Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Being taken seriously as a Sexuality Educator

           I’m sure anyone in the process of becoming a Sexuality Education is familiar with these responses:  “What can you do with that?”  “People actually study that?” Or, my personal favorite, a simple smirk that seems to imply the smirker knows our sexual preferences and that we would like to engage in those practices with them and as soon as possible.  But it is not just the general public that seems confounded by our fascination with and passion for teaching sexuality.  Fellow teachers or health professionals are guilty of finding our subject matter distasteful or inappropriate.
Though I’ve only just begun, I can already see that teaching Human Sexuality is an unusual experience.  The subject matter can be anything from taboo to terrifying, loving to loathsome.  Because of the intense emotions people hold around sexuality, the responses we receive are not always positive.  While some people may find what we do wonderful and necessary, many do not.  Many people will insist we are breaking moral codes by encouraging promiscuity.  Many people will not believe what we say.  Many people will not take us seriously. 
Even as students, while we are working away to become the best educators we can be, we encounter these hurdles.
So, how do students of human sexuality carve out a space for themselves in our evermore sex-negative society?  Everyone has a different strategy.  Our professors have chosen the academic route (a route which, I must admit, is constantly tugging at my lapels).  This route aims to legitimize sexuality as a field of study and offers the distinction of degrees to prove one’s knowledge.  Others choose to make their way by community education.  This can take the form of a job in a school or creating a business focusing on sexuality education for the greater community or adult education.  This serves to push the system outward from the inside in the hope of creating more space for sex positivity.  And yet others work with sex toys or in kink communities, helping those just getting started or encouraging those who have already begun.  Clearly this answers the question of what one might do with such a degree (the simple answer:  anything you damn well please!).
            Unfortunately, each of these routes will still encounter disbelief or disregard.  One of the most effective methods for jumping over or sidling around these hurdles has to be humor.  Humor is proven to be an effective education tool, engaging students and lightening the mood in the tense situations that often occur around sexuality (Tauber & Mester, 2007).  The thousand page sex manual/opus, The Guide to Getting It On, successfully uses humor to encourage and set at ease those who might otherwise be unwilling to consider some of the sex practices introduced in the book.  Megan Andelloux, a well-known sexuality educator working from the Providence area, often uses humor in her successful presentations.  A professor at our very own Widener University (you know who you are!) is known for their over-the-top humor to engage and interact with students.
            I have yet to master the great art of humor, perhaps because I have yet to master even the basics of the art of education.  My concern, however, is that even with the proper use of humor, some might see that as a way to mask discomfort or simply use it as further proof that sexuality is not a ‘real’ field of study.  I suspect it is something I will employ regardless of the risk of devaluation or disreverence.
            So, how can I (or you) be taken seriously as a Sexuality Educator?  I don’t have an answer.  But, I do know that continuing to study, practice and expand our field will encourage our society to rework its values.  As our field grows it will become more and more difficult to pigeonhole us into one measly framework.

Tauber, R. T., & Mester, C. S. (2007). Acting lessons for teachers: using performance skills in the classroom. (2nd ed.). London, England: Praeger Publishers

Joannides, P. G. (2009). The guide to getting it on. (6th ed.). Goofy Foot Press.