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How Do I Become a Professional Sex Educator?

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Question: How Do I Become a Professional Sex Educator?
Answer:

If you want to be a teacher, a lawyer, a plumber or a social worker, there are schools and professional organizations waiting to show you the way. The path may be hard, but it’s clear one you decide what you want to do. The same is not true for sex educators. There are very few programs that just train sex educators, and most sex educators come to their work through a series of steps, or missteps, by accident, by necessity, or by sheer determination.

Since there’s no one way to become a sex educator, it’s hard to tell you how to do it. But here are some of the things you’ll need, and need to consider, as you work to becoming a sex educator.

Research Sex Education
Start by doing some research on your own. Make sure you know at least a little bit about what being a sex educator actually involves, including:

Being a sex educator is an amazing job, but it’s not easy and it isn’t glamorous. Going in with enthusiasm and energy is good. But you can do that while also going in with your eyes open. You’re going to need help figuring out how to become a sex educator. You’re much more likely to get help if you approach people having already done some research on your own.

I-N-T-R-O-S-P-E-C-T
This doesn't mean that you have a definitive answer to any or all questions, but it does mean that you’ve thought about your interests and desires and interrogated them at least a little. You should have an beginning of an answer to questions like:

  • Why you want to be a sex educator?
  • What are you interested in educating people about?
  • Who do you think you’d like to work with as an educator? (sex educators usually work with different populations, most specialize in a few areas)

Talk about it with people you trust and have them ask you questions to help further develop your own feelings about it. You may want to write this stuff down, as it will be interesting to go back and see where you started from if you end up becoming a sex educator or not.

Volunteer
The only way you’ll ever know if you really want to be a sex educator is by trying it out. Finding a place to volunteer, where you can watch other sex educators and get a chance to do some of the basic work of sex education, is crucial. It gives you a chance to see what some of your options are. Plus most volunteer opportunities provide free training. This also gives you a chance to meet other sex educators. The way sex education is done, and who it’s done with can change radically from one agency to another, so don’t assume your first experience is representative of all experience. Professionally speaking it’s ideal if you can find an old and well respected agency or center for your first volunteer experience, one that offers a range of services to diverse client populations.

Find a Mentor.
Finding a sex educator mentor can make a huge difference in your professional and personal development. It can also help with getting into academic programs or getting jobs. Some organizations, like AASECT, have formal mentoring programs. Most of the time you just need to find someone whose work you respect and who is working in an area you are interested in, and just flat out ask. You may get rejected, but that’s good experience too.

Educate Who, and About What?
Once you’ve got some experience and at least a few people you can talk to about sex education, one way to start narrowing your focus is to think about the kinds of topics you’d like to teach, and who you want to teach them to. Do you want to work with youth preventing the spread of STDs, or trying to reduce unwanted pregnancy or sexual victimization? Are you more interested in working with adults who are having difficulty in their sexual relationships? Do you want to work with older adults on how to expand their sexual horizons, focusing on sexual pleasure instead of sexual pain or dysfunction? You don’t need to pick one, but if you can eliminate some groups and subject matters it can help guide the next steps.

Get Educated, Get Trained, Get Certified
The first two of these are essential, the last one isn’t. If you want to be a sex educator you need to get educated both about human sexuality and about education theory and practice. How and where you receive your sex educator training can vary widely. The way you do it should be guided by the kind of work you want to do, where you want to do it, and what sort of job you want to end up with. If money is important to you, know that the higher the degree you have, the more money you’ll make. It isn't fair or logical, but that’s the way it is in this and most other professions.

Becoming a certified sexuality educator may or may not make sense for you. In some cases being certified will make it easier to get a job, it may even influence your pay. Certification is a way of demonstrating your training and it connects you to a larger body of sex educators. However not all certification programs are good, and it may not be worth it financially or professionally, depending on your work. That said, before you begin your formal training, it’s worth investigating your options around certification so you can have whatever documentation is needed if you decide to get certified in the future.

Build a Network
Being a sex educator can be lonely work. You may be the only person in your work place doing sex education, you may be the only person in your town doing it. Because it’s sex you can be socially and professionally ostracized, and to prevent burn out and take care of yourself, it’s important to have a network of colleagues you can turn to for both professional and personal support (although it might be two groups doing this). Joining a professional organization might be one way to connect to a network of like minded colleagues. But you may also be able to find them online. In any case, being isolated isn’t good for your long term mental health or for your work as a sex educator.

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