We are running excerpts from How I Got Into Sex…Ed. Get a free copy of the ebook here. Order the print book here.
NJ Mental Health Screener, Teacher Certification,
AASECT Sexuality Educator
Favorite course: Not a formal academic course, but the ASET retreats
Least favorite course: General teacher certification courses
Favorite topic to teach: Talking to teens about being better sexuality educators for their children
Most challenging topic to teach: Sexuality and religion
Sex educator: Peggy Brick (and many others)
Book: Guide to Getting It On by Paul Joannides
How I Got Into Sex…Ed
My earliest memories all contain thoughts of being a nurse. My vision came complete with crisp, white uniforms and lifesaving heroics. These dreams all started with the arrival of the visiting nurse when my sister contracted polio. I swear I heard superhero theme music whenever she walked through the door! My nursing goal was cemented by reading the entire Cherry Ames series (twice). So, in 1975, how did I end up in front of a classroom filled with bored-faced teens???
To my mind, I had secured a plum position. I was a health teacher in my own school district. At last, my kids and I would have the same days off. I was making a decent salary, and I had a pension and some job security. WOW! I knew enough about nutrition, first aid, and drug and alcohol use to write lesson plans and lecture at students. Sadly, weeks later, I was still in front of a classroom full of disinterested, fidgety teens.
It was at this juncture that serendipity interceded with a series of events that changed my entire career. Because I was a nurse, my students assumed I was a good source of information about sexuality. Little did they know that in four years of nursing school, the word sex had never been uttered, even when we studied obstetrics and gynecology! I knew how to deliver a baby but next to nothing about the emotional and physical gymnastics that came beforehand. I knew after that first question that I had to find a book, a class, some help.
(Sound the drums!) Planned Parenthood to the rescue! I visited their education department in Morristown, NJ, and honestly confessed to my lack of knowledge. I knew even then that it was not just for my students. It was for me. I realized that this was a subject about which I wanted to feel educated and confident. The agency was (and is) wonderful. They never made me feel stupid, and they were able to point me in the right direction.
My luck continued. I found a Unitarian Universalist program called “About Your Sexuality,” held in Belle Mead, NJ, with a retreat at a monastery on the Hudson River. It certainly took me outside of my comfort zone! The sessions were life changing. I definitely learned about sexuality, but I also learned about teaching, real teaching. Lecture was only one facet of education, and not a very interesting one. I now had role-playing, brainstorming, slang, music, question boxes, journals, advertising, and room for my own ideas. From that point on, I not only had a better knowledge base in sexuality, but I was also a better teacher and I knew so much more about myself. I was hooked on sex!
However, the revelation was not instantaneous. I vividly remember feeling so alone and uneasy at that monastery. We were brainstorming slang terms for the words at the top of a posted sheet of newsprint. I looked them over and smiled because I knew there was someone else in the room who came from Brooklyn. On the sheet titled “Condom” someone had written “Coney Island Whitefish.” Talk about an ice-breaker!
Like Hansel and Gretel, I discovered a path of breadcrumbs. Each day led to more critical knowledge and the inner circles of sexuality education. I discovered the Sex Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS).[i] I researched, I called, I listened, and I joined. AASECT came into my purview with meetings, conventions, and workshops. (Join AASECT and see the USA!) There is a way to become a Certified Sexuality Educator, they said, and I did.
I met people. Networking is what really inspired me. I had finally found a career; I was on the right path. I continue to marvel at my fellow sex educators’ level of talent, imagination, knowledge, and willingness to share.
I know now that sexuality education is a process. You are always evolving. There are always new things to learn, new methods of presenting material, new educators to meet. The truth is, I have not become a sexuality educator; I am still in the process. There have been a few indicators along the way that have bolstered my confidence. For example, there was the day a main-office school secretary told me that any mail with the word “sex” on it was placed in my mailbox. I am not sure she realized how good that felt to me. There was the day the superintendent of schools came to me with a copy of my recent purchase order in hand. She was questioning the appropriateness of my requisition for a vibrator. I assured her that the dental vibrator was going to be used for pouring dental molds. Just the fact that she was willing to discuss it before I clarified was her way of saying she respected my knowledge and judgment.
I instituted weekly journals for my seniors. I spent many hours reading, commenting, and answering questions, and I was rewarded with great feedback. One particularly memorable young man offered this insight during class discussion: “Mrs. A, your name comes up more often in the back seat of my car than my penis.” OMG, I’ve made it!
[i] In those days, both SIECUS and AASECT used “Sex” in their names. It wasn’t until much later that they changed this to the current preferred terminology, “Sexuality.”
“How I Got Into Sex…Ed is a treasure! If you’ve ever wondered if this path was right for you or what it feels like to be a sex educator or how to get the right kinds of education, training, or opportunities to work as a sexuality education professional, this book is for you!”
Debby Herbenick, PhD, MPH
Director, The Center for Sexual Health Promotion