What is a sexologist? How I became one, and what we actually do (hint: it involves sex)
We have had much of the summer to get to know each other. I’ve been writing to you about the first time having sex, LGBTQ facts, exploring the perineum, and how sexy consent is when done properly. One of the things we haven’t discussed, however, is what I do. When I bump into you on the street, the most common question is, “What is a sexologist?” The simple answer is someone who studies sex, and the more in-depth answer is unique to each sexologist. Like doctors, sexologists will have a specialty they focus on with the skills to do basic care. Some sexologists only teach sex education, and others combine sexology with a clinical therapy degree to become sex therapists. I’ve met sexologists who are focused on the rights of sex workers, some focus on trauma and sex, and still others who focus specifically on gender. The underlying theme in sexology is to dismantle the veil of secrecy around sex and to provide knowledge, support, and celebration of sex!
Did I grow up wanting to be a sexologist? Nope. I wanted to be the first female president of the United States (still a possibility!).
How did I get here?When I tell people that I have a graduate degree in Forensic Sexology, they stumble, stutter, and try to match up in their mind the idea of sex with the TV show “CSI.” I do not go to sex-related crime scenes and collect evidence. The word forensic means “as related to the law” – I studied sex as it relates to the law. My focus and graduate thesis was on the training and education of law enforcement as first responders to sex-related crimes. It was my plan, in my twenties, to work in law enforcement, specifically in the area of sex crimes – think “Law and Order: SVU,” without the quick solve rate and Hollywood drama. My first job out of graduate school was as a case manager in a juvenile detention center run by a for-profit company. That job quickly cured me of my desire to work in law enforcement.
My next job was teaching sex education to kids and adults for a national organization. I taught mostly in rural schools, where teen pregnancy rates were high and access to information was limited. I spent thousands of hours teaching about sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unwanted pregnancy – the negative consequences of sex. The organization that I worked for was fighting to stay in public schools, which restricted us to a specific curriculum, and we were unable to answer all the questions asked by the kids. This experience drives my focus on providing positive sex education.
I moved on, expanding my knowledge by working in other areas of sex – manager at a sex toy store, facilitator of a sex ed workshop for adults, started my own sex ed program for youth, and wrote a dating advice column for a start-up company. Not all of these opportunities paid, but each of them helped to widen my lens and expertise in the area of sexology. I began to take steps to start my own business, even though it scared me to take what seemed like a huge risk.
Then I became pregnant and put everything I had been working on in a box under the bed. For five years I swam in the deep end of the parenting pool, fully immersed in raising my child and savoring the formative, developmental years.
The Birth of Birds and BeesThis past January, I took the leap and filed my business with the Secretary of State. I am officially the small business owner of Birds and Bees LLC, and I spend all my time talking about sex.
My passion is in educating adults, because entire generations didn’t even have the option of a positive sex education. I host “pop-up” sex ed classes in a bar in Durango during the winter months. I facilitate a variety of topics, including orgasms, sex toys, sex outdoors, bondage etc., communication, erogenous zones, and so much more. This September I’m kicking off an intensive, closed group program for 12 weeks – The Human Sexuality Community Workshop (HumSexComm). It is an opportunity for adults to go back to “school” for positive sex ed and study in-depth sex-related topics.
Some of my other classes include teaching parents how to talk to their kids about sex. I believe strongly in the value of being a trusted adult for your child(ren) on the topic of sex. Many parents have no example of what an ongoing conversation about anatomy, health, sex, masturbation, or puberty even looks like. That’s where I come in. In my classes, parents learn accurate language for anatomy, the science behind developing bodies and puberty, and then we practice answering questions that kids ask.
In September I’ll be facilitating sex education youth programs for several age groups. Parents who want their kids to have access to age-appropriate, medically accurate, and scientifically-based education have hired me to teach these groups outside of the schools. Kids are going to learn about sex eventually, and from possible dubious sources. I am providing a solid foundation of knowledge so that these kids and their parents are better equipped for ongoing conversations about healthy bodies and healthy relationships. They are then better armed to question dubious information, set boundaries, ask for resources, and feel confident in their decisions.
For folks who cannot imagine talking about sex in a group of other people, I offer one-on-one coaching sessions for adults. These sessions are opportunities for learning, breaking down taboos and shame, exploring new sexual behaviors, and starting new habits. It is a safe space to freely explore any topic a person or partners may be interested in. I believe, deeply, that sex should be accessible to everyone, any way they want to engage in it.
What do you need?This column is just getting started. I have dozens of ideas for topics and I’d love to hear from you about what you need. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions or ideas for the column. I’m thinking that two of my August columns will be dedicated to genitals or maybe polyamory, threesomes, and orgies. So many sexy options!
Erin Brandt (she/her/hers) has been a sexologist for 15 years. When she’s not spreading sexual knowledge, Erin can be found learning from her child, hiking with her partner, cuddling with her pitbull, knitting with her cat, dancing with friends, and searching for the nearest hammock and ocean breeze. Want more? Visit www.positivesexed.com