
In 2002 I found out that sex educators were referred to as "community health workers." The name of the game as also HIV/AIDS. It's where the funding was and where I needed to be. When you boil everything down, outreach workers are basically roaming sex educators.
But how does one become a sex educator?
Again, there is no single route, so I will put a few out there for you to consider.
If you are currently enrolled in college, it might be easier than you think!
- Take courses in Anthropology, Sociology, Sexuality, and/or Public Health
- Check to see what your institution offers as far as student health services--they might just have a sexual health component that is peer driven or run. This is probably your best introduction for working in the field of sexual health
- Sex educators are often called other names; health outreach worker, student health worker, outreach worker, peer health adviser, peer health advocate, etc.
- If you particular institution is lacking in offering the above coursework, you might want to consider the option of finding a professor who will supervise a independent study. I did this when there were no courses available in criminal justice.
For those of you who are not university students, here are a few suggestions.
Read as much as you can!
I have an entire book case filled with resource books on human sexuality. I wouldn't so much bother with academic books used for human sexuality classes. Besides being super expensive, there are better books out there. Look for good, comprehensive books on sex and sexuality. Amazon has a shit load of books for sale, so look for ones that are highest rated. Alternatively, check out the book section of your local popular sex toy retailer (either in the store or online). By going to the well known and reputable sex toy retailers or websites, you are pretty much guaranteed to purchase the best books out there.
Research and contact your local community health clinics.
These clinics are mostly around for people who have no insurance, are not super trusting of physicians, or rarely have access to good medical information. Many of these clinics specialize in HIV/STI testing and it is often a free service or people pay what they can afford. Check to see if they need volunteers or interns...they almost always will, but it will be unpaid.
See if you can speak to the Program Director for volunteers of the Program Director for health workers. If you get access to this person (email or a phone numbers are great things to know!) ask them where their staff receives their training. Get specifics about this. In some cases it might very well be a state-run training center. Get as much information as you can get without being a pain in the ass. I'm serious about the pain in the ass thing--sometimes health clinics or community providers need to "sponsor" your training, so don't piss off the person who could be your potential supervisor.
When I went through my HIV tester training, I was sponsored by API Wellness in San Francisco. They got me into the free training in return for me volunteering weekly as an HIV tester. Each week and for a few hours I spent time in their HIV testing clinic. The API testing clinic is a free service to the community. Of course, my time was unpaid and I was chaperoned by more experienced HIV testers.
Consider becoming an HIV tester even if you aren't totally jazzed on the idea. You get actionable training that teaches you about diverse sexual activity, sexual risk, and how to talk to almost anyone about their sex life. I would only avoid this training if you are afraid of needles, as many of the newer HIV testing protocols require a Phlebotomy's (drawing small blood samples) certification as well.
Different community health clinics serve a wide range of demographics in San Francisco. Here, you will find health clinics that specialize in diverse populations like sex workers, women, transgender, gay, youth, youth who live on the street, Hispanic, African/Black, Asian, Native American, and other communities. Think of every possibility when making a list of the community clinics in or around your area.
Consider contacting your local or semi local sex clubs.
Most cities have them, although they might be harder to find. You can try doing a google search, and don't forget to search the term "swingers" and "BDSM". Many sex clubs have affiliations with local community clinics. This means they community organization will provide on site HIV/STI testing as well as distributing free condoms and lube. I would suggest looking at their websites and seeing if they have a tab for resources. You might be able to get the information for who does the outreach, and then you know who to contact. You can always try to call or email them if they have their contact information on the site. If you happen to live in the area, you could also consider dropping by or making an appointment with the manager.
Consider checking out the professional organization called AASECT.
It stands for the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists. You can become a member if you are so inclined. It has a pretty extensive resources area where you can get more information about the organization, how to become certified as a sex educator, and much more.
**FYI, I'm not AASECT certified, and I honestly don't believe it has hindered my particular professional development. It might be something to strongly consider if you happen to live in an area that is not so sex educator friendly.**
Check out your local non-seedy sex toy retail store and see if they are hiring.
Also, google it to see if there are any stores you might have missed or don't know about. Non-seedy sex toy retailers like Good Vibrations put an emphasis on education. All of their employees go through a mandatory (yet totally fun) training that focuses on how to best direct customers to the right sex toy, lube, erotica, pornography, etc.. If they are currently not hiring, try to find out who is the education manager. If you are persistent enough and polite then they will most likely have a resource or two for you.
Check out other the blogs and websites of other sex educators.
Many sex educators have what I call a "so you want to be a sex educator" post. Do not overlook these! They are rich in information and resources. Don't be shy about contacting those sex educators you most relate to. If you happen to live close to your favorite sex educator there is no harm in offering to buy them coffee or lunch. However, I absolutely caution you against having high expectations. Almost every sex educator I know is up to their eye balls with work. Emails are a huge time zap. If you don't get much traction with an email then try to connect with them on social media. It is pretty easy to build an organic relationship through Twitter & Facebook.
Consider what type of sex educator you want to be.
Sex educators comes in many forms. Some work in sex toy retail stores, some work on HIV/AIDS hotlines, some work with a specific demographic, etc.. It became clear to me after doing my research that my best bet in becoming a sex educator was to work in the HIV/AIDS community. Remember, I followed the funding.
When I became a professional sex educator I found out that I was going to be working with individuals in one on one settings as well as groups of people. The funny thing about being a sex educator is that it is plausible to find yourself talking to individuals in a one on one setting one day while finding yourself on stage and talking to hundreds of people the next day. While it is a wonderful quality to have, not all sex educators have to be public speakers.
If you plan on working within the public school system, then expect that you will not be doing a whole lot of sex educating. In order for me (and the agency I worked for) to be "school appropriate", I was required to take a workshop sponsored by the San Francisco school district. It was kinda lumped into information on nutrition and exercise. Most public schools require a parent's signature allowing their child to attend workshops/presentations covering human sexuality.
Because all of this can be somewhat overwhelming, it might be easier to figure out your preferred demographic and then work backwards.
Be wary of programs that require you to pay them money in order to become certified in sex education.
Like I mentioned above, most HIV/STI training is free to people associated with any agency that funds this type of work. This is not something that can be purchased, you need to actually go through the training. AASECT members pay yearly dues to be associated with them, but you can not buy yourself the title of "AASECT certified sex educator". The process of becoming one is exhaustive to say the least.
If you want to become a professional sex educator then there is no way of getting around having to attend some sort of trainings or workshops on human sexuality. One organization named SFSI is well known for fostering new sex educators. SFSI (San Francisco Sex Information) offers training in comprehensive sexuality education. I'm an alum (2002). SFSI offers this unique training twice a year. The training happens on the weekend (both Saturday and Sunday), and lasts about 3 months. For what you get, the cost is pretty nominal. I think it is somewhere between $150 - $250 for the full training cycle.
I know of no other program where you can pay money to become a sex educator. I would strongly caution anyone against a program that claims they certify sex educators. Seriously, even if they do "certify" you, consider that it is totally possible that the only organization that recognizes such certification is their own!
My first sex educator training was life changing, but it was also very intense and rigorous. It lasted all day long and for 2 full weeks. Because I was not currently working in a non profit organization (or anywhere else), I was required to pay out of pocket. By the end of the training, I was still unemployed but was now certified as a Community Health Outreach Worker (CHOW) in the state of California. Me saying that I really wanted to attend this training is an understatement! Once I found out about it, I was totally there. The fact that this training even existed was not easy to come by. I practically had to stalk someone who was currently working as an outreach worker to get the connection. Once I knew about the training, I was determined to make it happen. Happily, it was a wonderful way for me to meet people that I ended up working with (directly and indirectly) in the future.
Here's the deal--theoretically, anyone can call themselves a sex educator.
I'm not sure if I have properly described how complex it was for me to track down who trains sex educators in the San Francisco Bay Area. It was also made more difficult because sex educators are mostly referred to as community health outreach workers. Even after I got the connection, I had to wait until the next cycle of training. I'm sad to say that the non profit agency that held the contract for certifying outreach workers in the State of California is no longer in existence.
Think about how becoming a sex educator will impact your life.
When it comes to sex educators, people have all sorts of ideas about what we do. Some think we are sex workers, some think we have sex in front of them, some think we get naked, etc..
It's funny that people don't usually make these types of assumptions if you replace the word "health" with the word "sex." Some sex educators are really fortunate in that their partner(s) and family support their work. From what I have seen, this is pretty rare. Most of the times the topic of sex and sexuality makes people so patently uncomfortable that they can't wrap their head around what we do.
Also, in case I haven't made this perfectly clear, do not expect a big ole payday if you wish to become a sex educator. Many of my suggestions are for unpaid internships or volunteer work. Sex educators who work for community health clinics or HIV/STI non profits rarely make more than $14 to $20 per hour.
My first job as a professional sex educator included a round trip commute of 90 miles, working only 20 hours a week, and making $11/hour. Even sex educators who are pretty well known generally aren't rolling in money. It takes years to build up a reputation, and people generally aren't wanting to pay you a lot (if anything) for the information you have amassed.
Oh yeah, expect that others are going to be very curious about your own sex life and sexuality. Essentially, there is no right or wrong way of dealing with this. You can contribute as much or as little information as you wish when people ask you about your sex life. And trust me, you will get asked!
As far as I'm concerned, one of the most important qualities of being a kick ass sex educator is being sex positive. Almost everyone has their own definition of what it means. I see it as being curious, open, and able to acknowledge that sexuality is an entire spectrum. It's important that people don't walk away feeling as if you have judged them and what type of sex they have. This means that you need to be able to (and with ease) talk openly about sexual activity that you are not personally into.
Even though this is a wicked long blog post, know that I am not perfect and probably have left out some key points. I will update this post as other stuff comes to my attention.
Wishing you the very best of luck!