Amy here. Let me tell you a little story about how I got my start in the field of human sexuality, particularly how I became a Sex Educator who opened up an adult shop alongside my mother at the young age of 23.
It all started when I took my very first human sexuality class in college. I was 18 years old and barely understood my own body. I had been intimate with multiple sexual partners, and yet had only experienced orgasm from my first vibrator. I had so many questions and no idea where to go or what to ask, so taking a human sexuality class seemed like a good place to start.
To my surprise, the professor showed very little passion about the topic. We were talking about SEX, after all…shouldn’t there be some enthusiasm or wonder involved? She told our class that she had been celibate for 10 years and was still recommending the diaphragm as the best birth control option for young people – something that Planned Parenthood stopped recommending years before. She made this dynamic topic as dry as possible. Sex education for adults didn’t seem that different from the dull and elusive comprehensive sex ed I had received in my youth.
Despite the missing pizazz, I somehow found myself loving every minute of it. I could not get enough. The textbooks, the disturbing images of STD’s/STI’s (Sexually Transmitted Infections), the dull lectures and tedious tests…I was hooked. I looked forward to this class more than most activities in my day. Not only were my own personal questions getting answered, but I also felt deeply fulfilled. The more material I consumed, the more alive I felt. I had found my purpose: I was designed to work in Sex Positive Education.
I continued on to major in Psychology with a minor in Human Sexuality at San Francisco State University with the original plan of moving into the field of sex therapy. However, a class fieldtrip to San Francisco’s premier sex shop changed my direction for the better. The store was clean, comfortable, and welcoming. The toys were all out on display so customers could touch them to know what they were going home with. The employees were beyond sales people: They were sex educators. Not only will they help you find your perfect toy, but they will also teach you how to use a vibrator as well (conceptually of course, although live demos would have been much appreciated).
I had never seen such a place. Despite growing up in a progressive city, our sex shops really were not the most sex positive. One was a porn shop that carried overpriced toxic rubber jelly dildos (Fun fact: The FDA does not regulate sex toys, so many manufactures continue use all kind of harmful ingredients in their products to save money – ingredients that go right into your blood stream upon touching your precious bits), and if you walked in and asked the employee something like “what is a dildo”, they might reply by laughing in your face (in the sex-positive world we call this a “sex-negative” attitude). The other shop was a beautiful lingerie store that had sex toys in the backroom. While the toys were decent and the staff knowledgeable, in my opinion, something about the backroom felt like they were suggesting that sexuality needed to be closeted or hidden. This store in San Francisco, however, sold very little porn, no lingerie, offered weekly classes on various topics about sexuality and relationships, and had no shame in the fact that they were all about sex.
Upon returning home, a thought came to me: What if I opened up a store like this in Santa Cruz? Coincidentally my mom was looking for a business investment at the time: What if WE opened a sex shop together? Filled with excitement and possibility, I quickly called her: “Mom, I saw this wonderful sex shop in San Francisco that is actually helping people! We don’t have anything like that at home. We should open one together!” She was intrigued, and also a bit surprised: “Me? A sex shop?” she said. I had it all planned out: I would work directly with customers and she would work the backend of the store. I had connections to owners of other sex shops and I would set out to research the numbers to see if it was a lucrative industry. My mom joined in the excitement as we entered into the research phase of our future endeavor. After much time and research we concluded that opening an adult store and offering sex education for adults was, in fact, a fruitful and emotionally rewarding business.
Two years later, in my hometown of Santa Cruz, California, my mom and I opened our doors to a store called Pure Pleasure Shop. It was 2008, the market was crashing, and yet we stayed committed to moving forward. We were high on our creation. Not only did we feel like we had found a niche offering that could be profitable, but we were also helping people with their sexuality issues. Upon opening our doors, I realized the power that sex shop employees had in both positively and negatively affecting their customers. Most people walked through the front door with a fair amount of fear and shame about seeking out sex advice or guidance in finding their desired sexual enhancement product. We discovered that it was very important for us to facilitate a safe, welcoming, shame-free experience for our customers – not only so they would come back as repeat customers, but also so we could truly contribute to the shift towards sex-positivity that we wanted to see in the world. Everything from the legitimacy of the products we recommended to the language that we used to the energy behind it mattered greatly. We had to spend hours educating ourselves and our staff to speak inclusively and without judgment – something that the majority of sex shops in the US still don’t do to this day. It was this, along with the desire to teach pleasure-based workshops that led me to an intensive training at SFSI (San Francisco Sex Information) to become a Certified Sex Educator.
60+ hours later, I felt equipped to teach sexual how-to workshops. I started with oral sex 101 classes – specifically on how to give a good blowjob (tip: enthusiasm is the key to upping your blowjob game) as I felt most confident in my cock sucking skills. I eventually evolved to teach oral sex techniques for/on female bodies, followed by classes on how to have better orgasms, G-spot and Squirting 101, Kink for Beginners, and my favorite – Anal Sex 101. Why did I enjoy it so much, you ask? In both my experience as well as my studies I had found that the topic of how to have hot anal sex was underrepresented in porn and sex education. Porn shows us that - through the same hard and fast thrusting we see in vaginal porn sex – anal sex is supposed to be enjoyable, even orgasmic. But for many folks, their first time anal sex experiences were quite the opposite. I felt I had a duty to fulfill: I needed to teach the world that - when done right - safe anal sex can be really pleasurable.
I also went on to complete a training in Tantra education through Barbara Carrellas’ Urban Tantra Professional’s training. This was a 5-day immersive experience in the heart of San Francisco where myself along with 15+ other educators and sex workers lived, breathed, touched, orgasmed and spanked Tantrically (Barbara teaches us that BDSM can actually be quite Tantric). Not only did this training shift my own sacred sex practice, but it also prepared me to teach Tantra workshops to other heady folks like me.
After the Tantra training, I went on to participate in a month-long yoga teacher training in India, followed by a Sex and Relationship Coaching training through Somatica, and am now currently enrolled in a holistic psychotherapy training called Hakomi. I have found that the directions I can go in within the field of sex education and healing are endless as long as I continue to learn and grow. In this current day I wear many hats in the sexual wellness industry: I continue to co-own and operate various aspects of Pure Pleasure from behind the scenes (these days you will rarely find me in the store unless I am there to teach a workshop or visit my beloved mother); I continue to teach pleasure-centric sex education all over the country; I now work with clients privately on their sex and relationship issues; I am the lead educator for a luxury lubricant line called Uberlube, and now, as you already now, I am a co-host of the Shameless Sex podcast.
As I look back at my 13+ year journey in the field of sexuality, I find it deeply humbling to recognize that I can attribute it all to that very first unsatisfying human sexuality class. I am grateful that my judgment of that professor and her lack of skills did not overshadow my ability to see my calling. I realize that ANYTHING is possible with hard work and alignment with purpose, and I believe in the value of continued education in various trainings to diversify my offerings.
We get a lot of emails from listeners who are interested in getting into the field of human sexuality. So in closing, I will leave you with a list of references on options should you be one of those listeners. My hope is that – if working in sexual wellness and pleasure is your calling - my story you will help you to realize that you, too can make your passion a dynamic and lucrative career. There is always room for more sex-positive educators, healers, therapists, and beyond, and I would be delighted to see you join the movement.
Schools/Colleges with Human Sexuality Programs
University of Michigan offers a Human Sexuality Certificate (most can be done online) for folks who are already in the sociology/psychology/health field
San Francisco State offers a minor and Master’s in Human Sexuality
Widner in Pennsylvania offers Master’s and Doctorate programs
SFSI.org trains people to be certified sex educators X twice a year. Great place to start!
Somatica Institute.com trains people to become sex and relationship coaches. Also a great place to start as there are no prerequisites.
Urban Tanta Professional’s Training with Barbara Carellas for folks who want to teach Tantra with an inclusive, gender/orientation/preference neutral language/focus.
Sexological Bodywork/SexBod is a good path if you want to offer hands-on sexual healing/bodywork
ISTA/International School of Temple Arts is a mystery school combining spirituality and sexuality
One other tip: Get a job in a sex shop - particularly a sex-positive shop that offers workshops. You will learn and gain so much experience!
Don’t forget, Pure Pleasure Shop offers 15% off for Shameless Sex listeners with code SHAMELESSPP