This post was written by alumni, Jennifer Paterson.
I think about sex a lot. Luckily, I get to do this as a paid job as a Sexual Health Promoter. I often think about how people define sex? Who gets to learn about sex, who doesn’t and why? How can I teach people with disabilities about their sexual rights, the joys of sex, and the detriment of focusing on sexual abuse? How can years of sex negativity and shame be undone? What are the ways sex education be accessible and nuanced to be inclusive of a variety of people, bodies and identities?
Many years ago when I was employed as an Educational Assistant (EA), the young disabled people I supported were denied access to sex education. In the five years of being an EA, one teacher I worked with taught a short class about sex education — a class that was awkward, abstract, inaccessible and boring.
I saw teachers’ shame children and young people for touching their genitals. I struggled to learn how to intervene and talk back to teachers in these situations. I ached to find the language and tools to advocate for sex education.
During my studies in the DST program, when I had the choice, I learned about sexuality. I wrote my DST99 paper on sexuality and went to graduate school to focus on sexuality and disability issues.
During graduate school, I realized I wanted to become a sex educator with a critical disability perspective. I sought out sexual health educators who advised me to get a volunteer job to provide me the training and experience to become a sex educator. I then got a part time job as a sexual health counsellor and then finally landed a full time sexual health promotion position which I am very fortunate and excited to have.
My job is one example of how a degree in Disability Studies can be used to get a job outside of the disability field. Disability work needs to be done in all sectors and fields.
Health promotion is exciting and sometimes challenging. There’s a lot of work to be done from a critical disability perspective. Along with my critical disability tools, I am learning about the social determinants of health and how that intersects and departs from a disability studies perspective.
My job involves helping plan and deliver sexual health education to people receiving services through agencies and schools and to support staff and teachers to enhance their capacity to deliver sex education. I love facilitating sex education classes but I am also very passionate about educating service providers and teachers to develop their skills to be more sex positive and to deliver sex education. There are often bigger issues at work – institutional and socio-political issues that are more difficult to tackle but necessary to keep in mind. As we know from a disability studies perspective, it is critical that we strive to change structural issues that prevent access to accessible and sex positive sex education. As a community of disability advocates, I hope you’ll join me to address disability and sexuality issues. Sexuality is a very important disability issue.
If you would like to contact me, I can provide sexual health consultations and services to people who are in Toronto. For folks outside of Toronto who would like to contact me and share ideas about success and challenges of sex education, please contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org