September 8, 2016
“What is essential is invisible to the eye…” Antoine de Saint Exupery
A friend of mine in the field shared a post today on social media, it was a call for facilitators to educate some medical students. The time expected was 2 hours per online class for several weeks, and 28 hours of preparation time was estimated. The compensation was zero. “Medical connections” was the extent of the benefit offered. She shared one of my ongoing frustrations—the lack of respect given to professional sex educators for the value of our work.
This is not unexpected, perhaps. Educators in general are tremendously undervalued. But educate about something as trivialized as sex in our culture? Clearly, we must not be serious professionals. After all, education isn’t something serious people do. Anyone can teach, can’t they?
And educating about sex! Well that’s always good for a good laugh or at least some raised eyebrows. As those of us in the field know, revealing what we do for a living is also good for blank stares, stutters, dirty jokes, stunned silences, and just plain panic. No, I am not exaggerating. Some people I have encountered have literally left the vicinity after finding out what I do.
But the stride-throwing nature of this profession of ours is actually one of the compelling reasons why we should be highly valued in this world—and—I’ll get to this in a minute—why we should greatly value ourselves.
Sex is not trivial. It is not juvenile. It is natural. It is not a big deal, and it is a really big deal. It makes us vulnerable. It brings us tremendous joy, or grievous sorrow. It can make us sick. It can heal us. It can bring new humans into the world. It is part of the fabric of who we are, how we identify, and how we relax. It can be play, and it can be work.
It is, perhaps then, no wonder that sex education is a field where many do not dare to tread. There’s a particular kind of bravery and a particular kind of soul needed to spread that kind of information. We are pioneers. And we are RARE. Very few do what we do, and even fewer do it well.
Of all of the types of people who have minimized the rights of sex educators to be compensated fairly for this crucial work, there are two who bring out the most reaction in me.
The first is sex therapists. If you’re not guilty of this, you can read the next 2 paragraphs keeping others in mind so you can gently remind them of the next few points. But I have been privy to conversations by some psychotherapists specializing in the field of sexuality who complain publicly and loudly about the cost of an education for themselves, and sometimes for their supervisees. These costs, by the way, are often lower than costs for other types of professional development, or at the very least even with them. I don’t mind most complaining. No one likes the cost of education in America. But when the complaints move to grumbling about “people making money” or “people turning a profit” for education, quite frankly I am outraged for myself and my colleagues. Therapists of all people should have some sympathy—no, empathy—for being undervalued for what they do. As a trained therapist myself, I have heard a lot of jokes about being a “rent-a-friend.” But friendship is not what therapists do. It’s a lot harder than that. They diagnose, they track progress toward goals, they strategize, they sit with pain with no expectation of reciprocation. And they educate.
So, hey therapists that are griping about others making a living? Especially sex therapists? I get it that you may not have been aware of this before, but can you please cut that out? The reason you are a sex therapist, and probably have a waiting list, is because of highly competent sex educators. They taught you everything that you know. I know sex therapists who charge $200-$250 an hour. So how much is your education worth to you now? Thanks. We’d all appreciate it.
The other group that gets my back up when they undervalue sex education is a more insidious one—sex educators themselves. Sex educators have such passion for what they do, and they love it so much, that they often charge little for their work, or even teach and train for free. Uh—hey, folks? Can you please stop doing that?
You are rare. Almost no one wants to do what you do, and even fewer know how. You are rare and you are tremendously, tremendously valuable. Your work prevents illness and even death. Your work reduces the amount of unwanted children coming into the world. Your work liberates people from shame prisons, breaks locks of fear and phobia, unwinds knots in marriages, bursts depressions, and evaporates oppression of identities, orientations and behaviors.
So please, please–value what you do. Once you are trained, require fair compensation for everything that you teach. When you undervalue yourself, you undervalue us as a field. You add to the myths that education can be done by anyone, that because sex is fun to talk about it is trivial or unimportant, or that we are a dime-a-dozen. We, most emphatically, are not. You are not. The sooner we understand that and begin acting in accordance with that value, the sooner that others will, too.
And for those of you who may be thinking that this rant is self-serving, given that I am the founder and Director of a sex education school? You’re damn right it is.
Rosalyn Dischiavo, EdD, MA, CSES
Institute for Sexuality Education & Enlightenment