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In case it isn't obvious from the message boards and our peer-written content on the site, peer-based sex education and support is really important to and at Scarleteen. While I love my job as a sex educator who is an older adult, and think there's a lot of value in my doing this work, at the same time I feel like there's an extra power and a special kind of support with peer-to-peer education and interaction that I can't do. I also consider that part of what I do in educating young people about sexuality is not only helping them to have accurate information for themselves, but helping them to pass that accuracy on to their friends and partners.
We all know that peers are where teens and young adults often get most of their sex information from: the problem is that so often that information isn't accurate. It's often hearsay, based only on a given person's own experiences or the experiences of one peer group; or it's sourced from places that might look accurate, like mainstream magazines, but which often really are not, or that can come with a lot of hidden biases in tow. If I trace my career in sex ed as far back as I can, I can identify it starting with my being the go-to girl for friends about sex in junior high and high school. And I can assure you that I, too, probably unknowingly passed as much incorrect as correct information around, particularly given my enthusiasm for the subject.
So, we're rolling out an experiment starting on July 13th, which I hope will become something we do several times a year on an ongoing basis. I'm going to start training small groups of want-to-be peer educators (or who already are, but want some new or alternative training), ages 13-24, online through Scarleteen. Consider it our version of summer school.
This program will run for six weeks, from July 20th through August 28th, and will involve things like:
• Reading assignments on sexuality, relationships, health and related issues, as well as some reading around compassionate listening and other theory when it comes to education, presentation and interacting with people about sexuality.
• Researching your own community and basic peer group so you know their needs well and can serve them best; researching local laws and policies in your area which may or do impact teens or young adults when it comes to sexuality or sexual health.
• Going out into your community to find resources like STI testing sites, places to get contraception (including ways it may be discounted for young people), GLBT youth centers or organizations and to know how things like getting Plan B, STI tests, or reporting rape tend to go in your community or area.
• Compiling a big, bodacious binder you'll be able to use as a reference when planning or doing peer-to-peer education.
• Group message board discussions and brainstorming sessions. We'll also do some role-play in those discussion to help walk you through some typical questions and answers, and common issues that can come up when doing sex education, and discuss certain subjects, topics or issues that can be tough to handle or create conflict. Additionally, as a group we'll help everyone develop their own plans for doing peer-to-peer sex education.
• The opportunity to talk with other awesome sex educators and activists who will participate in some of the message board discussions as guest mentors.
My philosophy as an educator does not include busywork, and is strongly tethered in anything learned, and the way anyone learns, being useful and having a practical application. So, any work you do in the program will be work that has you learning information or skills you need to to do peer-to-peer education well. Nothing you'll do in this will be done just to give you something to do or to prove me with something to review. There will be no tests of any kind, either. It will be a pass-fail course, based on your participation as demonstrated by showing up and participating in the group discussions, finishing your binder and doing the in-person work, and your overall investment throughout the process. I also prefer education to be accessible to as many people as possible, so I'll be doing my level best to give you reading you can find online or in most libraries (and as any kind of sex educator, if you can't purchase lots of books to build your own reference library, you're going to need to spend time at the library).
This training will be in alignment with the core values and mission of Scarleteen. The approach and information will be as inclusive as possible (in terms of age, gender, orientation, race, class, sexual choices, the works), it will be fact-based, sex-positive and feminist, and my aim will be to give everyone the benefit of my own experience and approach, which is very oriented to what a particular person or group expresses or shows they want and need -- more than what any outside person or agency thinks they need.
For those who complete the training, what you'll walk away from it with besides the process of the training is:
• The in-depth, peer-specific resource you created as part of the program
• A copy of my book, S.E.X.: The All-You-Need-to-Know Sexuality Guide to Get You Through High School and College, to work with and keep
• A certificate that makes clear that you've completed the program through Scarleteen
• And a phone, post or email reference from me, should you need it, for doing peer sex education or other jobs
This is a free program for all participants, though you will need to have internet access, and be able to obtain some basic supplies, like a binder, paper and access to a printer. You may need to transport yourself in your own community, as well, so be sure you have a means of transportation and whatever funds you may need to get around. I expect work for and participation in the course to require around ten to fifteen hours a week, but what hours you do this in are your own. No one will have to show up at Scarleteen at any specific times, so what country or time-zone anyone is in shouldn't make a difference, and you should be able to do this even if you have a other commitments or plans this summer which have specific hours.
We will need some basic information from you so, should you complete the course, we can make that certificate for you and get it into your hot little hands. This does not require parental permission however, I'd suggest that if you are a minor and you feel your parents would disapprove or feel uncomfortable with this, that you discuss it with them in advance. I'm happy to communicate with anyone's parents or guardians about this if you'd like or prefer. Doing both the training and peer sex education is generally not something that's going to work if you're sneaking around or needing to hide this.
Lastly, this first time, I expect the training to be more freeform than it will be once I/we have done it a few times. So, I'd say that if you feel more drawn to ways of learning that are more anarchistic and loosely structured, this would be a great time to do this. If you prefer things to be more structured and finessed, then you might want to wait until I've done this a couple times before enrolling.
Interested? This first round has room for fifteen trainees, and we'll take people in on a first-come first-served basis. Just be sure (so you don't take an opportunity away from someone else who may want it) that you will be able to be around and in touch for those six weeks and have at least ten hours each week open to do this with, that you do feel you'll be comfortable working with sexuality as a whole, and that you also feel you are the kind of person who really likes, or can at least handle, being very self-motivated and doesn't need to be kicked in the bottom to get things done.
To get on the list, use the contact form at Scarleteen here. Please include your first name and the best email address to reach you at. If you have any questions or concerns, put those in the email and I'll get back to you about them.
I will send an email to everyone who has expressed interest by July 8th with more information, some links and a brief form for you to get into my hands so we can all get started. For those who contact me after we have already reached capacity, I'll go ahead and hold your name and email and contact you the next time we're getting ready to do this.
I'm looking forward to hearing from you and working with you!
- Heather Corinna, Founder & Director, Scarleteen
Note: We have not only already filled up for this round, but given the level of response, I have expanded the group size to 20! (So many highly enthusiastic educators-to-be! How could I say no?) But if you do still have interest in this, go on ahead and still send an email, and I will keep your name in queue, in the order I have received your mail, for the next round, which I anticipate doing in October. Thanks!