Two of the most common questions that I get asked (outside of the sex & relationship stuff) are:
"How can I become a sex educator?" and "Should I quit my job to become a sex educator?"
I get this so often, I thought it might be helpful to make a little resource page for all the budding sex educators in the world. This page is not full of empty promises or encouragement, though. This path requires courage, tenacity, and constantly standing up when people tell you to sit down and shut up. If you want to know what the reality of sex education is*, read on!
*Everything contained here is informed by my very limited experience. Please seek other opinions from a variety of educators as people will have a wide range of strong opinions on this based on their own successes and failures.
What do sex educators do?
This might seem rather obvious, but you'd probably be surprised at the endless ways people choose to be sex educators.
Sex educators teach folks about the mechanics and experiences related to sex. Great sex educators do much more. They reduce shame and invite curiosity about a topic that is highly taboo and misunderstood. In a nutshell, that's actually what this job is about - creating and holding space.
Fantastic sex educators are also counter-cultural activists working to overturn oppression at multiple intersections, but that's a bigger conversation than we have room for here.
If you're a sex educator, you might be:
- Teaching kids in afterschool or church programs, like Our Whole Lives, about sexuality and gender.
- A sex worker who uses client sessions as a platform for shame reduction and anatomy lessons.
- Lecturing college students on gender, sexual health, or the history of pornography.
- Conducting academic research on porn, brain arousal patterns, or abuse.
- Holding online and in-person workshops on sex and sexual communication.
- Writing how-to manuals or documenting people's stories about sex, love, and trauma.
- A kinkster with years of experience who now teaches folks how to safely enter the world of BDSM.
- A former pro-Domme who holds massive seminars for companies like Facebook and Google on how to leverage sexual power to overturn sexism in the workplace.
- Volunteering for a sexual health clinic like Planned Parenthood holding community workshops for teens.
- In prisons, working with convicted sex offenders on consent and trauma.
- YouTube famous with millions of views on your videos talking about gender and sexuality issues in pop culture and modern media.
- Keynoting at conferences on the influence of hip hop and the prison industrial complex as they relate to sexual liberation for People of Color.
- Blogging reviews about sex toys and writing erotica for a small, devoted audience of online fans.
- Creating and producing porn and erotica films that depict a sexual experience you feel is missing from mainstream porn.
- Hosting a weekly podcast all about sex and relationships.
- Meeting with clients each week as a sex therapist or marriage therapist and helping people to find new stories around sexual pleasure and connection.
Truth be told, this is a very, very small representation of all of the ways people can be professional sex educators. From hands-on body workers to working with elderly patients with dementia to advising college campuses on the nuances of drinking and consent, the possibilities are endless.
So the question I have for you is where would you like to start?
What kind of education and training do you need?
People much more experienced than me have lots of ideas and suggestions on the various paths to being a skilled sex educator.
I would highly recommend attending Tristan Taormino's Sex Educator Bootcamp Level 1 or the Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health's Jumpstart Your Career in Sexuality workshop. Both of these trainings offer in-depth looks at all of the formal and informal ways you can become a sex educator.
The short version is that you can choose either an academic path or a self-taught path to sex education. Both offer pros and cons, both limit you in a variety of ways, and both require a great deal of commitment.
The academic path is perfect for folks who want to work in universities or in research, who feel credentials are important to their success, or who want to be able to work alongside others on a path that is pretty clear and established.
The self-taught, non-academic path is terrific if you don't have the money or the time to devote to years of advanced education and if you a really, really willing to work hard and stand up in the face of people who may say you aren't good enough because you don't have that degree in-hand.
Regardless of which path you choose, and there are many options, the one thing I invite you to do is ensure that you choose a path that is inclusive, sex positive, anti-oppressive, and actively focuses on overturning cultural stereotypes. (Unfortunately, many online certification programs and academic institutions are more focused on maintaining the status quo or making money than on actually shifting the dialog around sexuality and gender).
The good news is all of the options available to you can offer a fulfilling path to sex education if you're willing to do the work, examine your own biases and privilege, and want to be part of an industry that is endlessly needed and often vilified.
Can you make a living as a sex educator?
For every successful sex educator you see in the world, there are thousands more who are struggling to make ends meet. Full disclosure: despite my visibility and outward looking success, I am still struggling to pay the bills each month.
Why? Because our society does not place a lot of value on learning about sex or paying for sex (just ask the porn industry). This is why sex educators are inherently counter cultural workers.
If you're a therapist, a researcher, or a doctor, you can probably make a pretty decent living since those are recognized and established tracks that our society deems acceptable.
For the rest of the sex educator world, it can be a juggling act of many different jobs and sources of income to keep doing what you love doing. It requires a lot of passion and dedication. In fact, a lot of big name sex educators with published books and successful shows that you might know also have non-sex educator jobs that help them pay the bills and live comfortably.
You will have to fight for visibility, for clients, for recognition in a world that does not like to recognize sex as a legitimate kind of labor. But, if you have support, if you create a strong network, if you show up and give yourself time to learn and grow, and if you have a little bit of luck, this can be a rewarding and profitable option.
I wouldn't trade it for the world.
What are some basic resources you should check out?
For starters, check out the two resources mentioned above. Also look at:
- This archived copy of Megan Andelloux's post on being a sexuality educator.
- This dated-but-still-relevant article by Bill Taverner on tips for emerging sexuality professionals.
- Your sex education heroes and find out what schools and program they've participated in - both academic and non-academic. This can help you narrow down the kinds of work you may want to focus on and how much money they may require.
- WOCSHN, the Women of Color Sexual Health Network - this is a rich resource for women of color sex professionals. But, ALL sex educators should be connected with them, their racial justice work, and their extensive network.
I would also recommend reading as many books as you can get your hands on - especially by folks doing sex positive, inclusive, anti-oppressive work. A few places to start include:
- Emily Nagoski's "Come As You Are" - this book is research-based and turns a lot of assumptions about desire on their head. It's also a great example of how you can do radical work as a sex education in academia.
- Allison Moon's "Girl Sex 101" - this book is one of the most inclusive, gender-neutral books on the market right now. Allison also made it a priority to pay all of the contributors and artists for their work, which is rare in sex education, so it's an important precedent to set. She crowdfunded the book prior to writing it - a perfect example for budding authors!
- Barbara Carrellas' "Urban Tantra" - most tantra books are highly gendered and heteronormative. Barbara is doing work that is trans inclusive and shows how tantra can be for every body and every gender, which is a critical shift in the conversation.
- Everything by Flamingo Rampant!, which is an small publishing house by S. Bear Bergman. They create children's books that are gender affirming.
- Cory Silverberg's "Sex is a Funny Word" - though it's for pre-teens, this book is radical in every single way with how he talks about bodies, consent, and sex. Fantastic resource for all sex educators.
- Meg-John Barker's "Rewriting the Rules" - we have a lot of cultural myths and socially enforced expectations about gender, love, and sex. Meg-John's book offers some gentle, beautiful guidance on finding ways to question and identify these stories, so that we can more conscious in choosing the ways that we talk about and experience them in our own lives.
Most sex education certification programs also require a SAR (sexual attitude reassessment). This is a typically a multi-day workshop that helps individuals in sex related and sex adjacent fields to identify their biases and blind spots so that they can avoid shaming folks and find better ways to deal with subject matter that might be difficult. My advice is to ensure the SAR you attend is run by a highly sex positive, inclusive, reputable organization. Sadly, some SAR facilitators have created workshops that are purely about shock and awe, versus growth and discussion. Do your research before choosing one.
One other thing - watch feminist porn. Don't just watch it. PAY FOR IT. Pay for an Erika Lust XConfession or for a month of CrashPad via Pink and White Productions. Join Kink Academy for sex education videos or invest in a Tristan Taormino film. There are a number of filmmakers who are creating really empowering, inclusive, feminist, consent-based films that can help you, as a sex educator, to better understand and articulate ideas about sex and sex work.
How did I become a sex educator?
Like many sex educators, my story is incredibly unique and personal. My path to get here has been long, twisting, and unexpected. I wish I would have known at 18 or 19 that sex education was even a possibility - I probably would have chosen a lifetime of academic work like porn studies or public health.
Growing up, I was always the person in my group of friends that people came to when they wanted to talk about sex. If they were worried they might be pregnant or when they had sex for the first time and needed someone to share it with or when their boyfriend did something gross, I was the sounding board and safe place to turn. In that way, I've been holding space and reducing shame around sexuality for as long as I can remember.
But, I spent 17 years in corporate IT management doing technical work and leading teams for a very large company. Though the work had nothing at all to do with sex, I did have the opportunity to take dozens of classes on coaching, effective communication, and business. They also paid for me to complete my degree in business leadership.
During my time in corporate, I took a side gig doing in-home sex toy parties in the early 2000's. This was my first foray into true sex education. Though the company was terrible, the rules were stifling and homophobic, and the products were toxic, it gave me a chance to talk to thousands of women about sex and masturbation. I found that I had a real knack for making people relax about things they had a lot of shame or disgust around. I also got to work one-on-one counseling women on what sex toys and sex aids might work best for them.
Though I left the sex toy party business after a few years, I was hooked. There was something endlessly nourishing in offering people a safe space to explore something they'd never had a chance to safely explore before.
I started reading books, listening to podcasts, watching interviews, and consuming whatever I could. It wasn't a conscious decision on my part at that point. I simply had this hunger I needed to feed.
At the same time, in my personal life, I was exploring a lesbian relationship, a trans relationship, volunteering with radical feminists, tiptoeing into kink, learning about diet culture and working on my own shame, and healing my own sexual traumas and rapes (so much of which is still ongoing for me).
The real turning point came when a friend of mine and I decided to launch a sex podcast. We had heard so much bad advice that we decided we had something to offer. As listener questions started pouring in, I realized there was a need for people to have a safe, sex positive space to do some work around sexual shame and relationship issues, which paired perfectly with my 15+ years of corporate coaching experience.
I jumped in with both feet. I took classes, enrolled in programs like Reid Mihalko's Sex Geek Summer Camp and Tristan's Bootcamp, attended as many sex education conferences as I could squeeze in, interviewed experts in every sex related field I could imagine, and got to work cultivating experience and knowledge that would serve my audience and my clients.
And here I am. Still in progress. Still figuring out my little niche in the world of sex and love and self worth. I never would have imagined this is where I would have landed, but it seems all of the paths I was on, no matter how unrelated to sex education they may have seemed at the time, were simply preparing me for this. I have SO much more to learn. It literally never ends.
But then, sex education never ends. Which is part of the allure.
So, where do you go from here?
It's time to do some soul-searching. It's time to do a lot of research (which includes porn, so it isn't all bad). It's time to choose if you want to leap into this fascinating, challenging, rewarding field.
My one and only ask is this: sex educators are constantly bombarded with requests to work for free. It's a chronic, endless barrage of requests to speak for free, teach for free, weigh in for free. And our time is valuable - as a budding sex educator who probably wants to get paid to do this work, I ask you to start by paying someone else for their work.
If you'd like to talk to a sex educator about their career (if you'd like to "pick their brain"), please pay them for their time.
If you'd like some help exploring your options or digging into what might be a good fit for you, I am happy to chat with you at my coaching rate of $120 per hour. The amount of brainstorming and resources you'll gain in that hour is amazing, too, so decide if that's an investment that feels good for you. You can email me at coachdawnserra at gmail to learn more.
So, are you ready for this adventure to begin? Because the world needs as many sex positive voices as it can get.
We need more POC and trans voices in sex education. We need more cis men who understand how to advocate for women and how to overturn toxic masculinity. We need more trauma survivors sharing their stories and helping others heal. We need more visionaries who have rad ideas about apps and sex toys and books and podcasting to help increase access to information. We need more researchers and doctors who want to ensure POC and trans bodies and bodies with disabilities are represented in their studies. We need more folks who want to write erotica that represents a variety of bodies and experiences so that people can learn that what turns them on is way more diverse than they may believe.
In other words, the world needs you - your unique perspective, your special voice, your contribution. What comes next is up to you.