How do you describe what you do?
I am an experiential health educator. Experiential education is learning by doing; learning by actively using your environment rather than passively from a textbook. Technology and new media provide many opportunities for interaction and experience in regards to learning, and as applied to more traditional means of health education.
I'm the Executive Director and founder of Internet Sexuality Information Services (ISIS), an organization devoted to using technology and new media for sexual health promotion and STD/HIV prevention.
How did you end up working in sexuality?
After college, I worked at a Rape Crisis Center in upstate New York. Then I volunteered at a Planned Parenthood affiliate, in the education department and realized that I was much more interested in prevention than crisis management. I went back to school for my Master's in Experiential Education and then worked with a domestic violence organization in New York City for a year, training staff on sexual and emotional violence issues. From there, I was hired at Columbia University in the Health Education department, teaching students how to put a condom on a banana and how to communicate in sexual relationships. While working at Columbia, I realized the immense power of technology, the internet in particular, to impart sexual health information. Along with Steve V.L., who worked in the computer department, I conceived of and built Go Ask Alice in 1993 to answer college students most intimate questions about sex, drugs and rock and roll, I mean, college life.
Do you remember what you wanted to be when you grew up?
Is there any connection between that profession and the one you’re in now?
I was a waitress for a long time to put myself through school! That's the only connection I can make.
Where did you learn about sex?
My mother said, "Never lie down on a bed with a man, because they can't control themselves." That was the extent of my sex education, until I started being able to research and read and study more formally as an adult.
Who are your education heroes?
Jocelyn Elders - she wasn't and isn't afraid to talk about sex. And Lena Levine (no relation) - in 1941, she organized the very first U.S. group counseling program on sex and contraception under the sponsorship of Planned Parenthood.
Any sex education villains?
Yes, the vocal minority, as I've dubbed them. The ones who are the loudest about their objections to comprehensive sex education for all.
What's your best sex tip?
The male G-spot. Go for the prostate massage! Gently.
If you were God what are three things you would do to make the world a better place for sexuality?
Lead by example. Talk to people about sex, so they could see that it's not really a shameful or embarrassing subject.
Can you talk about some of the projects you’re working on?
SexINFO is a sexual health text messaging program for youth in San Francisco. By texting a simple message, youth can find out what to do if the condom broke, get help deciding if they're ready to have sex, and more. Text SEXINFO to 61827
inSPOT is a peer STD partner notification web site. First launched in San Francisco in 2004 for gay and bisexual men, the site is now being replicated in cities, states and countries around the world. It is also being expanded to be inclusive of all audiences, regardless of sexual orientation. The site allows users to send an anonymous (or not) ecard to notify sex partners they may have been exposed to an STD/STI.
STDTest.org is a service for San Francisco residents to download lab slips and get confidential syphilis test results online.
HookingUpOnline.org offers straightforward advice for men who meet male sex partners online for staying safe and healthy. (The) campaign includes two print brochures, palm cards, posters, and a website.
Do you have a sense of why you’ve been drawn to working with computers and technology as opposed to the more traditional places sex educators find themselves (schools and health clinics)?
The success of Go Ask Alice -- the sheer number of people I was able to reach through the Internet efforts -- made it obvious that it was a good communication vehicle for conveying sensitive information about people's sexuality. Compared to the amount of work my workshops took to prepare and deliver to 2-20 people each, the enormous power of the Internet seemed clear.
Also, people were much more honest in their communications about sex and sexuality online. I really believe that the distancing provided by the computer screen and the perceived anonymity allows people to explore freely sexually online – whether it's activities, information or fantasy.