I sometimes joke that I got into sex education through the back door. No, not that back door, silly…I mean that I did volunteer work in the field before pursuing formal education. Volunteerism is a way to take our minds off our sometimes petty problems; help others who have less than we do; and try something out without making a huge commitment up front. As a volunteer listener on the Los Angeles Sex Information Helpline (now, sadly, defunct), I received 100 hours of free training in human sexuality and communication skills. I handled phone calls that ran the gamut from “What’s the best method of birth control” to “Is it OK to masturbate” to “Am I gay” to “Is my fetish abnormal” to “I was molested.” And I discovered that I like talking to people about sexuality.
I learned to be a great triage person for deconstructing a problem, giving the big picture and pointing the way to next steps. I even worked my way into paying jobs at the agency and knew I wanted to continue working in the field. And I made several lifelong friendships.
Without more education, I knew that my future job opportunities were limited. Some sex educators go on to become sex therapists, but I was not drawn in that direction. It’s important, but sometimes it’s toxic clean-up. My interest lay in trying to prevent problems before they happen. So I got into the field of Public Health.
I love Public Health. It’s so nonjudgmental. The numbers are the numbers. If good research methods are conducted, and sound data collected, then it tells us what we need to do. There’s no judgment in terms of right or wrong, good or bad. It’s often just common sense. But it’s amazing how often and easily we humans ignore common sense.
Here’s a sampling of some of the common sense things I learned:
Epidemiology: In studying what kills us or makes us sick – guess what, it usually isn’t the rare diseases that we sometimes obsess about (hence the word “rare.”) What we need to worry about are the heart disease and cancers, violence and accidents that are in our sphere every day. We can study the risk factors for these things and change our behavior so as to try to prevent them! Who knew?
Maternal child health: The first thing I wondered about this was, where’s the father? And it turns out that’s a pivotal question that women have been asking at least as long as men have been asking what women really want (a thinly veiled cover for ‘How can I get more sex?’) One thing we want is for fathers to stick around! But given that they sometimes don’t, then a mother is on her own. And turns out that whether she is or not, kids do better – much better – when the mom is educated. When the kid is breast-fed. When discipline does not mean spanking. When parents are supportive instead of punitive. All supported by decades of sound research. If one took the time to find out.
Nutrition: Boy, this is a big one. And I do mean big, with more than half our country overweight. In fact, I’m so stressed about it that I need to go eat something. (Something tasty but healthy, of course.) I’ll tackle this in the next installment. And it’s widely addressed in my upcoming book Licking the Spoon, a guide to food, mood, sex and relationships.
*This was a cheap-trick typo to get your attention! Did it work?
Pubic health+ Public health+
+The irony here is that condoms aid public health by preventing sexually transmitted conditions, and breastfeeding helps a new mother’s sexual and reproductive organs return to their pre-birth state!
(To be continued…)