You’re Studying WHAT?

Thanks to blogspot for the image!

It’s the first question anybody asks me after finding out that I am a college student: “What are you studying?” The answer, for me, is not so simple. As a self-designed Human Sexuality major with a minor in Anthropology, I’m proud of my educational path. The problem is, it makes some people uncomfortable. Though many people I talk with are genuinely intrigued by my desire to become a sex therapist, a lot of the adults in my life aren’t prepared for my answer to that very common question. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stood there, awkwardly explaining my career path while watching someone’s face contort into various expressions of embarrassment.

Some have suggested that I just don’t answer the question, or that I make up another name for my path of studies. But to me, that’s a huge cop-out. The whole reason that I’m doing what I’m doing is because I want to make talking about sex less taboo. I want it to be perfectly acceptable in our society to discuss sex and sexual pleasure openly and freely. And if I myself can’t be a model for the way I want the world to be, well, then, I’m copping out.

On the other hand, I don’t want to embarrass those around me. I’ve been asked many times by friends and family when meeting new people to not talk about my studies, since it would make those new people uncomfortable. Which I totally respect- it’s not my job to walk in and start up conversations that are out of everyone’s comfort zone. On the other hand, when somebody asks me, I don’t want to lie.

So, what do I do? I am beyond proud that I am a sexual health educator, write for a sex blog, and am on the route towards becoming a sex therapist. I love that I am a resource for my friends and colleagues, and that everyone comes to me with their sex-related questions. Helping people talk about sex lights a fire in me, and yet so many people around me tell me I should be ashamed of it.

So, MSP readers, I’m posing this question to you. What are we, as sex-positive educators/workers/students/people in general supposed to say? When people ask me what I’m studying, should I lie and say what I’ve been asked by so many to say, that I’m studying gender studies and anthropology? Should I state with unabashed pride that I’m studying to be a sex therapist? How do I respond when people crack jokes about me getting paid to sleep with my clients?

Usually I take this space to share my knowledge about sex and sexuality with you all, but now I need help from you!

Follow us on Twitter @mysexprofessor

About Michaela


Michaela is a recent Seven Sisters graduate with a self-designed degree in Sexuality Studies. When she's not blogging, you'll find her teaching Health and Wellness and A Cappella to high school students, helping women find properly fitting bras, and working as an editor on a documentary. She hopes to continue her education one day with a PhD in Feminist Anthropology.

  • Rich Goldstein

    You’d think people would feel squeamish telling others that they’re studying marketing or investment banking. Sexual health studies is pretty respectable by comparison.

  • Leticia

    What is so wrong with “I’m a self-designed Human Sexuality major with a minor in Anthropology”? You should never fell shamed into omitting something so absolutely normal like that! And it is something that will stay with you forever.
    If you’re talking to someone you sense may be waaaaay to embarrassed about it (like your grandma’s old neighbor, an 11 year-old born-again choir singer, or your dad’s boss – but only if he identifies with the tea party), just say “I’m studying to be a therapist”, skipping details. 
    About the super funny jokes, how about “no, but i get friends who get paid to help people like you with their imbecility”, “sure! but for as assholes I charge double”, or even “sure! and i’m very good with [insert something very creepy], if you’d like to try”
    Sex is normal. And the fact that this is an issue in your life just goes to show how important your job really is!

  • ProfessorZed

    For what it’s worth, I find radical transparency, combined with a (real or feigned) inability to imagine what could possibly be controversial, makes a powerful stance.  Sweetly telling Great Aunt Tillie or Father Jim-Bob “I’m studying human sexuality with a long-term goal of becoming a therapist” (twinkling smile optional, but recommended) is absolutely disarming, especially if you have some really interesting, but not too naughty, facts to share.  While I’m not in that field (I only wish), I’m openly and sort of radically sex-positive in all areas of my life, including on my Facebook where my extended family and some former students can see.  People eventually accept it as a valid study, or at least a charming quirk.  :)

  • Mr Jones

    Sex positivity requires that you are open and proud of what you do. That doesn’t mean that people won’t be embarrassed, after all, what do you say in polite conversation to a would-be sex therapist?
    I think the onus is on yourself to make people feel at ease so that they can engage you in appropriate conversation. Give people some suggestions of the topic areas thiis covers: eg. psychology, Master and Johnson, bonobos, fashion, celebrity, etc.

  • Kait

    This is such a tough issue that I deal with too, especially because there is so much stigma and misinformation surrounding pleasure-inclusive sex education.  In my opinion, though, stand loud and proud.  Some people aren’t going to like it no matter what.  I’ve come to learn, however,that its important to focus on your feelings and opinions and the opinions of those you truly trust, respect, admire, and know will be honest with you (ya know…the friends who have no qualms about calling you on your BS).  So when people ask, I’d simply reply, “I’m studying human sexuality and plan on pursuing sex therapy and/or research like [insert awesome names like Dr. Herbenick and Kinsey here].”  That way you are linking what you want to do with something “credible” but not lying one bit. 

    Good luck and please let us know how it goes!

  • Debauchery Toy Store

    Talk about squeamish…imagine telling people you want to be/are an attorney. ;)

    Those that seem uncomfortable by your studies…are probably the ones that can benefit the most from your profession.

  • Josh Zytkiewicz

    I run into something similar as a photographer who often works with nude models, male and female.  People have certain views about my work, the people I do it with and what happens at a photo session.  Those views generally have nothing to do with reality.

    I feel that part of being someone who photographs nudes is to change people’s views.  Sometimes that’s a conscious goal that I work towards with specific ideas and images, and other times it’s a general push for awareness.

    One of the things I do is to always talk about my work in a very straightforward, unapologetic way.  If there is someone who is uncomfortable I make it clear through my actions that it is their embarrassment and their views on the subject causing that distress not mine.  In other words I don’t treat a nude any different than a flower, or a cat, or a wedding, and neither should they.

    My suggestion to you is to say you’re studying to be a therapist with a focus on sex.  Treat it no different than a therapist who focuses on alcoholism, or a therapist who focuses on phobias.  If they’re interested, open, or want more information let them ask questions.

  • Debauchery Toy Store

    “Attorney” used to be the one to make people squirm.

    Those that are uncomfortable by your studies are probably the same ones that would benefit most from your profession.

  • Rama

    as someone who is friends with a sex professor, i sometimes have a reverse kind of awkwardness: i am not embarrassed by the field, but i am sometimes embarrassed by how interested i am by it, and how i can’t help but think of that person whenever an interesting sex story, tidbit, etc. occurs. in conversation, i have stumbled through feelings of “this is FASCINATING,” “is this getting too personal,” “am i boring you to tears,” and even “why don’t we talk about other stuff as much as we used to?” i think you’re lucky though to have such an interesting profession. the conversations might get uncomfortable, but i can’t imagine them being boring.