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What Training Do Sex Educators Have?

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Updated May 18, 2011

Question: What Training Do Sex Educators Have?
Answer:

Because “sex educator” isn’t a professional title that is regulated, there are no requirements for training in order to call yourself a sex educator. Anyone can call themselves a sex educator. But if you’re interested in becoming a sex educator, or finding a qualified sex educator, read on.

Academic and Professional Training

It is possible to get an undergraduate and graduate degree that focuses on sexual health education (here’s a list of sex education programs maintained by AASECT, and a second list from SSSS). There are only a handful of programs that offer this though. What is more likely is that a sex educator will get some sort of post-secondary education (college or university) and part of that degree will include course work on human sexuality and course work on education theory and practice.

There are many more opportunities for professional training once an educator has some sort of academic or didactic education experience. Professional training opportunities may come from universities or colleges, from professional organizations or from public or private agencies that provide sexual health services.

Education Training, Sexuality Training, and Sex Education Training

Being a sex educator calls for education and experience in teaching and education in human sexuality. Preferably a sex educator will also have some education and training specifically in sex education (since teaching about sex can be different in significant ways to teaching about math or English). Sex educators will most often get this training in a piece meal way, since there are very few programs that offer education and training specifically for sex educators.

Education in Sexuality. Educators can learn about human sexuality in courses offered at colleges and universities, or they might take courses offered by professional organizations (like AASECT or Planned Parenthood). What is important is that a sex educator learns not only about the areas they know they are interested in, but that they receive a broad based education in human sexuality. Educators need to be aware of what they don’t know, not just what they do, and being exposed to multiple topics and ways of thinking about sex is crucial. If you’re looking for an education in human sexuality, starting with an established and recognized organization and looking at the curriculum they offer, is a good place to start.

Training as an Educator. There’s a difference between talking and teaching. You may be comfortable and enjoy talking about sex, and that’s probably required to teach about it effectively, but it isn’t enough. Education is more than just conveying information. Being trained as an educator, a teacher, gives you the ability to assess what information students need, to come up with multiple ways of offering that information, and to evaluate whether or not they are comprehending and benefiting from what you are teaching them. We all bring our personal perspectives and baggage to our work, and being trained as an educator is an absolutely essential step in reducing the impact of your own privileges and expectations on the people you are working with. There are undergraduate and graduate degrees in education offered at most colleges and universities.

Training as a Sexual Health Educator. Very few colleges or universities offer training in sex education. What is more common is that an education program will give people the opportunity to do placements and students get their experience by choosing placements where they can do sex education. What is more common is for people who are already doing some form of sex education to seek out professional development in the form of workshops at a conference or day or weeklong intensives. Professional development in sex education happens across professions, so it is available to doctors and nurses, social workers and teachers, mental and physical therapists. What this training does is bring together the education piece with the sexuality piece, and hopefully grounds it in the context of sexual culture, giving you tools to help you teach a subject that is generally regarded as private or taboo.

What About Certification?

The American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists offers certification for sex educators. There are other smaller groups and private institutes that also offer certifications. And in some states you can be certified as a health educator (with or without specializing in sexuality).

Being certified as a sex educator is a way of demonstrating what your training is, and that it is recognized by a larger body. Whether or not it’s worth it for you to become a certified sexuality educator depends entirely on what you want to do, where you want to do it, and what being certified would offer you. It isn’t clear that it is always best to be certified, especially as not all sex education certifications are the same, and many of them are costly.

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