I am the founder and director of the Institute for Sexuality Education and Enlightenment (ISEE), a professional training program for educators, counselors and therapists. The vast majority of the people who come to our program are professional psychotherapists who wish to have an advanced knowledge of sexual problems so that they are well-trained in their practice, and health and sex educators who wish to make sure that their information is well-rounded, holistic, and of a high standard.
I faced a conundrum when we first opened our doors and my first sex worker called us, asking if we would certify her as a sex educator. Being affiliated with multiple organizations in the field, I didn’t know. Would we?
Don’t get me wrong. We would not certify sex workers for sex work. We would not certify strippers for stripping, escorts for escorting, or erotic massage workers for happy endings. But what about simply certifying them as sex educators, for the educational work that they do that is non-sexual in nature?
It is socially unacceptable with many in the human sexuality field to discuss this. This is partly because the education and therapy professionals have banded together to create organizations, and they are understandably worried that people will mistake “Certified Sex Therapists” or “Certified Sex Educators” for Certified Surrogate Partners or sex workers themselves. They are not. These are hands-off, clothing-on professionals who work very hard to get out good information as well as healing. These folks can be trusted to behave impeccably in any environment and with any age population, and all have signed ethics statements.
But when we opened our doors in 2011, I received calls from people who were, or had been, sex workers. Have you ever actually spoken with a sex worker at length? I have, many times. I learned how often sex workers were asked questions by their clients, and how many of them actually research the answers. I learned how common it is for sex workers to talk to clients about erectile dysfunction, difficulties with intimacy, fetishes, body image and penis size, and even to help them get over and through these difficulties. I also learned that the people I was talking to loved to help their clients—even when they felt inadequate to the task. Yet when they reached out to some organizations and wanted to be honest about their backgrounds or their professions, they were either turned away or told that they must keep the sex work to themselves.
Again, this is understandable, given the legal situation. But is it, in fact, hypocritical? Even exploitative? Has the field forgotten its history? The fact is, the study of human sexuality in this country was founded substantially through the expertise and contributions of sex workers.
Let’s take a little trip down memory lane, shall we? Alfred Kinsey, arguably the father of American sex research, interviewed sex workers as part of his study of human sexual behavior, and was known to ask them regularly for information about sexual functioning. Kinsey’s work was the seminal scientifically and statistically rigorous research on human sexuality in the United States, and his data remains valuable to this day.
Bill Masters of Masters and Johnson also gained extensive amounts of information about sexual response and orgasm from female sex workers, and it was a sex worker who famously told him, “You need a translator” (between himself and women), prompting him to hire Virginia Johnson.
Masters and Johnson then went on to create a training program for sexual surrogates—people who worked directly and physically with their clients to help them to work through sexual problems. Hartman and Fithian followed suit. This profession still exists, most known in the form of the International Professional Surrogates Association.
What about Somatic Sex Educators, Sexological Bodyworkers, Sacred Intimates, Sacred Sexuality/Tantra practitioners? “Sexual Surrogates” have transformed over the years and their work as Surrogate Partners includes everything from helping someone to learn how to date, to how to flirt, to how to hold someone’s hand, and also how to be sexual with another human being. Certified Somatic Sex Educators use one-way touch to educate their clients one-on-one, therefore aiding them with pleasure, masturbation, and orgasm. Both of these fields of work have their own ethics codes, and people certified by these organizations must abide by them or lose their certifications.
So are we in the human sexuality field hypocritical? Worse, are we in fact exploiting sex workers by using the data that they have provided, and yet in some cases silencing them as people who may want an education, people who deserve the chance at certification like anyone else, for the hands-off work that they do? If they are willing to sign ethics statements like everyone else, and use their certifications for specific types of work only, who is to say they may not be educated, may not be certified–unless they keep their other work to themselves?
It’s time that we addressed these issues, including the respectability politics, in more depth as well as finally giving the somatic folks the floor for awhile so that they can speak for the work that they do. We literally owe it to them.
Dr. Rosalyn Dischiavo is the Founder and Director of Institute for Sexuality Education & Enlightenment (ISEE), which offers live classes on both coasts as well as many classes online. ISEE will be sponsoring a conference in the spring of 2019 called Sex Education with Adults (SEACon©), where among other topics, the contributions of the somatic workers will be explored and many of these issues will be addressed. To be on the mailing list or get more information about this upcoming conference, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org or head to the website at http://instituteforsexuality.com
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
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