Wednesday, July 1, 2009

How To Become a Sexuality Educator

I’ve had lots of folks as me how they can get into the same field that I am into. The short version, of how I got into this field, is that I took out a bunch of student loans and went to school. I have two master’s degrees, one in Human Sexuality Education and another in Women’s Studies.

If that’s not something you are interested in doing there are several other ways to get into the field. The first thing you need to understand is that you will need lots of training. This is important especially because you will be trained to give people gender-neutral and factual information, facilitate conversations, groups, dialogues, and work with numerous different populations. There are many things I do know about sexuality, and there are many things I don’t know about sexuality. Trainings are a life long experience in this field. Information is always changing and new techniques are being found to work or not work and it’s important that if you are going to commit yourself to the field of sexual science to stay up to date on what is going on in the field.

There are several ways to gain training, some you may have to pay for like me, and others you may be able to get for free, like me. I’ll tell you both ways and you can choose what is best for you.

Before I begin, I want to let folks know that going into the sexual science field as an educator, trainer, instructor, and/or activist does NOT result in a life of fame and wealth. If that is what you want, you may have to go into an entertainment area or medical area of the sexual science field. The latter would require a medical degree of some sort. Just be warned, many of us in this field are not all wealthy, but we love what we do and we are committed.

One of the fastest ways to gain some training for free is to volunteer with an organization. Many reproductive health and HIV education organization and some not-for-profit’s need volunteers on a regular basis. Volunteer opportunities may range from being a front desk person, greeting patients, escorting patients to therapy/medical appointments, paper pushing, web development, group facilitator, after school program, mentor, and the list goes on. Many locations will train you for FREE as long as you commit to a certain amount of time.

Other locations where you can gain valuable counseling experience would be to work/volunteer with a hotline in your area. Many national hotlines are always seeking people to help them manage and answer phone calls. I got some of my best training on pre-and post abortion counseling by working at the National Abortion Federation as a hotline counselor. It is a paid position and the hotline was opened for extended hours. Usually folks have a difficult time staffing those evening hours, especially the “graveyard” shifts of 24-hour hotlines. Before you even get to answer a telephone, you will receive training on how to manage and counsel callers. Usually, when you are ready to take calls, a seasoned counselor will supervise you. This is all part of the training and skills you will develop.

If you choose to pay for training and/or education, look towards your local community college for courses. You can also find certificate programs or continuing education programs at local colleges and universities. You can sign up for such programs and take a certain amount (ranging from 4-24) courses to receive a certification in a particular area of focus. Plus, you can audit a course at a local college or university. I would suggest speaking with a college counselor/advisor and looking into the policies on auditing courses. You will still have to pay for attending the course, but you are not taking tests or having to participate in exams unless you want to because you will not be receiving a grade.

If you are between the ages of 13-24 Scarleteen, a sexuality education website, is offering training to become a peer educator. If you are over the age of 24, it may still be helpful to inquire about participating in the training if you make a donation. It can’t hurt to ask, especially since it looks like this training is going to cover a lot of the basic things folks need to know about, looks like they offer it virtually, and begins soon!

Here is a list of other organizations that may be helpful in finding training and/or attending workshops:

Covenant House NY offers trainings that rarely go over $100. One of the best trainings I took there was in 2007 about US Drug Policy and the War on Drugs.

HRSA (US Dept of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration) provides training nationally. They also provide a list of regional centers where you can search to see what is close to the area you are in (US only).

TARGET stands for Technical Assistance Resources, Guidance, Education & Training The TARGET Center Web site is the central source of technical assistance (TA) and training resources for the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program. The site is the one-stop shop for tapping into the full array of TA and training resources funded by the Health Resources and Services Administration’s (HRSA) HIV/AIDS Bureau (HAB), which administers Ryan White services. HRSA is an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

International Training & Education Center on HIV

Harm Reduction Coalition
Click on the map to see partner organizations where you can sign up to volunteer and possibly receive free training.

National Sexuality Resource Center provides summer institutes, national trainings, and wonderful blogs by several different contributing writers.

Cicatelli Associates Incorporated is based in NYC and they offer several trainings year-round which range from substance abuse, counseling techniques, HIV/AIDS guidelines, and motivational interviewing. Because they are located in NYC it may be a trip for some of you, however several of the trainings are FREE, so they may be worth a trip if you can make it over! Register EARLY for their trainings as they often become full quickly.

AIDS Community Research Initiative of America (ACRIA) offers several trainings each year as well and for FREE. They are also located in NYC. I would suggest getting on their mailing list so that you can be up to date on what they are offering and when. However, their site does give information on how to obtain training at a national and local level. Here is their current Training Calender.

Folks may laugh at the profession, but we are serious about what we do. We are so serious there are professional organizations, similar to the American Psychological Association and American Medical Association. Many of which doctors in the sexual science field are members. We have the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (ASSECT), the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality (SSSS), and World Association for Sexual Health (formally the World Association of Sexology). That’s just a few, but some of the major few.

I attended the ASSECT conference this year and am attempting to get my certification. Yes I know, over a decade in the field and I’m now just getting this certification. Let me be very clear: you do NOT have to join one of these organizations. They are professional organizations and the benefits of joining them are numerous. However, along with those benefits come hefty membership fees. If you do not make much money to begin with, those fees can limit your participation as it has with me. This year I decided to get my certification and see how it helps me (if at all) and how I can network. I chose to join the National Women’s Studies Association for three years in a row as that was the field I was in for a long period of time and the membership fee was minimal and you received a free annual subscription to the NWSA Journal. For a long time I was a professional feminist. Things change, and I welcome that change.

Now, I’ve had very interesting interactions with folks in leadership positions at AASECT that turned me off to joining the organization in the past, but I know that just because a handful of folks have less than exceptional bedside manners doesn’t mean everybody in the organization does! I’m also planning to attend and presenting two papers at the SSSS conference this year that is in Mexico in an attempt to build community with Latino sexologists (because there is a dearth in the US).

AASECT outlines very clearly what is expected to gain certification as a sexuality educator, counselor, and/or therapist. You can have numerous certifications and you can also have your own practice and services included on their website for people who are searching for providers.

You can also sign up to be just a member and receive the publication they provide. It may also be a good idea to look into the numerous sexuality education and science based literature that is produced monthly. Journals that come to mind immediately include:

-Journal of the History of Sexuality

-Sex Roles

-The Journal of Homosexuality

-The Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality

-Sexuality Research and Social Policy

-You may also want to check out the Electronic Journal for Sexuality Studies at The University of Delaware Library suggests.

These are just a few suggestions, I’m sure there are several more! For those of you already in the field or receiving training, please share what you have found useful and ways you have obtained training, certification and any other information that could be helpful. We need more sexuality educators, especially among people of Color and who are committed to working with communities that are under-resourced.

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