This past week, I went to the AASECT 2018 conference in Denver. AASECT stands for the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists. The conference had a mixture of workshops, plenary speakers, exhibitions of products, and poster exhibitions. Overall, I had a good time. Here are some of the highlights:
- My favorite portion was the poster exhibition. Perhaps it’s the academic in me, but I love learning about new studies and see what sort of insight we can do with that information. Plus, I can talk to the scholars various questions and either produce more questions for further research, or clarify some points that can prove fruitful.
- I got to make some really good friends who are also at the beginning stages of their careers. It’s fun to meet like-minded folks to not only network, but to build lasting relationships where we can learn from each other. I’m assuming I’m the only philosopher there, so it helps me garner some new insight from other perspectives and hopefully they can gather some insight from me.
- Denver, as a city, is fantastic. It has the conveniences of a city, the environment of mountains, and many different places to explore. I also happened to be there during Pride Weekend.
Here’s an electro-wand I tried out.
- One of the plenary speakers was Peggy Orenstein. She wrote a book entitled “Girls and Sex” which is informative on its own right, and has helped inform my dissertation as well.
With the many workshops I’ve attended, I felt there was something missing. I had similar feelings when I attended the National Sex Ed Conference in 2017. I couldn’t quite find the language as to why it felt off. I chalked it up to my philosophical background and how I wasn’t used to these different type of conferences. Philosophy conferences usually present ideas and arguing for those ideas. These sex ed conferences don’t have arguments per se, but they instead present possible ideas that they’ve tried out on their clients or schools. Or they give certain suggestions of what to do. It’s strategies and practical advice from one educator to another, from one therapist to another. All of this is well and good, but still, I found something missing. It wasn’t until the last day of AASECT that it started to click. One of the workshops I attended discussed how sex education is missing theory and why it was important to have theory. The speaker talked about the ontology and epistemology of sex and how this is needed in sex ed. I fully agreed with on this, and as I was thinking about the theoretical aspects of what more could be done in sex ed, I could see what was bothering me about these conferences.
In the sex ed conferences I’ve been to, almost everyone, I’m assuming, has some sort of background in some academic field: sociology, psychology, social work, education, marriage and family therapy. With those disciplines, people could go to these various workshops from others and learn about their discipline. With these conferences, it’s not as if people have to learn from square one; people in those disciplines already have the necessary background. The speaker is just adding more information or bringing forth new insight to further the discipline. But with these sex ed conferences, the workshops I’ve attended were either intuitively obvious, or I was completely lost. The obvious ones felt like the information wasn’t new and it was just a simple application of a theory that I was familiar with. I could see the students or the clients taking the information as a given, but without understanding why, the given could be questioned or not taken seriously. I understand that with sex education, you have to be practical and try to help the students and clients where they’re at. In some of the workshops, in fact, people gave out data and other tidbits of information, but didn’t tie it all up. I felt like saying, “so what?” to some of them because I didn’t understand what made it important. I’m very weary when a speaker presents something and says, “I just found this interesting!” Great, but what can we do with this interesting information? Tell me why this is important. Why did you find it interesting? We need theory! The workshops where I was completely lost relied on various procedures and/or backgrounds that I was not familiar with.
Since everyone is coming from different backgrounds and educational disciplines, everyone is coming to this topic through their own lens and tackling a specific issue. But without a common background, we may be talking past each other, not understand each other, or find the speech intuitively obvious. Sex education has not been disciplined, or not in the same way as other disciplines are. We can make a coherent structure of philosophy, sociology, psychology, social work. We can see within those fields various specialties, sub-divisions, and what sort of questions people in those sub-divisions ask, even if we ourselves are not in that field. But with sex education, it’s a mixture of people from different educational backgrounds giving their two cents on sex education. We have no common background, no common language perhaps, no common…well…discipline. What do I mean by discipline? For starters, imagine if you could major and study sex education. You would have a discipline that would have structure, organization, and help students give the theoretical background to really help those that need sex education.
“But,” you might say, “sex education is tough to make into a discipline because there are so many factors to consider. Sex education is a combination of biology, psychology, sociology, cultural studies, gender studies, and education. Perhaps you need to bring in anthropology, history, and maybe politics in this discipline as well. It just seems to vast.” I understand that, but we have done made an inchoate matter of thought into a structured form. People can major in gender studies, feminism, and the liberal arts for example. There’s a combination of different disciplines coming together to form one structured discipline. Why couldn’t we do that with sex education? Now we could ask whether it’s a subset of education, or if it should be its own discipline. I’m fine with either, but the point is that we shouldn’t rely on sex education having different patches of education. Sex education, as of now, is like a bunch of quilt patches. But there’s no structure, no organization, no form. The theory of sex ed, or disciplining it, threads these patches together. Yes, application is important and we need it. Theory without application is in vain. But application without theory is blind.
This isn’t to point out the fault of sex education falls on one individual or a group of individuals. Because of the political climate, sex education hasn’t been seen as a serious endeavor and so it’s scattered to these disparate disciplines. Many people share the attitude that sex education is important. We have the numbers, but we now need to organize those numbers and start to formulate what we can do together collectively. We all have different ideas of what is the best way to do it, but all disciplines have different ideas, approaches, and theories as to what should be done. Let’s do the same thing with sex education.