What does it take to be a GREAT sexuality educator?

I am always really enthused to hear about projects describing the motivations behind individuals pursuing a career in sexuality education. For example, the Center for Family Life Education is featuring a story once a week about Why I teach Sex Ed on their blog (and they are accepting submissions!).  I love reading about other people’s experiences- not only is it eye-opening, it’s just fun to think about the different ways people arrive at the same field of interest.  My first blog post was even a short story of what inspired me to become a sexuality educator.

But what does it really take to become a great sexuality educator?

A few obvious answers come to mind, including:

  • Passion
  • Dedication
  • Extensive knowledge about sexuality
  • Good teaching/facilitation skills
  • Willingness to work for little or no money

However, I think there are a few more characteristics that might not be so obvious that are vital to really excelling in this role:

Open-minded.  Having an open-mind about individuals’ experiences (or lack thereof), opinions, likes, dislikes, behaviors, fetishes, and so on is absolutely essential in order for the participants to feel comfortable in a learning environment about sexuality.  If a teacher lays judgment on something that a person says, feels, does, or doesn’t do, that individual will be less likely to participate fully in the learning environment.

Flexible. Being flexible, not just with the structure and logistics of a lesson, but also with your own beliefs and values, will model for the participants that human beings change.  Sexuality is fluid, and someone with rigid beliefs will contradict that message.

Accepting.  Accepting participants for who they are, even if they are challenging, disruptive, rude, contrary, or just plain difficult, will emphasize the importance of honoring individuality.  It’s possible to challenge someone’s flaws without putting them down, if we can accept them for who they are.

Personable.  It helps a lot to have a teacher that people are likely to get along with.  No one really likes a Negative Nancy!  And making a personal connection (while honoring teacher-student boundaries) can improve the likelihood that participants will respond in a positive way.

Honest. Someone who is honest about themselves, including their personal opinions, the role that they serve, and how they can (or cannot) help will improve the teacher-student relationship.  If you do not know the answer, the worst thing you can do is make something up!  Showing that you are a human being and also have limitations and flaws will help participants become more comfortable with themselves.

Intentional. Someone who is intentional about the words they say, the actions they make, the body language they use, the resources provided- all the way down to the way they set up a room, will be more likely to think carefully about how they teach and respond to participants.  Sexuality can be a very sensitive topic, and having a teacher who is intentional will decrease the chances of misinterpretation and misinformation.

Comfortable.  Of course, being comfortable with the topic that you are teaching about is crucial.  Too many times I hear stories about people having learned about sexuality from their awkward high school gym teacher or old persnickety health ed teacher.  One of the ways I knew this would be a good field for me is that I was comfortable  talking to anyone about sex.  My friends came to me with questions about all sorts of things, some of which I had to say, you need to ask a Dr!  You want your participants to come to you with questions, and see you as an expert, not the weirdo who doesn’t know what they are doing.

These are just 7 qualities that make a sexuality educator awesome, and I’m sure there are more.  However, if you’re looking for someone to fill that spot (or ways that you can improve on your own rock-star self), I encourage you to think about whether they are up to snuff by these standards!

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