What is a sexual health educator?

Sexual Health Education is about a lot more than preventing unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. Everyone has the right to access sexual health education relevant to their needs, and that helps promote a happy, healthy and safe sexual life.

Submitted by Emily Wagner, WHRI-RID Research Manager

Sexual Health Educator Post Image

What is Sexual Health Education?

The World Health Organization defines Sexual Health as:

Sexual health is fundamental to the physical and emotional health and well-being of individuals, couples and families. When viewed positively, sexual health encompasses the rights of all persons to have the knowledge and opportunity to pursue a safe and pleasurable sexual life. However, the ability of men and women to achieve sexual health and well-being depends on their access to comprehensive information about sexuality, knowledge about the risks they face, their vulnerability to the adverse consequences of sexual activity, their access to good-quality sexual health care, and an environment that affirms and promotes sexual health.[1]

The relationship between education level and sexual health outcomes has been well documented.[2] One of the most effective ways to improve sexual health of individuals and communities is to make a commitment to ensure that everyone is provided with all of the information needed to make healthy decisions about their sexual lives. Sexual health education can be defined as the process of equipping individuals, couples, families and communities with this information, and the motivation and behavioural skills needed to enhance sexual health and avoid negative health outcomes.[3] A Sexual Health Educator is an individual who has undergone professional training to provide this education to a variety of audiences: preschool, elementary, secondary, and post-secondary students; professionals, adults, and parents, in a manner that is open, inclusive, and free of discrimination, gender bias, and stigma.

How does one become a certified Sexual Health Educator?

Anyone who provides sexual health education and health promotion in a professional capacity – teachers, counselors, health care providers – could be considered a sexual health educator. However, there is only one program in Canada that both trains and certifies individuals to deliver comprehensive sexual health education, which is offered through Options for Sexual Health. Based in British Columbia, Options for Sexual Health (Opt), is Canada’s largest non-profit provider of sexual health services through clinics, education programs, and the 1-800 SEX SENSE information and referral line. Opt has developed a comprehensive Sexual Health Educator Certification (SHEC) Program for those who wish to teach sexual health, and become Opt Certified Sexual Health Educators. Options for Sexual Health is committed to increasing the number of well-qualified sexual health educators in the province as part of its campaign to improve the quality of school, adult, parent and professional sexual health education. For more information about Opt, check out their website at www.optionsforsexualhealth.org

Why did I apply to the Sexual Health Educator Certification Program?

I first discovered the SHEC program in 2012, when Opt had an information booth at an Employee Health and Wellness Fair held at BC Women’s Hospital. I read up on the program, felt a bit uncertain and intimidated, but also, I felt excited. Uncertain because I wasn’t sure I fit the criteria for entry, intimidated by the thought that other applicants would be health professionals and teachers who were far more qualified for the course than I was, but excited because I knew I needed to apply despite these fears. As the Research Program Manager of the Reproductive Infectious Diseases Research Program, I am able to educate and empower women to take ownership over their health. I hadn’t been aware until I learned about SHEC that there were opportunities for a person like me – I am not a doctor, nurse, counselor, or teacher, but I am passionate about knowledge translation in health care – to pursue training and accreditation as a professional sexual health educator.

Even though I don’t fit neatly into the professional categories I mentioned above, when I was preparing my application to the SHEC program, I realized I do have an important role in the creation and application of evidence-based medicine and health care. I strongly believe that as a researcher, I have a responsibility and obligation to ensure that new knowledge is communicated to a range of audiences, at every stage of the research process. I am a leader and a mentor for a fantastic team of staff and students in the WHRI Reproductive Infectious Diseases program, and I am, in fact, an educator. When I answer questions and discuss health issues with women participating in our studies, when I author articles for academic journals and reports, when I contribute material to our social media profile, or when I give presentations about our research in community and academic settings, it is education.

The part of my job that I feel is most relevant to the SHEC program, is that I love being able to openly provide information about health, and create a safe environment where women feel comfortable asking questions and discussing their sexual health.

Through my work on the VOGUE project, I’ve become acutely aware that women aren’t always sure that they are normal and healthy. Maybe their body doesn’t look or act the same way as the description they read in a book, or the pictures they’ve seen on the internet, or stories they’ve heard from friends and family. Sometimes they are carrying around negative messages about their bodies that they’ve received or constructed themselves. I want to help women challenge and work through this negativity or uncertainty with my work. I view the SHEC program as an amazing opportunity to acquire the necessary training to create new experiences in alignment with what I love to do – learning, communicating, teaching – ultimately leading to new possibilities for myself and for the WHRI.


[1] Defining sexual health: Report of a technical consultation on sexual health 28-31 January 2002, Geneva. (2006). World Health Organization. Available at: http://www.who.int/reproductivehealth

[2] Developing sexual health programmes: A framework for action. (2010). World Health Organization. Available at: http://www.who.int/reproductivehealth

[3] Canadian Guidelines for Sexual Health Education. (2008). Public Health Agency of Canada. Available at: http://www.publichealth.gc.ca/sti.

This entry was posted in Education, Our Community, Sexual Health, Sexually Transmitted Infections and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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