Friday, April 13, 2012

Sexuality Education: The Deal on Keeping it Fresh

It was not long ago that I had the opportunity to be the teaching assistant for the local university’s human sexuality professor. I’d say he’s in his in his mid forties and has been teaching sexuality since the early nineties. His teaching also consists of using research articles from the nineties! While having the opportunity in 2010 then again in 2011 for my practicum to facilitate seminars, I found myself being the new and upcoming sexuality educator, who needed to bring sexuality education back to the future!

How important is keeping ourselves “with it” and cutting edge? The majority of us have had the opportunity to purchase that assigned book made in the 80s because nothing new has been published. There is obviously value in original research, but there comes a time where having students discuss an article published by Sanders and Renisch (1999), which asks students to identify an event in the late 90s that started a public debate on whether or not oral sex was sex, becomes dated. This is because the majority of these students were roughly seven years old at the time! I was 12 myself, and I wasn’t able to recall the answer which was the Monica Lewinski and Bill Clinton scandal.

As sexuality professionals, Taverner (2006) suggested to  “try to expand your reading to equip yourself with greater dimension in understanding the field of sexology. I have heard this recommendation from both emerging professionals who are surprised at how little their fellow students read non- required books and fail to keep up with the news, and from expert colleagues who recommend reading that will enable you to understand the background necessary to become a leader in this field. Read about history, social issues, cultural issues, and psychology” (p. 3).   

While this professor sounded amazing back in the mid 90s because he was keeping current to create his original curriculum, he failed to continue to make continuous updates to bring his curriculum up to speed. Asking students to conceptualize Mazur (1986) focusing on the trends in female beauty from the 1950s to 1980s, was great, but was missing three more decades of trends. A great example is women starting to be more muscular which was a trend that was more prominent in the 2000s. Nonetheless, it was my job to go over and above and add these important tidbits so that students felt the information was relevant for them in 2011.

The importance of updating one’s curriculum is crucial. Of course, I know I will never know it all, but if planning on talking at conferences or teaching sexuality in secondary and post secondary institutions, I believe that using more current research will help to identify with students and will help with building a better report. I cannot express the number of times these students found the articles boring or irrelevant because of the time frame of the dated articles. To be the best sexuality educator, no matter how busy, take the time and invest in subscribing or reading online journals in our field. Sometimes you are able to sign up for RSS feeds that keep you informed on which new articles are out based on your topic of interest. Review your curriculum at least on a yearly basis. While reviewing, assess if the articles you are citing are exceeding five to ten years and if so, see if you can find something a little more current that may better relate to the group you are educating for the time being. 


Mazur, A. (1986). U.S. trends in feminine beauty and overadaptation. The Journal of Sex Research, 22,  281-303.

by Ashton F. 


  1. Fantastic post, Ashton. Thanks. I have been thinking this issue of being up to date a lot lately. You make a great point about the student population. Being both a student and a professional simultaneously right now, I am having an interesting experience. As a student, I too feel the boredom and a tiny bit of resentment toward my professors when I read an outdated book when a better book is available. I understand the value inherent in some dated texts, and believe me I have found some books from the 80's and 90's absolutely amazing and the information in them is still relevant. But not every text is like that.
    On the other hand, as an emerging professional in the field (who is still a student), I feel limited in my time to find and keep up with the most up to date information. And I also feel limited in my ability to find the most up to date information (money to spend on subscriptions, tendency to use required texts, etc). This is something I am actively working on and hope to 'conquer' soon.

  2. Great post and definitely something of value to really think about once I become a professional in the field. I found at my placement too many of the statistics used were outdated and with a simple bit of research, I was able to update that information. I think it's easy to fall into routine and not update information. I think some of this has to do with time constraints plus the ease of having done something the same for years. For me personally, it's much easier to stick with a lesson that I have done multiple times but it's not always good education. I feel as though sexuality educators often wear many hats in the field, so it can be difficult to find the time to stay updated. Fortunately, there are many great resources out there to be able to stay informed and updated. Conferences and listservs are great ways to keep abreast of the latest information and research. As already pointed out, being a student and professional, I find myself limited on time to read the latest information and limited on funds but highly important to make sure I keep furthering my knowledge within the field, especially since it is an ever changing field.

  3. Thank you Ashton for the reminder of simple ways I can keep up to date on issues in our field. It seems so simple, but reading contemporary material whether it be books, journal articles or blogs can make the difference in connecting with our students or not. I remember you sharing your struggle working with this outdated professor in your practicum. I hope you felt that after you were done with the semester you may have contributed a contemporary perspective to the class.

    Also, it always seems so overwhelming keeping up to date with the happenings in our field, but this is where we can use technology to our benefit. I have to admit I have a love hate relationship with technology, but I can see how in this situation subscribing to RSS feeds that show up in your inbox puts the contemporary right at your fingertips.

    I would say that the next thing to do is schedule time in my calendar to actually do the reading that is readily available. I did this once and truly felt more connected and informed. This gave me a confidence in teaching that I didn't have when feeling out of the loop. What an easy way to boost your confidence as a sex educator!

  4. Great post, Ashton! When I started at PPDE, I was surprised to find out that our department was doing a teacher training about Twilight. (I almost gagged!) However, if we are teaching youth, it is important to know what that youth is into. What kind of messages are they getting? Having some idea of the media teens are exposed to can give us an idea of what they are already thinking is true about sex. "Teachable moments" are extremely important in sexuality education and using things the teens are already interested in make the message that much more relevant.

    I think that, in addition to having current, updated facts and statistics about sexuality, we also have to have an idea of what being a teen really is like today. If that requires a few minutes with Twilight cliff notes (again, blech!) then that's what it takes. The sexual messages in Twilight are disturbing, but we as educators can do something about it. Thanks again, Ashton, great advice!

  5. Hey Ashton!

    Great post. I think that this can be a totally overwhelming idea for me sometimes. Like there is so much information out there, how do we even begin to sort through it all? But in reality I also think that it is a good motivational reminder about how much of a positive impact it can have on our careers. I was recently looking at a list of books for young people that received the most complaints in libraries across the nation and one book was repeatedly requested to be taken down because of "sex education". I, of course, immediately wanted to read that book.

    I agree with Kelly, sometimes this education means learning about boring or less than appealing subjects, but can have the benefit of making us more relevant to students. I also agree with Alaina that taking the time to be more up to date can make us more confident as educators. I have recently been looking around for different kinds of "best practices" in education and leadership development and I felt much more aware and capable not all that long after I opened up google!

    Thanks for the post!

  6. Really excellent post Ashton. I think this is such an important consideration for us to make in the field. I believe in a previous post someone had discussed the potential benefits in education of staying current. The same thing goes for this post. I agree that once we create curricula, and the long and arduous process that goes into it, we want to leave it untouched for awhile. I think as the years go on, and as society and technology make changes, so too much our curricula and lesson plans.

    I realized that I needed to come up with a new way of referencing syphilis in class. When I would bring it up I would ask if anyone knew of the experiment in Tuskegee, AL. The students would look at me like I had four heads. I realized that I needed to find a more current comparison.

    As a student, sometimes it is difficult to maintain reading in textbooks as well as the news. Hopefully as we make our transition from academia to professionals we can find the time to stay current.