I believe that education is one of the most powerful tools for personal empowerment, and that every person should have an equal right to access information and education. I believe my role as an educator is not only to provide information and expand my learners’ horizons, but to encourage them to question things beyond preconceived notions and/or widely-accepted (social) norms. This practice fosters analytical skills, which are critical in developing empathy and mutual acceptance. This, in turn, propels the learning cycle, as learners will be more open to adjusting their opinions in light of new understanding.
I believe that sexuality education is an integral component in self-identification and relationship-building: learners can find their place in the world and, through the understanding they gain, better connect with and accept themselves and others. Learning should be a life-long process, so the most successful educators are those that assist their learners in achieving open-mindedness and curiosity to continuously explore more, understand better and continue learning on their own.
I believe in the power of immersion to help learners go beyond acquiring knowledge, to being able to integrate the knowledge into their behaviors. As language educators do through language immersion in the language classroom, sexuality educators too can approach the teaching of social and human (“soft”) skills, which account for so much of what sexuality education aims to teach, through immersion. It begins by creating a welcoming and safe learning space, establishing boundaries that make learners comfortable, discussing concerns, ensuring conversations remain respectful, sex-positive, body-positive, shame-free, etc. – essentially, normalizing healthy interpersonal behaviors that learners can replicate outside of the learning environment.
My first SAR experience was an opportunity for me to pinpoint my own boundaries and (dis)comfort levels around sexuality in a guided setting. It really highlighted that, regardless of field of expertise, level of knowledge, or exposure to discussing it, sexuality is a subject that requires continuous active engagement –on both personal and interpersonal levels– to truly deepen our understanding of it and expand our perspective. I noticed a shift in my openness and trust in my colleagues as group dynamics evolved and we became more familiar with each other. It was especially powerful to recognize that the majority of that shift took place very close to the beginning of the first day when one person shared a very personal experience, setting the tone for the group discussions to follow. This emphasized the importance of establishing the group culture ahead of the experience so as to make it a safe space to participate in healthy sharing of experiences and opinions, dialogue and reflection. Overall, the SAR experience strengthened my conviction that acquiring knowledge is not the greatest benefit of learning – the ultimate benefit is the perspective that we gain when said knowledge expands our horizons.
Thus, as a sexuality educator, my goal is to empower my learners through both knowledge and perspective. I believe that the latter complements the former by helping us unlearn things that prevent us from learning more. My own empowerment was sparked (and is sustained) by my ongoing journey of learning and unlearning; my work in non-formal education in underserved communities motivates me to pursue certification so that I might inspire others in their own journeys.
In all I do as a youth worker and educator, I am conscious of what it is I can contribute, and specifically when I am not the most suited educator to engage directly with the learners. As a white, European, upper-middle class, credentialed woman working in BIPOC working-class communities with predominantly below-average levels of literacy/schooling in Latin America, I am conscious of my privileges, and how these may interfere with my goal of developing sexuality education initiatives for these populations. The key to this goal is collaboration with community leaders whose vision of empowerment aligns with my own: combining the assets and privilege I bring through my intersecting identities, with their insights, social position and trust within the communities through their own identities, to develop quality and contextually-relevant sexuality education programs that can be integrated into ongoing social development initiatives.