A student who is becoming a sex educator asked me how to cope with the problem of people perceiving a sex educator as sexually available just because they talk about sex in public. This is what I told her:
So, to understand the actual problem, consider this: remember SIS and SES? Sometimes people misunderstand TALKING about sex as “sexually relevant information” that engages their sexual gas pedal. It’s just going to happen sometimes.
Being direct and kind is my approach. “No” and “never” do not in any way imply that there’s something wrong with the other person, it’s just a clear statement of your boundaries. It’s also fair to say, “Sometimes people hear about my work and they perceive me as sexually available, and that’s a misconception.”
But the biggest thing to remember is that YOU ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR OTHER PEOPLE’S FEELINGS. Being comfortable talking about sex is public is a rare and attractive trait. People will want you. They will knock on your metaphorical door and ask to be admitted. Know where your boundaries are and be clear with other people about them; that’s the only thing that’s your responsibility.
Like, you’ll notice I didn’t start the women’s sexuality class with an announcement like “Because I’m going to be talking about sex in a straightforward and positive way, you may perceive me as an object of sexual desire and you may even feel that I’m more sexually available than other faculty members. But no. Under no circumstances will I ever, ever, ever consider any kind of sexual or romantic connection with a student, current, past, or potential.” I don’t need to because other people’s misconceptions are their own problem, as long as I know what my own limits are.
Hope that’s helpful!
Now I do realize that not everyone will agree with this particular approach. Some people think, “If I interpret something you say as flirting, then it IS flirting.”
Which… no, sorry, that’s just fuckin’ stupid. That’s saying, “Your short skirt is an invitation because I perceive it as an invitation!” and that’s rape culture is what that is. The fact that something I did made you experience desire somehow makes me responsible for managing your desire? That’s completely fucked up.
And some people think, “If something you do hurts me, it’s YOUR JOB to make me feel better!”
Which, again, no, that’s just fuckin’ stupid. That’s saying, “You said something that triggered my personal history of pain and now it’s up to you to fix my pain!” Which is just childishness. The process of becoming an adult is the process of taking on responsibility for meeting your own needs. (This is David Schnarch’s work, if you want to know the why’s and how’s of it.) YOU and ONLY YOU are responsible for dealing with your own pain. In adult partnerships, we choose to help each other manage our emotional stuff, but it’s always a choice.
Therapists are objects of transference all the time. They have a responsibility not to take on the role dictated by the client’s feelings but to notice the transference, bring it to the attention of the client, and explain how it can be a barrier to treatment. Sex educators, similarly, have no responsibility to take on the role dictated by a student’s feelings, but they don’t have any of the responsibility for explaining the transference to the student.
(I should write a post about sex surrogates, for whom all this is particularly problematic.)
(As I write, I’m realizing that this problem may actually be central to parents’ resistance to sex education: if by talking about sex, an educator could make a PARENT believe that educator is sexually available, what fears might that parent have about their child’s response to the sex? Hm. )
But ultimately this is all good news: if I or any sex educator am not responsible for your feelings of desire or emotional attachment, then I or any other sex educator am not responsible for the personal insight, revelation, or liberation you experience in the class. Just as you must own your feelings of desire/attachment/whatever, so you can and ought to own your own growth in the class – the growth that you may be inclined to credit to the teacher.
What I’m saying is that when someone is attracted to or desires a sex educator, what they’re actually attracted to is the part of their own psyche that resonates with the educator’s message of sex positivity. So rather than trying to connect more intimately (and inappropriately) with the sex educator, you should connect more intimately with that part of yourself. Dig?