There are a lot of people calling themselves sex educators these days. It’s a really exciting field and getting to talk about sex and pleasure is a lot of fun. But the abundance of people teaching workshops makes it hard to make a living at it.
In my experience, that’s even more true in the kink world. The BDSM scene has always placed a big emphasis on education, mostly because many kinky skills require more know-how and come with more risk than vanilla sex. And since there are lots of BDSM events, conventions, gatherings, and community spaces, there are plenty of opportunities for people to show off what they know. Plus, there’s a lot of social cachet in being a presenter in those circles. (I’m deliberately leaving out the folks who offer themselves as presenters in order to cruise, but that’s another motivation for some.)
Novice educators – you will have to pay some dues. Until you have a proven track record of classes on your CV, understand that, for many groups, you are a genuine risk to bring in. The more prestigious the organization that is inviting you to speak, the more that they have to lose if you do a poor job – and that can be anything from speaking offensively to giving unsafe information. What this means financially is that our initial forays into presenting may require us to pay our own way to and from the event, cover our expenses, and occasionally even be asked to pay for our own registration in full. Is this bad? It depends on your outlook. If you see it as an investment in building your resume, it may be a perfectly acceptable (and perhaps even desirable) situation that you’ll want to take advantage of. However, if money and time are a challenge and the benefits don’t outweigh the expense, it’s likely to not be worth it to you – and if you opt to do it, you’ll need to check your resentments about the terms at the door before you walk in, or else you can be assured that you won’t be invited back.
It’s not just kink presenters who face these hurdles. Any sex or relationship educator has to figure out how to get over them, too. And part of the challenge is that with so many people trying to break into the business, it takes a lot to explain why one should get paid at all, much less a reasonable amount. As Moss Hart put it:
“Writers, actors, and prostitutes all face the same fundamental economic problem: they are competing with amateurs who are pretty good and will work for nothing.”
Sex educators fit in there, too.
But I think it’s also important for educators to understand what it’s like on the other side of that dynamic. Convention and and event organizers can barely break even and when presenters start demanding what they think they’re worth, it makes it impossible to run events. That’s doubly true when folks rightly point out that high ticket costs reinforce the financial privilege necessary to get to conventions and classes.
I’ve been on both sides of this difficulty. As a workshop teacher, I know how hard it is to navigate getting paid for teaching. To be honest, if my travel expenses are covered by my portion of the ticket sales, I consider that a win. And having run the workshop program at Good Vibrations for 15 years, I also know how difficult it is for event spaces to break even for anything other than big name speakers with significant followings. I didn’t even need to worry about renting a location or paying staff since the store was open anyway. If I’d had to deal with that, there wouldn’t have been any way to offer presenters anything reasonable.
So what can we do about this?
First, I think sex educators need to be realistic about why we do what we do and what we hope to get out of it. Don’t get into the field if you think that teaching workshops is going to bring you much income. Instead, most successful educators either have other jobs that pay the bills or have products or services they offer. Whether it’s a book, coaching services, or something else, it’s important to have something you can sell. When you do, your workshops become amazing promotional opportunities, though you need to do it with a very light touch. I’ve seen two-hour workshops that seemed like infomercials, which only leads to resentment and a damaged reputation.
It’s totally fine if you also want to teach classes because of the social status, to get free convention registration, to be able to travel and take it as a business expense, or even to cruise people interested in your topic (as long as you’re very mindful of not violating teacher-student dynamics and you’re not doing it to find inexperienced newbies to take advantage of). But be clear what your motivation is before you start trying to negotiate a fee.
I know it’s not easy to figure out how to monetize your teaching. To be honest, I struggled with it until Aislinn & I wrote The Ultimate Guide to Prostate Pleasure. If you have an area of expertise, having a book you can sell can make a big difference. Whether it’s a physical book or an ebook, get your knowledge into writing. Or start selling videos in which you give people advice and tips. Reid Mihalko is an excellent example of how to promote videos through an affiliate program, and Kink Academy offers fantastic kink education. You can also do what a lot of folks do and develop a freelance careers that lets you travel. Beyond that, there aren’t many paths, other than to make sex education a hobby rather than a career.
I wish there were more options. It’s ironic that there are so many people who want and need sex information, at the same time that it’s so difficult to make a living at it. I will say that it’s easier to get paid when you teach at stores since they don’t have to pay additional rent and they have the incentive of being able to sell products. That’s much more feasible at vanilla sex toy stores than at kinky stores since there are more of them around, but you have to have a topic that’s relevant for them. And if it promotes store sales, that’s even better, so choose your topic with that in mind.
In the end, though, I think it’s important to be realistic about this issue. Most sex educators do it because it’s what we love. If you can find a way to make a living at it, you’re very fortunate, indeed.
If you’re thinking about getting formal about it, check out my post on where to get trained as a sex educator for plenty of tips.