There are a lot of paths people take to becoming sex educators. One of the most common (and in some ways, simplest) is to become a workshop presenter. Having seen many different workshops and classes, though, I’ve observed some common pitfalls, so here are some suggestions for how to avoid them.
Getting Started as a Workshop Presenter
In some ways, taking your first steps as a workshop presenter is pretty easy. Learn a lot about a topic you have a passion for and start creating workshops! I see this a lot in the BDSM community, where being an educator has a certain social cachet. The big advantage is that it’s pretty straightforward and simple to do. Many folks who go this route attend lots of classes, pick some techniques they’ve seen, and paste them together into a 90 minute or two-hour event.
Since there’s no universally-accepted set of standards or expectations, and because very few people get any training in how to teach, many of the people who do this make a lot of mistakes. Spending too long getting to know everyone in the audience, not taking the time to create a safe space, talking too much about their personal experiences as if they’re universal, and not being able to address issues or concerns that their attendees face are just some of the blunders I’ve seen. And let’s not forget poor public speaking skills, irrelevant demonstrations, or not being able to engage the audience or make the topic fun.
That’s not to say that there aren’t some amazing workshop presenters out there. Here’s what many of them do to avoid those pitfalls:
Learn about sex
Not just how you do it, and not just the topic of your workshop. Learn about as much as you can. Learn about sexual orientations and genders and practices and issues you aren’t familiar with because those folks will be coming to your workshops. I’ve seen quite a few presenters get stuck when they fielded questions like “I have osteoporosis. How does that affect spanking?” or “These blowjob tips are great, but why are you assuming that I’ll be doing this with a woman?” The more you can include a range of experiences and sexualities, the better.
Get some public speaking skills
The Learning Annex an your local community college are good places to start. If you only get one useful tip from a seminar, it’ll be worth it. Trust me.
When I first started teaching, I’d heard that you were supposed to make eye contact. So my focus flitted from person to person, in an attempt to meet everyone’s eyes, but that made me look twitchy. The class I took showed me that it’s better to make eye contact with one person for at least 5-10 seconds, and that everyone sitting near them would also feel like I was looking at them. So I could focus on zones of 6 or 7 people at a time before moving to the next zone. That one suggestion completely changed how I teach.
When you’re planning a workshop, everything you include should be have a purpose. When you’re organizing your information or designing an exercise, ask yourself: “What makes this valuable to my audience?” If you can’t answer the question, either it’s not worth including or you’re not ready to teach.
I’ve seen presenters go off on tangents or use amazing exercises that had very little to do with the topic at hand. Everything you plan for your class should support the goals you’ve set for what you want people to get out of it. If you don’t have goals in mind, learn how to create them.
Along those lines, do some research about different learning styles and how to engage them. It can’t all be lecture- that just gets boring and it’s also more work for you. Get people talking about what they want to learn or hurdles they want to overcome. For some topics, you can give them hands-on practice or you can simulate it. But don’t just talk at people for two hours. It’s not effective.
Follow the flow of the information
There should be a structure to your workshops. I like to follow the same logic as the topic I’m talking about. So for a class on anal play, I might use this order: how to introduce the idea to a partner, external massage, painless (and hopefully, pleasurable) penetration, internal massage, toys, intercourse, and post-play tips. See how that follows the arc that anal play might take? That makes it easy to absorb the information. I’ve seen classes that jumped around, without much regard for a useful order to put things in, which makes it hard to keep up.
If there’s more than one structure you could use, that’s totally fine. Just be intentional about the framework you use and stick with it.
Use personal disclosure sparingly
There are two reasons to talk about your experiences when you teach: to build credibility and to illustrate a point. Neither of those requires long stories about your sex life.
Building credibility doesn’t require you to talk about the amazing time you had last weekend. It’s really easy for that to come across as bragging. Instead, focus on how long you’ve been interested in the topic, how long you’ve studied it or learned about it, or what got you first involved in it. Keep it short & sweet- most of your credibility should come from the quality of your teaching, not your sexual history.
Go back and re-read the anecdote I used to make the point about public speaking skills. See how I framed the story? I used two sentences to set the stage and focused instead on what I learned. That’s because I wanted to encourage you take a class, too. Limited personal disclosure is most effective when the story supports the change you want people to make. There’s no reason to get into the details of your sex life beyond that. It’s generally irrelevant.
I’ve also seen a lot of workshop teachers talk about their personal experiences as if they’re universal. It’s one thing to use stories and personal disclosure to make a point, but don’t ever assume that everyone in the class will have the same experience. It’s just not going to happen.
Let go of perfection
Here’s the big secret to being a great presenter- you will never be perfect. I’ve been teaching workshops, classes, and university courses for almost 20 years and I’ve never had a class in which everything worked for everyone. If you can connect with most of the participants most of the time, you’re doing a great job. And hopefully, you’ll connect with different people at different moments, so that everyone will be engaged around something.
If you aim for “good enough,” you’ll sometimes hit “amazing.” If you beat yourself up for not being amazing, you’ll actually make your classes less fun. It’s a lot like sex- let go of being goal oriented and the odds of having a great time increase.
What do you want to get out of teaching workshops?
This is possibly the most important question that people forget to ask. Teaching is a lot of work and the pay is rarely much. It’s fine if you want to do it to get free registration at a conference, or to sell your coaching services, or to promote your book, or to put it on your resume. Just be honest about why you’re doing it. If your motivation is to gain status or cruise hotties, be honest about that, too. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a bad teacher, but it can affect how well you engage with your audience. The more clear you are about your goals as a teacher, the more easily you can create classes that meet those goals.
Practice, practice, practice
Great teaching comes over time and the only way you’ll get there is to try things, make mistakes, learn from them, and repeat. Invite some friends over, feed them dinner and show them what you’ve got. Ask them these questions:
- What did I do that worked well?
- What did I do that could be improved?
- What did I leave out?
- What’s one thing that you got from my workshop?
There’s a lot that could be said about marketing yourself, or booking classes, or how to build your community presence. That’s a topic for another day. Teaching sex workshops can be a lot of fun, as long as you know what you want to get out of it. So give it a try and see how it works for you!