Jul 252011
 

Surprisingly, sex education is a fairly thankless job. While there is often the bonus of fun work which I am passionate about, and the occasional free sex toys to test and review, overall, there is a lot of drama. You have to promote yourself constantly to get bookings, you usually have to work a full time just that is not connected to sexuality, or if it is, usually not the side that you’re passionate about. You have to deal with people (friends, family, co-workers and strangers) judging your choice of work, as well as treating you as a free sex therapist all the time. You have to have epic debates about whether to use your real name, give out your real phone number, etc, because of the fear of being unemployable in the future, or having stalkers…well, stalk you. It is not a job that makes much money (really), and it’s one that involves a constant fight for sex positivity in various environments, from the government funding Planned Parenthood to inclusion of gender in employment non-discrimination acts, to fighting for/with folks with disabilities to be allowed to embrace their own sexuality, to removing laws that make owning/buying sex toys illegal in certain states.

It is not easy, and there are days when I sometimes wish I had maybe chosen another route.

And then, you are reminded in a heart beat of why you do what you do.

Last week, I taught my final class (of pre-booked ones) at Fascinations. If they’d like to have me again, I’d be happy to do so, but this was my last planned one. The room was PACKED, standing room only (60+ people) for a class on cunnilingus, which is not frequently a sell-out subject. People were involved, asked questions, answered my questions, and were a truly wonderful group to teach to for 90 minutes. Afterwards, not one, not two, but over a dozen people came up to me, telling me how much I had positively affected my life. One woman was at a class for the first time, and cried, telling me she was so glad to have gotten to hear me speak at least once. Another women cried, telling me that over the last year or more, I had changed her life so incredibly, taking scary subjects of sexuality and helping her confront them, learn about them, and embrace them. Another group of 20 somethings (and a woman who had just turned 18, and was visiting a toy store for the first time) told me how much they’d learned from me, how comfortable they felt with their bodies and their sexualities, and how much they missed me. They all wanted to know when I’d be back, and they all hugged me.

THAT is why I do what I do. My goal in every class is for each person to learn 1 little thing that is new. One. This class, *I* learned how much my education has helped others truly embrace who they are, and have a more positive experience with sexuality. I could not ask for anything more than to have had such a positive effect in so many people’s lives, particularly in a state/area where sex is rarely discussed with a positive and pleasure centric bent.

It can often be a thankless job, but the occasionaly “Thank yous” that I get from people who have attended my classes, read my writing, watched my videos, or had counseling sessions with me? That is better than any easy 9-5 job, better than any big paycheck (though that would be nice too), and totally makes me reinvigorate my passion for this field. And to you all, I say thank you!

-Shanna

Jul 012011
 

This post is from one of my fabulous sexuality summer interns, Katie Davis, about some of her experiences learned as a sexuality educator.

-Shanna

I spent the past year volunteering as a sex educator in the public school system
near my college, facilitating discussions on topics ranging from anatomy and physiology
to contraception to healthy communication. One day, while beginning a class on
fertilization with a group of middle school young women, a student raised her hand and
asked my co-facilitators and myself: “Do any of you have kids?”

The question made me pause. At 20, I was one of the older facilitators in our
group of four, but it hardly felt like the sort of question usually directed at me. The
thought of having children had only vaguely entered my consciousness as something I
might one day sort of maybe kind of want to do if I felt emotionally and financially ready
to do so. Furthermore, I’ve always looked young for my age–– it wasn’t until I cut my
hair off last year that I stopped being offered the kids’ menu at restaurants. So the
thought that someone might perceive me as a parent made my head spin.

I apparently wasn’t the only one who was surprised by the question. My co-
facilitators and I looked around at each other for a moment before one began to laugh.
She then replied to the student “No, none of us are parents! None of us are even 21 yet!”
The class stared back at us silently.

And like that we had lost them. We would eventually regain their trust and
respect, but it would take a while, and the rest of that fifty minute period was a wash,
with the students more or less ignoring us. We taught in a district with high teen
pregnancy rates: hence the administration’s desire to run an intensive sex ed workshop
for female students. Likely a significant portion of the young women in our classroom
that day had friends or close relatives who were teen mothers. And instead of responding
in a way that acknowledged their experiences, we made our students feel insulted,
ignored, and misunderstood.

I’m still traveling down the sex education path, and I still sometimes say the
wrong thing, but I’m learning. Above all, I’ve learned the importance of mindfulness, of
self-awareness. Recognizing my own positionality–– as a wealthy, white, cis-gender,
able-bodied queer woman–– has been awkward at times, but it’s undoubtedly made me a
better educator as well as a better student, partner, friend, etc. That’s why the #1 most
important lesson for educators is, for me:

1. Know the limits of your own knowledge.

It would be pretty amazing if everyone adhered to this rule, but it’s one that is
particularly important for educators/mentors to follow. Certainly, when a student asks
me a question to which I don’t know the answer off the top of my head, I’m honest about
my ignorance and I offer a well-researched answer the next time we meet. But it’s much
harder for me to recognize and accept that there are answers I will never know, answers
that are inaccessible to me. The very term “teen pregnancy,” for example, will likely

mean something radically different from what it means for a student whose older sister
dropped out of high school to raise a child. Knowing the limits of my knowledge means
recognizing that I will never fully grasp that latter, personal meaning. I simply don’t
have the same background, life experiences, etc. The best I can do is to challenge and
encourage my students to think critically and define the world for themselves. Which
brings me to lesson #2:

2. People are experts of their own experiences.

Learning is not strictly an in-class activity, and there is no possible way for me to
know what kind of education my students receive in their day to day lives. Great
educators know better than to challenge their students’ experiences of the world.
Rather, they provide students with a new lens through which to examine and understand
experience. Slowly, I am learning to do just this.