Some Sexual Health Educators are Awesome, Some.......Not so Much

I had the opportunity to go to presentations by two pretty darned famous sexual health educators this month. The first was Sue Johanson (of Sunday Night Sex Show and Talk Sex fame) who was speaking to about 300 university students. The second was Midori (author of Wild Side Sex and The Seductive Art of Japanese Bondage and well-known kink, bdsm, and rope bondage expert and teacher) who did two presentations at the Tickle Trunk last weekend. Wow, what a difference between the two! This experience made me want to write a little comparison of what makes a good sexual health educator does as opposed to a bad one. If you read my VUE column about my Sue Johanson experience, you'll know who's the bad and who's the good (hint, Midori's workshops were amazing, pretty much mind-changing and life-changing experiences, Sue's......not so much).

A bad sexual health educator: does not ask about the composition of her audience beforehand and assumes that everyone in the group is straight and cisgendered. She uses language that excludes anyone who is not a part of the majority and even language that is offensive to most people with any awareness of queer and gender identity issues (such as 'anatomically correct woman').

A good sexual health educator: finds out as much as she can about her audience and does her best to tailor the information and presentation style to suit the needs of the group. She assumes that there will be a wide variety of people in the audience and uses language and examples that are as inclusive as possible.

A bad sexual health educator: relies on gender stereotyping and provides information and examples that deny individual experience by saying that if you have a particular type of genitalia, you will have a particular type of experience and no other.

A good sexual health educator: tells her groups to imagine society's perfect example of a dominant feminine woman and then tells the group to imagine escorting her to the penthouse suite of a highrise and then pushing her off the balcony. She encourages her audience to define for themselves what sexy, feminine, masculine, dominant, and submissive means to them and how they will express it.

A bad sexual health educator: tries to win over her audience with jokes that rely on gender stereotyping and outdated, sex-negative myths

A good sexual health educator: has a natural humor that calls on her lived experiences and interests and is genuine and warm (and includes lots of references to zombies and sci-fi movies)

A bad sexual health educator: does not keep her information up-to-date and cannot answer simple questions about current treatments for STI's or new products in the sex arena

A good sexual health educator: considers sexual health education to be a big part of her life and therefore spends a lot of time immersed in it. She knows the current information and if she doesn't, she knows where to find it. She likes sex and toys herself and spends time talking to people in the industry and experimenting personally so she's aware of what's new and will understand the questions her audience asks her.

A bad sexual health educator: does not care where she is presenting and does not bother to look up local resources so she will have them at the ready when her audience asks. She gives her audience inappropriate resources (like telling them to call the AIDS Committee of Toronto for advice on how to have anal sex) or no resources at all.

A good sexual health educator: finds out beforehand who the local resources are and has that information ready should anyone ask. She knows who to ask for the information she does not have. She makes it her business to get to know people everywhere she goes and refers her audiences to those local friends and acquaintances or asks them for information about what's going on locally.

A bad sexual health educator: has a prepared schtick that is obviously the exact same presentation she's given to every other group she's ever spoken to

A good sexual health educator: has a lesson plan for her workshops so that she covers the important information but is prepared and able to veer away from that plan should the audience want her to. The delivery comes from a genuine place - it is clear that she understands and is very interested in her subject matter and is not simply reciting from a prepared speech.

A bad sexual health educator: does not engage with her audience but rather asks them to write down questions and then picks and chooses which questions she will answer. She does not accept questions from the floor. She gives short answers lacking in details and does not attempt to gather more information in order to give a more accurate and helpful answer.

A good sexual health educator: allows people to ask questions during the presentation and privately after. She asks for clarification when she doesn't understand and engages in a conversation rather than simply answering the question. She is genuinely concerned about understanding the question and helping the person find an answer that makes sense for them.

I also had a really great experience at the Western Canadian Conference on Sexual Health where I met two other really great sexual health educators, Dr. Liam Snowdon and Cory Silverberg. Looking back on it, I can say that both Liam (or Captain as he is known to most people) and Cory had all of these qualities of great sexual health educators as well. They both knew their stuff inside and out and were completely caring and respectful of their audiences. Cory is very aware of diversity and the need for accessibility. When he was beginning his presentation, he said 'Everyone who can hear, can you hear me?'. He doesn't assume that everyone can hear. Captain was the best example I have ever seen of completely inclusive language. He was also outstanding in the way in which he initiated exercises in his sessions - really explaining fully what the plan was and then giving permission for people to choose exactly how they wanted to participate. One woman sat in the corner of the room during an exercise and he encouraged her to do just that if that was what she was comfortable with.

I think the days of top-down lectures are gone and these people are the new wave of sexual health education. I can certainly say which experiences were more beneficial to me.