People tend to ask me how I started, or ‘Why are you doing this? What is a sex educator?’
Well, the light bulb moment for me was at the very beginning of January 2013. I was an adult volunteering at a peace education camp in Ottawa, Canada for teens aged mostly 15-18. I’ve been going to this CISV winter camp since I myself was 15, and I am well aware of the incredible safe space created by the participants to discuss all manner of issues. I decided that during the camp I wanted the other adults present to help me run a discussion activity about healthy relationships. We decided there would be 4 stations with different topics: healthy relationships (platonic and romantic), sex, marriage & divorce. After every activity we have a final debrief where we get together as a large group to go over what happened, how we felt, and what we learned from it. While asking for feedback, some of the older teens were saying how they wanted to learn what the other gender was thinking about sex. So, we had a “sex talk with j.shelds”: they wrote questions on a little piece of paper, and we discussed them as a small group.
It was at that moment that I knew this is how I want to spend my time. I want to do Q & As with teenagers to discuss topics they don’t learn about in school in a safe space. Here are some of the questions that I remember from that camp: how does a girl feel about sex? When is a good time to start having sex? How does a boy say no without the girl feeling rejected and worthless? Why is having sex for the first not a big deal to some people? After that light bulb moment, I figured out what my reasons are for wanting to be a sex educator:
1. I love to talk about sex. 2. I make it easy for people to chat with me about sex 3. I love to learn about sex. 4. I want to create safe spaces for people to ask questions and receive non-judgmental answers 5. I want sex to be a typical dinner conversation, in the way we talk about school or politics. 6. I want the current binary gender roles to be abolished. Specifically, I want it to be completely acceptable for everyone to possess typically male or female traits like emotional sensitivity or lack thereof, the desire to be a parent, and so on.
What does it mean, for me, to be a sex educator? Well, it involves talking about sex: sharing stories, ideas, and research. My goal is to discuss issues about sex, gender, sexuality, and relationships with (mostly) teenagers aka the stuff that isn’t covered in health class. I met a Restorative Justice advocate/speaker named Katy Hutchison – she’s a wonderful woman who says that based on numerous studies, kids need 5 adults they can trust. If they’re lucky, parents can be 2 of those 5. I am hoping to create a space where I can be seen as one of the 5, if wanted. Just as adults use different people for various needs, so do kids. I don’t mean that I want to be someone to talk to only about sex. I have more going on in my life than just that. However, I write the way that I speak, and I try to be accessible.
Entering into the sex ed world is a little daunting: there are a lot of people who are breaking into this relatively new realm of possibility. We all seem to have a similar yet different path, which means that there are a lot of resources. It’s a little bit scary since I don’t want to inundate the market, but there are a lot of people that I can learn from at the same time. I suppose this is true of every industry, though. If you are passionate about something, you can find a way to make it take up more of your time and energy – and if you work hard, you may be able to make some money with it.
As soon as I figured out what I wanted to do, I started talking about it and writing about it. I started telling people that this is what I am interested in. And lo and behold, there are a lot of people who are interested in helping me out. There are lots of really supportive people that you can find all over. For example, through a friend, I made a connection on Twitter with a sex-media mogul in Toronto. I then managed to get myself a lunch with him!. Talk about a huge step in a great direction. You’d be amazed what can happen when you reach out.
I am incredibly fortunate that I have surrounded myself with very supportive and loving people, and I have realized that nothing is going to happen unless I make it so. I am now looking into a post-degree diploma or certification, though I have not yet decided if I am going to actually go. Perhaps it will simply be great research that I can tell you all about. Unconventional routes often end up working out, as we forge our own paths. So stay tuned, who know what my next step will be: Book? Podcasts? Post-degree education? All of the above? It’s exciting stuff.
And just for kicks, here is my new business card!