Profiling Great Sexuality Educators: Konnie McCaffree

Profiling Great Sexuality Educators includes interviews that originally appeared on the website of The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health and is adapted and reprinted with permission.
Konnie McCaffree
1.  What do you do in the field of sexuality?
I began my career in sexuality as a classroom teacher for 11thgraders in a Health Class connected to their physical education class.  The course was called Marriage and Family Life.  None of the other teachers  (huge suburban high school with at least 10 health/PE teachers) wanted to teach it, so I took it over for most of us.
I didn’t think the course as described really related to adolescents so I altered it based on their questions to be a Human Sexuality class.  Because there would have been restrictions on a mandated class, I designed an elective Human Sexuality class for seniors and it was approved by the School Board (based on the fact they assumed that parents wouldn’t approve of their children taking it.)
This was the early 70s and parents were interested in having their children know more.  The class quickly increased from one section of students to many.  We could talk about every topic in sexuality… and did.  During the nineties when I retired there were challenges to the course that we had not had for 25 years. A few parents of this new generation seemed to feel that knowledge in all aspects of sexuality was harmful to them. I was very glad to be retiring at that time. I retired and the course continues though there are restrictions on materials used, specifically visuals. Many of the teachers who had been trained at that time are retired now.
While a public school teacher I also began teaching at the college level and was part of the Human Sexuality Program for professionals that began at the University of Pennsylvania and now is known as the Widener Human Sexuality Program.  I continue to adjunct there, though I am not involved in the day to day running of the program anymore.
I began consulting internationally in 1997 and spent time in South Africa, Zambia, Philippines and Nigeria, helping them develop curricula for sexuality education and train teachers. I continue to work regularly in Nigeria, having helped them implement a sexuality education program for all ages in the schools of Nigeria, and training their teachers and professors who train their pre service teachers.
2.  Where are you based out of?
I live in Doylestown, PA and have always worked out of my home.
3.  What is your focus?  What do you do?  
I am retired from the day to day work of teaching students but I am very involved in looking at what is happening in the field of sexuality education, and very proud of the teaching methods that I introduced into professional education training for those interested in the field of sexology.
When I was hired at Penn my sole work was the development of courses to help students increase their skills as teachers of human sexuality. I helped them move from information being content driven through lectures, to how people learn through examining their attitudes, how those attitudes influence what we choose to teach, and how we relate to students and how to help people consider their attitudes.  I introduced skill-based learning, where communication in sexuality became the most important skill.  Other skills were introduced as well.
I do a variety of other consulting work, creating curricula for various populations and training. I write, critique training methods, and promote involvement in professional organizations for students at the graduate level.
4.  What are your particular goals and passions in the field?
My goals continue to be connected to my passions. After I studied abroad, and now work abroad, I see the world and, in particular, people in such a different way.  In some places of the world where various aspects of sexuality are considered natural and positive, people seem more whole and relaxed about who they are. In the U.S. as well as other places, sexuality is so hidden and seen as a negative force. That makes me sad.  So many people feel badly about themselves, that they are deficient or abnormal.   I’ve never understood why ‘difference’ is a bad thing. Respecting people for who they are, what they believe in, and how they choose to live their lives is so very challenging.
My goal as a teacher was to help each of my students feel better about who they were, and to gain the skills to enhance their physical and emotional health.
5.  Why did you choose to work in this field? 
As a young teacher I was exposed to so many young people who were struggling with life issues, which now I recognize as sexuality ones, and I didn’t know how to help them.  It was clear to me, as so many young people, especially girls, came to me for ‘advice’, that I needed to know more and that I was in a position to help them.  It was more than teaching a science class, it was giving them something that might help to build confidence. I realized that I had a natural and relaxed connection to youth, that sexuality was something I could talk with them about and that the more knowledge and experience I gained, the more help I was able to give them.
6.  Where did you go for school/training? 
 I graduated from college with degrees in biology and physical education; got a Masters degree in Adolescent Psychology, but felt that none of that address what my adolescent students really need to be engaged in learning while they were in the throes of adolescence.  I felt that I needed to know more to be a successful teacher.  I was a coach and the girls always had questions that I couldn’t relate to since my background growing up was so different from many of theirs.
I then found the doctoral program in Human Sexuality at New York University, which had just begun.  I enrolled and received my PhD from there.  I was lucky to be involved in the program when it spent every summer studying sexuality abroad.  I studied in Sweden, Denmark, Kenya, Japan, and Thailand and learned so much.
7.  Do you have any literature out (websites, articles)?
Most of my articles were written years ago.  I have several published curricula. One in Nigeria, which you can’t access, but Select Media  ( has the following evidenced based curricula by Jemmott, Jemmott and McCaffree:  Be Proud! Be Responsible! Making Proud Choices, and Making a Difference.
Chapters in books: Jean Levitan and I co-authored  “Sexuality Education in the Ongoing Sexual Revolution of the 1970s” in Sexuality Education Past, Present, and Future edited by Elizabeth Schroeder and Judith Kuriansky.
8.  What would you recommend to future sexologists attempting to get into the field?
We are all needed, so it doesn’t matter what type of job you have; you can educate those around you and often build a position that is specifically for sexuality right where you work or live.
There is opportunity for building programs for sexuality topics everywhere:  anti-bullying, relationship building, diversity training, pleasure parties, growing older and enjoying ones sexuality helping parents/communities teach their children, etc.
AND join and become active in one of the many professional or social organizations that support sexuality.  When I was a graduate student I was encouraged to join several and ‘try them out’.  It was one of the best experiences because I no longer felt isolated.  I had mentors, peers and people to feel more relaxed with (eventually).  I continue to have many colleagues and students that I see at a professional meeting or gathering and the support and knowledge I have gained is immeasurable.
9.  What is the most challenging aspect for you working in this career?
Challenging in a very positive way is the constant learning that takes place; research knowledge in the field changes.  Technology has changed and there is continual learning from my students.  It means you need to keep studying, growing, and changing.
The negative challenge for me has been the constant battle to see sexuality as a positive, integral force in our lives, and how so many deny it and thus don’t pass on valuable information, attitudes and values to the youth. I see so little respect for individual differences, diversity and values.  That makes living a healthy life challenging for everyone.
10.  One must read-what would you recommend?  Why?
Just isn’t one book.  There are so many wonderful sources.  The challenge is keeping up with them all!


Profiling Great Sexuality Educators includes interviews that originally appeared on the website of The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health and is adapted and reprinted with permission.

3 Responses to “Profiling Great Sexuality Educators: Konnie McCaffree”

  1. Anonymous

    I said it when I completed my dissertation in the Human Sexuality program at Penn (more than 20 years ago–YIKES), and I say it again: Konnie McCaffree is who I want to be when I grow up.

    –Mary Krueger