Sexperts, Experts, and Sexologists
Whenever I give a talk as staff sexologist, I like to ask whether members of the audience feel they received good sex education. This is informative for everyone because it normalizes how common poor sex ed is--no matter where I am, very few people ever raise their hands--plus it lets me trot out my quip, "Oh! Then you must be either Unitarian or Scandinavian!"--said to the two or three people who'd said yes, their sex ed had been good.
LOL. But you know, Unitarians do have the best sex education program in the US.
Whether or not I get to tell my joke, it's evident to me that most of us don't reach adulthood knowing what we need to about sexual anatomy, consent, sexual orientation, sexual communication and negotiation, sexual arousal, sexual... well, pretty much anything. And when people open up about where they did learn their moves or their info, "sex education" is often left out of the mix. People learn from friends and lovers, hookup partners, the media (hi, Cosmo!), porn, mainstream films and books... and sometimes sexperts.
People term me a sexpert sometimes, and it's a cute portmanteau word for sure--but I am not a sexpert, I'm a trained sexologist. Sexpertise and trained academic or professional expertise don't always go hand in hand, though the best sexperts have definitely delved deeply into their topic/s of interest. A person who came to this field via their own experience and process can be hugely inspiring and influential. I am not denigrating this route by any means; it's great when a person leading a discussion can model that they, too, had to learn all this by trial and error. This, too, can normalize the need for better education for everybody in the room.
Then there are people who have undergone some sort of training, which isn't always via academia but may include getting a degree: the experts. The biggest difference between sexperts and experts--the sexperts who know their stuff, anyhow--is that a sexpert may assume that their own path to whatever knowledge and experience they're teaching from will be relevant to everyone else. The sexpert may not know how much actual diversity--difference--there is among people when it comes to preferences aound sex, but also actual physiological differences in response. Because of this, such a teacher doesn't necessarily address everybody in the room. Without meaning to, perhaps, or even knowing they're doing it, they're cutting off those whose experience doesn't track with their own.
In this, they are like the general public--the same people who got lousy sex ed! Sex-role stereotypes, belief in a norm that isn't as fixed or common as they might believe it is, essentialist thinking about orientation and gender, binary thinking too, and then plain old misinformation affect many (maybe most) people. If sexperts haven't educated themselves thoroughly enough, this kind of disconnect can be the result.
I'm not asking you to turn away from your favorite sexperts. Many of these teachers are terrific and bring very useful information to the table. But if something they suggest doesn't work for you, or seems from the jump not to apply to you, look further for more diverse or deeper perspectives. Sexologists, sex therapists, researchers, credentialed authors, and other specialists are out there, and they want to help--because knowledge can help you overcome sexual problems, shame, being stuck in a rut, and other issues that prevent you from achieving the pleasure and comfort that should be your birthright around sex.
-Dr. Carol Queen, Staff Sexologist