Where To Get Trained As A Sex Educator

I field a lot of questions from people who want to become sex educators for adults and are looking for advice for where to get trained. So rather than answer them individually, I thought I’d write a post that I could link to and make my life easier.

The first thing I need to say is that sex education is a tough way to make a living. There are a lot of people who want to do it and not nearly as many opportunities to get paid for it. Part of that is that US society doesn’t value sexuality and relationship education as much as it deserves, even though the trial-and-error method that most people go through clearly leads to unnecessary confusion, shame, and hurting each other. But part of that is also that there are a lot of people offering sex ed for free or for very little charge, which means that it’s difficult to justify getting paid.

“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.”
-Moss Hart

Many new sex educators do offer their services and trainings for free as a way to build name recognition and gain experience. Other people do sex ed for fun, or as a way to get free entry to conferences and events where they’ll be teaching, or as a way to gain social cachet as an expert (this is especially common in the BDSM world, in my experience). That can make it difficult to make a living out of it, which is why many of my colleagues have other jobs to pay the bills, whether that’s in sex ed or not.

One of the best ways to distinguish yourself from the pack is to get some kind of formal education or training. I have to say that having a PhD and being certified by the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors,and Therapists makes a big difference for me. Since AASECT certification requires extensive documentation, I suggest taking a look at the requirements before getting started. It’s much easier to track and document your training as you do it than it is to go back and try to take care of it after the fact.

As far as academic programs go, there are a few to consider. They each have their strengths and weaknesses, as well as their fans and detractors. Please take whatever I say about them with a grain of salt- these are my opinions, based mostly on talking with people who went through them. If you’ve been through any of these programs and have other information to share, please comment below.

The Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality is a mixed bag. On the negative side, the program isn’t very academically rigorous, it’s not accredited (so there’s no financial aid), and there’s not as much academic support as I think many people need. Having said that, it’s a great program for helping people overcome their biases and triggers around sexual communities and practices, which is nothing to sneeze at. Yes, I know that most people in the field are convinced that they’ve already done that work, but trust me- there are always new ways for us to grow. My observation is that IASHS students who come to the program with professional experience and strong research skills can do amazing work. But I’ve also seen some dissertations come out of the school that were, frankly, weak tea. I don’t think it’s because those students weren’t intelligent, but without training in how to conduct research, what could you expect?

The program in Sexuality Studies at San Francisco State doesn’t offer a degree in sex education, but it does provide some good background in sexuality. If you want to study the intersection of sexuality and social justice or do work on a policy level, it’s a fine place to go. But there’s very little exploration of how sex works, what it means to people, or how to help them create better sex lives. I’ve heard it said that SFSU offers a program in sexuality but not in sex. If you want to teach workshops or offer coaching, this might not be the best fit for you. However, there’s much more academic structure than at IASHS and if that’s useful for you, it’s worth looking into.

Many of the same things can be said of the program at Widener University, though your career options are a bit broader. If you want to conduct research, teach at a university, or do policy work, there’s a lot there for you. But again, if you want to work with individuals and couples to help them improve their sex lives, or if you want to learn about sex rather than sexuality, it might not be what you’re looking for. I’ve also been told by past students that when negative judgments were expressed during classroom discussions, they were often left unchallenged. This might not currently be part of the program’s culture, but given how often sex educators need to explore our own unrecognized biases and judgements in order to offer the best possible support, this is definitely something to be mindful of.

California Institute of Integral Studies just launched a PhD program in Human Sexuality. I don’t know anything about it beyond the fact of its existence, since they haven’t opened the doors yet. From the website, though, it’s going to focus on clinical practice for mental health professionals and policy work, so I’m guessing that it will have some of the same strengths and limits as Widener and SFSU.

If your interest is in sexual health, take a look at the Sexual Health Certificate Program at the University of Michigan. I’ve only spoken with one person who has completed it, but it sounds like a great experience, especially if you want AASECT certification. Classes take place on weekends, so it’s good for non-local students and the course descriptions are pretty impressive.

There are other academic programs that sex educators might be interested in, though many of them focus on social work or psychology. The website for the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality has listings for undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate programs.

I often get questions about my doctorate in adult sexuality education. I received it from the Union Institute and University and technically, my degree is in interdisciplinary studies. My focus was the relationships between sex and shame, and my doctoral dissertation was an evaluation of a semester-long course I taught at Starr King School for the Ministry on the topic. The program is mostly independent study and when I was there, it offered a lot of flexibility and support, which is an uncommon combination. However, while I was a student, the federal accreditation requirements shifted and the program lost much of the flexibility that made it such a good fit for me. Given how extensive the changes were, I don’t know enough about it to offer an informed opinion about the current structure. Further, since it wasn’t actually a program in sexuality or sex education, I’m hesitant to offer it as an option. That was my area of study, but I was only able to get the support I needed by recruiting outside mentors and committee members with relevant expertise.

It’s worth saying that there are a lot of amazing sex educators who are self-taught. Having a degree helps for some things, but if you want to teach workshops, write books, or work as a coach, you can do a lot without an academic program. The difficulty with this route is that it’s hard to know what you don’t know, so a lot of folks don’t recognize where they have gaps in their knowledge. I’ve been in plenty of workshops where the teacher made the mistake of assuming that their experiences were universal, or in which they simply weren’t able to address all of the questions because they fell outside their range of knowledge. Of course, those are challenges any sex educator faces, but self-taught folks have to work especially hard to overcome them, in my experience. If you’re dedicated enough and if you’re willing and able to do the work, go for it.

There are also other fields that can offer a lot to potential sex educators. Many of us come to the work through psychology, women’s studies, gender studies, sociology, and queer studies, among others. Others get their start working for non-profit organizations or as peer educators on their college campuses. (That’s how I got started.) Megan Andelloux wrote a great article on that topic, which she’s allowed me to repost here. You can also take a look at Bill Taverner’s Tips for Emerging Sexology Professionals.

It can be challenging to set yourself up as a freelancer, and while that’s certainly true in any field, it can be even tougher in sex ed. It’s worth taking a look at Patti Britton’s Sex Coach U training, as well as the many other (non sex-related) coaching certifications. Reid Mihalko is another great resource for people who want to make a living as a freelance sex educator. His Sex Geek Summer Camp will give you lots of tools for running a business as a sex educator, as well as plenty of awesome info. Tristan Taormino offers a Sex Educator Boot Camp and I’ve heard lots of great things about it. And the training at San Francisco Sex Information is also pretty amazing. I also know of at least two non-profit organizations that have been talking about creating professional trainings for sexuality educators, but they’re still in the planning stages. And even if you don’t want to get AASECT-certified, their guidelines are a good starting point for anyone who wants to piece together a self-directed training.

Lastly, there are some good trainings that are designed for sex therapists, but educators will also get a lot out of them. Both The Buehler Institute and the Institute for Sexuality Education and Enlightenment offer online courses and in-person classes for therapists, educators, and other professionals who want to learn how to offer sexuality counseling (like medical professionals, physical therapists, etc.) While I don’t know anything about either program directly, I know the folks who run them and they’re top notch.

So there it is. As important as sexuality education is, there are unfortunately very few training options for anyone who wants to make a career of it. I wish it were otherwise, especially since there’s so much need for it. But don’t let that discourage you. Each of these programs offers things that you might find useful, especially if you supplement it with your own work. Or take the self-taught route, as long as you get some input to make sure you’re not missing anything important. We need more sex educators in the world and maybe when we do, there will be more folks who could put a professional training program together.

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9 Responses so far.

  1. Charlie, Touche!!! You nailed it…you really have insights and accuracy into your assessments of the sex ed/sexology programs you described….and we so appreciate your citing SexCoachu. We are now in 17 countries, doing an international survey on our field of sex coaches, and growing globally.
    The IASHS this year just got state approval for us to be the faculty for its 500-hours of sex coaching certificate program training that’s filling a wide gap in what is needed there.
    Much love and kudos to you.
    I’m about to write a review for your new book. Sorry, busy people! xo, Patti

  2. Debby Herbenick, Robin Milhausen, and I, along with various others,  did our graduate work at Indiana Unjversity-Bloomington, home of the Kinsey Institute. I have recommended it to students as an academically rigorous program. 

  3. Amy Marsh says:

    Hi Charlie, 
    Great article! Very balanced and fair, and I wish I’d had something like this to read before embarking on my own training! I’ll be happily directing people to your blog post from now on!

    That said, I’d like to mention that IASHS now has two new certificate courses – Patti Britton and Robert Dunlap’s Sex Coaching program, mentioned in your post, and my 300 hour program: Intimate Hypnosis – Sexological Hypnosis Skills. I graduated my first sexological hypnotist student in November, and am repeating the course in February (registration open now!). 

    This course is based on an extensive literature search in the uses of hypnosis in sex therapy and the curriculum I created for my EdD program at IASHS. It is unique to IASHS in that I offer it with a complete distance learning option on Moodle – a well-respected online eduation platform – with twice-weekly webinars and home study. This program combines an introduction to hypnosis with an introduction to sexology in order to develop a clinical skill set. I would say this program is fairly rigorous, academically, even with its practical focus. 

    In offering these certificate programs as well as academic and professional degrees, IASHS offers an unparalleled range of training opportunities in sexology. This year, Intimate Hypnosis and Sex Coaching join the already established certificate programs: Sexological Bodywork, Associate in Sex Education, Clinical Sexology, and Erotology. These programs range from 150 to 500 hours long. Many people then decide to go on to one of the degree programs, but not all. 

    In other words, as a helping professional, you can get good training, for a reasonable price, in a range of practical – and cutting edge – approaches to sexology, even without embarking on a degree. I also highly recommend the eight-day SAR program (sexual attitude restructuring) and erotology – both have been of great use to me as a clinician, particularly with regard to hypnosis.

    Again, thanks for the great article!
    With aloha! 

  4. Great article and so important. I’m commenting to add my organization as a resource for sex-positive, gender inclusive, youth-focused sex ed in Illinois, based in Chicago but reaches statewide — the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health. We do training for youth AND adults to be sex educators at a variety of levels and on many topics. We can also train whole staffs of groups/orgs. More info: http://icah.org/content/training

  5. Bianca James says:

    Emily Nagoski, +Charlie,
    Thanks again Charlie for taking the time to do an informational interview with me when I was in the process of figuring this out a year ago- I’m am now working towards a Masters of Public Health at IU Bloomington (as Emily mentioned), with Debby Herbenick as my advisor. While the coursework isn’t largely sexuality-oriented (at least not in the first semester), most of my professors are sex researchers and I’ve had the opportunity to work on sexuality-related research here from day one. Public Health is also an excellent field for sex educators, especially those interested in sexual health, STI prevention, and so forth. Just wanted to vouch for this as another option! 

  6. Tim says:

    How do you feel about Joseph Kramer and other’s work and teaching of sexological bodywork?
     
    where does or doesn’t it fit in?
     Thanks
    Tim M

  7. Tim, I haven’t taken that course, so I can’t speak from personal experience. I know many people who have, and they seem to both know their stuff and be very well-trained. So I consider the program to be a good one, though if you’re considering it, I think it’s worth talking to graduates to see if it’s a good fit for you.  Sexological bodywork is a specific training and it won’t meet everyone’s career needs. But for the folks it works for, it seems quite good.

  8. Jaiya says:

    Charlie,

    Great article. As a sexologist who’s company hit almost half a million last year and is aiming for 7 figures in the next year, I have to say that you can make money in this profession. You just need business training and knowledge around how to create products that serve people. I struggled until I learned marketing. So to back up all of your education in regards to sexuality you may also want to get a good education on how to enroll your ideal clients and market to them.

    There are many of us making over 6 figures in this industry and we all have one thing in common we highly value our work and we know how to run businesses. So the winning key is to know your work and to know how to run a business if you want to be a free-lancer or have your own practice.

    For training I did the Sexological Bodywork certification with Joseph Kramer among many other private certifications and am currently working on my PH.d at IUPS which did have a somatic sexology degrees but shifted it to somatic psychology with an emphasis in Sexology. I highly recommend sexological bodywork for anyone who wants to do more hands on work.

    Thanks for this wonderful article! Will be sure to send it out anyone who asks about training!

  9. Brian Franson says:

    Sept.18 ,2015

    Hi Charlie
    Thanks for the article. I caught an episode of “Susan Megatron” out of Toronto ,on which you appeared and I thought it was wonderful.
    After back surgery 12 years ago,my body stopped producing testosterone.My French wife and I went from an amazing 25 year Honeymoon to zero over a couple of months.Unable to find anyone to help us navigate thru that.It made me realize we need sex educators in a big way and I think this is to be my next career.

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