Every other Wednesday The CSPH will highlight a Sexuality Professional you should keep your eye on. Their backgrounds are very diverse in order to bring attention to the wide variety of amazing people working in the field. This week we bring you Catherine Toyooka, who describes how she began working as a sex educator.
How I Became A Sex Educator
If you know me, then you know that I have a varied professional background. The bulk of my post-college employment was in the criminal justice field. Criminal justice was one of the few subjects that interested me in college, and I felt lucky to even get a job considering my B.A. is in Sociology. Sociology isn’t exactly the most marketable college major. And considering my future husband went directly from being a engineering undergrad to grad school for electrical engineering, there were a few times I seriously wondered what the hell was I thinking getting a sociology degree!
When I moved out to Silicon Valley in 1999, I decided to ditch my criminal justice career and move towards something else. I’m still a bit surprised that I landed a wonderful job as a high level executive recruiter. Too bad my ride only lasted a year before the internet bubble burst. It took me a long ass time to figure out what my next career move would be. After a lot of soul searching and taking an inventory of my strengths and weaknesses, I decided that I really wanted to become a sex educator.
So what’s a girl to do? I began researching the whole topic online and it looked like my best course of action was to become trained as an outreach worker. An outreach worker is basically a roving sex educator. Pretty cool, right?! Once I figured out that outreach workers get paid to talk about sex, I started googling the term “outreach worker”. It became very clear early on that if I wanted to become a sex educator, the easiest way for me to accomplish my goal was to get into the field of HIV prevention/education.
I found Tony Nguyen because a local asian newspaper profiled him and his job as a “health educator” with API Wellness in San Francisco. Bingo! I now had the phone number of someone who was doing the exact job I wanted to eventually have. The only glitch is that it took some time for my friend Tony to get back with me. After all, he had zero idea who I was, how I found him, and why some Silicon Valley housewife was calling him about his job. Looking back now, I can see just how funny and off the wall I must have appeared.
Tony was probably the single biggest influence in helping me become a sex educator. I say this because he is the one who told me about the now de-funct non-profit, Institute for Community Health Outreach (ICHO). Back in the day, ICHO had the exclusive contract with the State of California to train Community Health Outreach Workers (CHOW). The CHOW training was free to everyone who came through a California State funded agency. Since I was currently unemployed, I paid out of pocket for the intensive 2 week training. This was back in July 2002. It was also super-duper cool that Tony was one of the featured outreach speakers for my training, so I actually got to meet him in person for the first time.
I’m still so sad that ICHO closed down. Back in the day, they really were the gold standard for outreach workers. Certified CHOWs were trained in the nuances of doing street-level HIV/STI outreach. CHOWs were collectively known as being a huge asset to HIV prevention programs and any other agency that dealt with public health.
My ICHO training was probably the most profound and amazing training experience I have ever had. I learned about safer sex, the history of community outreach, how to treat HIV/STI’s, how HIV works in the body, and so much more! My favorite part of the training was learning about people who identify as transgender. Not only did I train with someone who self identified as a mtf (male to female) transgender, but I also met people who identified as pre-op, post-op, and no-op transgenders. This training resonated so much with me because I finally found like I found a “home” so to speak. I have always been kinda inappropriate and out there, so seeing amazing presenters get paid to travel the world AND talk about sex made my heart fill with glee.
Right after I received my CHOW certification (seriously, it was the following weekend), I began to volunteer as a outreach worker with Tony from API Wellness. In August 2002, I got 16 additional sex education training hours as part of my volunteer work with API Wellness. I found out pretty quickly that I was a hit with the gay community, and more specifically, the gay-asians!
Probably my most disappointing sex education training was through the San Francisco Sex Information (SFSI). As a fall 2002 graduate I would spend my weekends at the SFSI training in San Francisco. Maybe it was just training burn-out, but this training didn’t carry the same profound, life-changing punch that I got at ICHO. If it is any consolation, I heard the training program used to be much better. It is also wildly popular since many of today’s popular and well known sex educators are SFSI graduates.
In November of 2002, I began working at BAY Positives. I met the former executive director while I was volunteering for API Wellness at the Folsom Street Fair. I met him because I tried to give him some free condoms. It turns out that his agency booth was around the corner and he introduced me to the staff running the booth. During our conversation I casually asked if he was actively hiring an outreach worker. It turns out that they just closed the application process, but asked me to send him my resume. Great! He was only looking for a part-time (20 hours a week) worker, and it paid $11/hour. Not so great, but considering I would be commuting over an hour each way, part time work was probably all I could handle.
While at BAY Positives, I worked my way up from a part-time entry level outreach worker making $11/hour to being the Program Director! For more of my experience while working at BAY Positives, please see my older blog here and here.
I am very happy to talk with others who are charting their own path as a sexuality educator. Drop me a line if you ever need help getting into the field or some other advice 🙂
For more information on Catherine, please visit her website.
Photo Credit: Fascinations