The Real Poop
Wouldn't it be awesome if there was a job out there that would teach you everything you need to know about doing it? Sorry, guys and gals, but that's not what this gig is about.
Becoming a sex education teacher is actually part of a whole interdisciplinary field of study drawing on biology, medicine, psychology, sociology, and chemistry. It's called "sexology." Yup, that's a real word.
Basically, it's about the icky, sticky, gross, and gooey stuff. And if you're a professional sex educator in a school setting, then it's also about imparting all that icky, gross knowledge to little kids without making them plug their ears or run screaming from the room, scarred for life. Sex education teachers are certified professionals trained to teach everything they know about sex and sexuality to the people who really need to hear it. Sex educators can work at many different levels in a community, and in many different settings.
By far, the most jobs in this field are in schools and youth-targeted programs. After all, who knows the least about sex? Usually, it's the young folks out there who have the burning questions (and the burning hormones). Not such great things happen when kids don't get their questions answered. (Unwanted pregnancies, gross lesions in the nether-regions, and really confusing sexual feelings, among others.) That's where school health teachers, and other people who work in school- and community-based programs come in. Armed with very detailed charts, super embarrassing demonstrations, and too many worksheets to count, these sex educators have the 411 and want everyone else to have it too.
Maybe the idea of teaching little kids about sex sounds a little too hard for you. Or just too awkward. Well, fortunately for you (and only you), sex education in this country fails a lot of children, who never learn some of the basics. (Remember to wrap it up, you can't "catch" AIDS through the air, and yes, your girlfriend can get pregnant even if you stage a premature retreat.) These children grow up into irresponsible, uninformed adults who could use a refresher sex lesson or two. That's where you come in. As a community health educator, you would work in HIV, STI, family planning, and pregnancy prevention programs in high-risk, at-need communities.
Technically speaking, if teaching either little kids or at-risk communities sounds like a poor fit for you, but you still really want to learn more about sexuality, you could get a graduate degree in sexuality studies, and teach at a university. Theoretically. In reality, the market is pretty much saturated with sexuality studies professors, and there aren't any jobs available for new ones. Besides, you're interested in sex education because you want to help as many people as you can, who most need the information, right?
Which brings us to why in God's name a person would dedicate himself or herself to the life of sex educator. It's not just for the love of goop. The people who make effective sex educators really care about communities as a whole and believe in what they do. How else would they put up with disgusting, filthy-minded tweens who just want to know how dogs and missionary service come into the picture.
Sex educators are also good communicators, and they're excellent with euphemisms. You'll be using a lot of them in a whole host of awkward situations. You're going to know more ways to say the word "vagina" than any comedian or linguist alive. If you're bashful or you hated that public speaking class you took freshman year, back out now.
Speaking of euphemisms, you won't always be able to say exactly what you want. Not everyone will have the same opinions as you on what sex education should look like. If you’re working in a classroom, there will be a lot of young ears listening. And even if your students aren't exactly hanging on every single word, you work in a public school and you have to be sensitive to a wide range of perspectives. If you find yourself at odds with state-mandated curriculum—or just your district's Board of Education—you're going to have a lot of ethical questions to wrestle with. How much should your students know? And what exactly should they know? There are a lot of grey areas surrounding contraception.
And if you are a hippie-liberal sex educator, you can't be too much of a hippie. Sex educators, in fact, need to be hyper-organized. They don't spend their days dreaming up new ways of getting in touch with one's inner sexual force. They spend their days writing lesson plans, assigning homework, making quizzes about the location of fallopian tubes in the body, and writing pamphlets about the wonders of condom use. They're teachers, after all, not tantric sex gods and goddesses.
And unlike gods and goddesses, sex educators aren't born with an omniscient, innate understanding of all things sexy. Sex educators need to do quite a lot of research. Okay, okay. Don't get too excited. For the love of god, don't treat this as a carte blanche to read erotica or watch porn all day. It's not. This isn't about what turns you on. You need to get yourself to a library, and once you're there, you need to do more than just crack open the Kama Sutra. You gotta read about everything sex-related: sex, sexuality, sexual dysfunction. What are the causes of erectile dysfunction? What sorts of counseling services are available for pedophiles? Yeah, the stuff you really, really wish you didn't know.
If you're really serious about learning as much as you can about sex, then you might consider getting a university degree in sexuality. The prestige and connections will be nice, but for $50k a year, it's not really worth it. Hundreds of thousands of dollars is a lot to pay for the privilege of saying you have a Master’s in "Sexology." You'll end up knowing way too much about the shades-of-grey spectrum of sexual orientation and sexual identity, and not nearly enough about the mechanics and practices of pregnancy and disease prevention to be helpful to the communities you want to serve.
In the end, you need to get some real life experience. But don't go knocking on the doors to strip joints and brothels. Not that kind of life experience. We're thinking more along the lines of volunteering on the ground at your local Planned Parenthood clinic, a rape crisis hotline, a local HIV counseling center, or an LGBTQ center.
Sex educators work hard, and work in very difficult, sometimes emotionally draining issue areas. The pay is never great, and they spend most of their days telling people the same obvious things over and over and over again. For most people, being a sex educator isn't exactly the arousing job they imagine it to be.