contents : meet carol : appearing soon : advice : travels : opinion : talking to carol : faq
recommended reading : bibliography : videography
"a dr. like this" : the center for sex and culture : contact
Frequently Asked Questions
Questions from a young writer
I want to invite you to speak!
Paid employment in the sex education community?
This is a Q&A with a writer who contacted me out of the blue. I asked for (and received) permission to include it here, in case it's useful to others. I do get a fair number of writing questions, so here are a lot of answers at once. Because Shannon identified as "young" but didn't say HOW young, I elected to not go into a lot of detail about the sexual content of my writing.
Good luck to all the aspiring writers, young and old!
Hello, my name is Shannon and I am a young writer who is looking for
some help. I am doing a project and I was wondering if you could take
time out of your day to answer these questions.
I do several kinds of writing, and different kinds involve different sources of inspiration. As you may or may not know, I write about sexuality mostly, although I'm also working on a memoir which has family life and growing up as topics as well. I write about things that have come up in my own life and in the lives of the people in my communities; I write based on my knowledge of my topic; I write based on fantasies or daydreams. In the case of opinion pieces, I might just write about something in the news. I think "inspiration" for writers is partly shorthand for the notion that you believe you have something to say. I always wanted to write, but it took a while before I believed in my own voice and my own experience. When I was not yet being published I wrote in a journal. I always practiced the craft, even if only for myself.
>> Do you have enought time for family and home life?
I don't have as much downtime as I'd like. But if I only wrote, rather than writing in addition to doing other jobs, that would not be such an issue. I have a life partner, but I don't have kids. I think I would have a far more difficult time as a writer if I did have kids, and not having them was a choice based in part on my desire to write (and also to have an activist life).
>> Do you like being a writer?
I love it. I grew up fairly isolated, and now I can communicate with people I'll never even meet. Plus you get into a state, if you're lucky, while writing that some people call "flow." It's a different state of mind from the everyday, when ideas are easy to access and express, and it feels really wonderful to write in that state.
>> If you don't mind me asking...what is your average salary?
There really is no average, and I usually don't receive a salary for writing. Writing is generally paid in three ways: for articles and shorter pieces, it is either paid by the word or by the piece, and this is negotiable; I have been paid as little as $15 or $20 for a story and as much as $1000. Better-known writers could get more. Books or longer works are paid either a flat rate in what's often called a "work for hire" contract, or you get royalties -- and, often, an "advance on royalties," in which the publishing company fronts you some money based on how much they think the book will make. After you get your advance, you don't get any more money until you "earn out" the advance. Then you're paid a percentage of the book's sales; these days, maybe 5 to 10 percent. Some books make a good deal of money; others never earn out at all. I have generally received $1500 or so in advance from smaller publishing companies, and up to $10,000 from larger ones. If the book I'm doing is an anthology, a collection of many writers' work, I have to then pay at least half of the advance to the other writers. Even a $10,000 advance isn't considered very much. It's supposed to be enough to cover your living expenses while you're working on the book, which that amount of money really doesn't (and $1500 SO doesn't). However, smaller presses don't generally have tons of money to front to their writers, and large presses save their money for their really well-known writers.
>> Do you work everyday?
Not on my writing. I have two other jobs, as Staff Sexologist at Good Vibrations and as director of the Center for Sex & Culture. So I do work almost every day, but I don't write every day.
>> What do you do during a work day?
I assume you mean writing, but because all my work is linked, I'll answer a little bit for the other work I do as well. At my two non-writing jobs I organize and host events, talk to the press, give talks and conduct trainings and workshops, go to conferences, keep track of finances, oversee staff, and so on. These are all interesting, but don't involve the focus that writing does. Generally when writing I clear out my schedule so I won't be interrupted much, because that's hard on the process. Virginia Woolf said if a woman wanted to write, she needed "money and a room of one's own" (and I think that's true of men also, actually)... the latter because too much interruption is challenging for all but the rarest writers.
>> Where do you work?
When writing, at home or at one of my offices, or even on a plane or in a hotel. I actually like to take my laptop along when I travel, and when I vacation, I usually am not *totally* on vacation... I'm usually working on some writing.
>> What kind of skills do you need for this job?
These days it helps to have computer skills around word processing and email. You have to be literate at a certain level, to be able to use words well, to punctuate properly and construct an argument or plot. In fiction or poetry you might need creative use of the language; characterization; and anything relevant to what you're doing, like being able to describe things really well or evocatively. If you are writing about something that has a knowledge base behind it, you need to have enough comfort and familiarity with that knowledge base to know about it off the top of your head, or at least know where to research it. Most writers need research skills of some kind. You have to be able to deal with deadlines.
It also doesn't hurt to be able to negotiate with an editor about money and they edits they want you to make. Sometimes you have to know how to stand up for yourself. Other times you have to realize that you're being given good advice and that the editor can help improve your work.
>> Is it hard being a writer?
For some people it definitely is; it is an intense and for some, grueling way to work. For others it isn't problematic, though many writers find it hard to make a living solely from writing, and any kind of free-lance work can be hard when it isn't coming in consistently.
>> I heard a lot of writers get depressed; is that true?
Yes, but not all, certainly. I don't. I think it has to do with your personality and the way you deal with the challenges of life AND of writing. For some, writing is a very raw endeavor that brings the writer very close to the core, to painful experiences in her or his own life, and for others it is much less intense or painful. Writers who struggle with writers' block often get depressed over that. People who struggle with their finances or over deadlines might have trouble with these elements, too.
>> Are there any physical aspects of writing?
If you don't maintain good posture and get up and stretch regularly, you can have trouble with a sore neck, hands, shoulders, etc.
>> Do you have to travel a lot?
You don't have to, and many writers don't. I like to travel and find it invigorates my work, often.
>> Do you consider yourself famous...if so, is that rough?
Not too famous, certainly. I'm pretty well-known in my field, but not necessarily outside it. Generally I'm not well-known enough for it to be problematic. Once in a great while people will recognize me and it'll be a bit awkward, but often that's pleasant, too. Once in a while it'll feel like someone focuses on me as a symbol of something they've responded to in my writing (negatively or positively), and react that way in person or in print, which can feel like I personally got lost, or was not recognized, in the midst of their reaction. But I think that can happen outside of a writer's life also... like when I travel outside the US and people think of me as an American first, whereas that may not be my most deeply-felt identity.
>> Do you have to have a skill with working with people?
Lots of writers are attracted to writing because it's solitary. But unless you have an agent to handle your business dealings, you'll have to be able to communicate with the people who will publish you, at the very least. And your people skills are especially important if you will work in journalism, edit anthologies, or do books or articles that involve interviewing others.
>> How long did you have to go to college?
I actually didn't have to go to college to be a writer, but I am sure it was important that I did. I have a doctorate in my field; and that can help get me work, because I'm seen as knowledgeable.
>> What majors or classes did you have to do?
I majored in sociology, then sexology. I didn't take many writing classes or even very many lit classes (though I really liked the ones I took). But if you want to be a writer no matter what your subject matter, and your subject matter is variable or you haven't discovered it yet, I would recommend more focus on writing and literature.
>> What do you need to be a writer...as in schooling?
You only need to be able to write! Many times no one will ever ask you if you went to college. But writing does not come easily to everyone, and I think it very much helps to be exposed to the world of literature and writing. Some writers also focus on journalism training. It gives you skills for non-fiction, which is a type of book many people like to read now.
More important than schooling, though, I feel, is reading. Read voraciously. Read all kinds of things. Pay attention to what is fun, moving, interesting, irresistible about all the books you read. Pay attention to what doesn't hold your attention. Try not to make the same mistakes.
>> What classes did you take in highschool?
There I did take lots of lit and English classes, plus German and Spanish, plus theatre.
>> Do you need a license for writing?
>> What age do you write your books for?
>> Do you enjoy writing for this age?
Yes, and it is very challenging in my field to write books for young people. There aren't very many out there. Our current society wants youth to defer sexual knowledge.
>> Does your wage fit your needs?
Yes, but if I only wrote, I think it would be a scramble. Many writers have other work as well, to support them in their writing.
>> Is it hard getting books published?
Yes and no. There is a LOT of competition. But it very much depends on how you come to the issue. As an unknown writer with a book about something a publisher isn't sure s/he's interested in, it's quite challenging. I did it differently, by writing about my knowledge base and community. This made the playing field smaller, and more level. The publisher wants you more if you have a "name." Therefore, if you are interested in more than simply writing, pursue those interests. Get good or expert at something that fascinates you. Then write from that perspective and you will not just be a writer with a topic, you'll be an authority. (Note: this takes a while. The best life advice I ever got was from a storyteller whose story had a repeating line: "Follow what fascinates you." I guarantee, if you're not writing about something that interests you, writing will not be as much fun as it would otherwise.)
>> Is it hard finding ideas?
Not if you're interested in the world around you! There are zillions of ideas. Sometimes the challenge is getting someone at a publishing company, whose job is to guard the bottom line, as interested as you are.
One great way to stay open to good ideas is to look for books that you want to read until you can't find one. That might be the book you need to write!
>> What kind of books are you interested in?
All kinds, especially if they're written compellingly. I like the new creative nonfiction very much. I like memoirs and biographies, always have. I like good poetry; I like fiction (though I don't really like current fiction as much, usually, as fiction from past decades).
>> Is there anything else i need to know?
Stick with it! Writing isn't a job or an activity per se, it is a *practice*... like a spiritual practice. To gain personally from doing it, let it be a means of gaining insight about yourself as well as other elements of the world around you.
I'd recommend keeping a journal no matter what, where you keep in practice. Join a writing group when you can, and get feedback from other writers, or at least take workshops now and then. Don't ignore the nuts and bolts like punctuation (but don't get hung up on them in your first draft, either).
Don't turn down an interesting writing job if it doesn't pay; if you want to write it, write, because eventually people will know your name and want to include you in their books or magazines. (I started writing for small community publications that didn't pay; I did my best work in that context, and I began to get offers for things that did pay.)
want to do something that gives you both practice and exposure, like
a blog. Just remember that unlike a journal, this will be out there
for all to see, so do your best work there; use it to develop your voice
and your name, but don't be lazy with it. You might feel it's more appropriate
to wait until later to write for the public. But still, write.
Shannon! Good luck!
* * * * *
Dear Carol: I want to invite you to speak at my campus/appear on my TV or radio show/do a workshop in my town. Is there a list anywhere of the things you talk about?
Answer: Yes! After getting this question about a zillion times, I just made such a list. Here goes (hold tight; I don't call myself a "sexological overachiever" for nothing)! And please note that if the topic isn't here, it doesn't mean I can't talk about it. Have a glance at the Bibliography page as well, which I've just updated with the titles of my essays and stories, not just the books they're in; you might get some ideas from looking at that.
I have a PhD in sexology and a special interest in a field I call "cultural sexology" -- that is, analyzing the role of sex in culture. So from that perspective I can add a sort of "commentary track" on just about any topic. This is how Toronto City TV's series SexTV typically uses me; they come up with a topic and then have me on as one of the people explicating it. I often do this on panels as well.
Of course I can host and talk about Good Vibrations, of which I am Staff Sexologist and a co-owner: as a business that sells sex toys, books and videos; as a women-owned (and worker-owned) business, and one that values information and educates our staff accordingly. Other GV angles: our antique vibrator collection (which I help curate), and our line of women-directed erotic movies. (The one I made is about the g-spot.) I've also made a video (not through GV) about using vibrators.
GV is also the founder of National Masturbation Month, which we celebrate every May, and I'm its main spokesperson; in addition, I'm proud to be in the Masturbation Hall of Fame (for the above-mentioned vibrator movie). I helped on a masturbation-for-women documentary show for Discovery Canada, and every May my organization the Center for Sex & Culture sponsors a Masturbate-A-Thon. I also do classes and workshops about masturbation and orgasm, including "Come, and Come Again!"
My partner Robert and I teach a class called "The Anatomy of Pleasure" -- a look at sexual anatomy and how it works, sort of a sexy science class. We can do this for 2 or 3 hours; we can do it all day! We're sex-science geeks!
I wrote "Exhibitionism for the Shy" and can talk about erotic showing off; I've also taught a workshop based on the book. In fact, one workshop is "Exhibitionism for the Shy" and the advanced one is "Exhibitionism for the Brazen."
I do a solo spoken word piece called "Peep Show," about the Lusty Lady Theatre here in SF -- the only women-run (and now, worker-owned) peep show in California and one of the only ones anywhere. (I worked there back in 1990.) I've done the show in Toronto, Boston, Seattle, Minneapolis, Madison, and several other cities, and excerpted it all over, including on the Sex Workers' Art Show Tour in 2002.
Robert and I made a video called "Bend Over Boyfriend: An Adventurous Couple's Guide to Male Anal Pleasure." It was for many years the best-selling video at Good Vibrations (who knew there was so much interest?). This has gotten TV exposure in Canada and Germany, not quite as much in the US. Robert and I have also done a lot of teaching workshops on anal play, for women and men (and everyone else).
I speak about sexual orientation issues, especially bisexuality, sexual identity, and the notion that identity may not be cast in stone for everyone, but rather is more fluid. I co-edited a book called "PoMoSexuals" about the latter idea: that some people are not either/or in either their sexual orientation or gender identity. This book won a Lambda Literary Award (main book award for the lesbian and gay community). My erotic novel "The Leather Daddy and the Femme" addresses these issues through the sexualities of the characters; it won a Firecracker Alternative Book Award for Best Sex Book.
I regularly talk about sex industry issues from a sex-positive feminist perspective. I've written about the sex industry a fair amount and was asked to write the intro for a book about sex work, "Turning Pro." I've been affiliated with COYOTE for many years and more recently with the newer organization, the Sex Workers' Outreach Project.
Besides the erotic novel mentioned above, I'm a noted erotic writer with pieces in almost 50 anthologies. I won World's Best Erotic Writer from the Planet Sex organization in London in the early 90s; I've been in several volumes of best American Erotica, as well as Best Women's, Best Lesbian, Best Gay, Best Bisexual, and other best-of erotica anthologies. I love to do erotic readings, or, depending on the crowd, readings from my essays. I sometimes teach erotic writing and used to regularly attend, and present at, the now-defunct Out/Write, the LGBT writers' conference.
I frequently address free speech and anti-censorship issues; I'm on the speakers' bureau of Feminists for Free Expression, the board of the Woodhull Freedom Foundation, and a former board member of the Free Speech Coalition.
I can also talk about SM, fetishism, other erotic variations, plus address sexual functioning at any level up to the pharmaco-medical (I'm not trained in medicine or pharmaceutical science, but I frequently comment on the role of those fields in dealing with sexual dysfunction and sex education). Also: relationship configurations, including same-sex marriage and domestic partnership, and polyamory/responsible nonmonogamy.
Robert and I collect sexual archival and historical material and have started a non-profit to house it, the Center for Sex & culture, which also maintains a research library and offers adult classes and lectures of various kinds. Given enough advance notice I could whip up a slideshow! (I already have a slideshow about antique vibrators, which I presented in 2003 at the Museum of Sex in New York City.)
Safer sex: It's why I began my PhD program in sexology! (Yes, I got sidetracked, but I've still done lots of safer sex education.) I'm a member of the Sexologists' Sexual Health Project and used to assist at the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality's groundbreaking SHARP program (Sexual Health Attitude Restructuring Project), back when it was still being run.
I was wondering if you knew about paid employment ANYWHERE for people interested in sex education/community building/open dialogue about sexuality? I would love to conduct research or interviews, but I get the feeling that all of this is volunteer work or that you have to have a special degree. I have a BA in psychology and want to go on with my schooling, but I also want experience first. Any help will be appreciated!
There are not tons of opportunities to do sex-related work for a living, especially wearing more than a g-string. There may be more opportunities in the private sector (that is, sex shops, sex-related websites, and so forth), although my guess is that's not exactly the kind of work you have in mind. Still, some positions in the for-profit world are highly educational, and require a good deal of savvy about sexual practices and good, comfortable communications skills.
The bad news is, even these jobs don't grow on trees. When Good Vibrations opens one of its Sex Educator/Sales Associate positions, for instance, it's not unusual for them to get 200 or more applicants. And most of these interested people don't get more than a cursory look; if their resume doesn't already include sex education or relevant work experience, they won't even get a call for an interview.
Then there are the public and non-profit sectors. By "public sector" I mean education and government-funded jobs, and I bet you already know, if you've been watching the news, that the current government isn't hiring people to talk to other people about sex, especially the part that involves pleasure. In an educational context you'll find more research going on, but mostly it's woefully underfunded. Any paid positions associated with it are usually snapped up by the grantwriter's grad students.
In the nonprofit sector there are some jobs too, at places like Planned Parenthood, but getting them is usually at least as tough as getting your foot in the door at Good Vibrations.
Now you see why so many interested parties decide to become dominatrixes.
It's true that a college or grad school major in a sex-related field
is very helpful where all these positions are concerned. There aren't
many programs that grant advanced or even bachelors' degrees in sexuality
And so we get back to the question of volunteer work and life experience. You're right: most positions you might find interesting (especially with no previous experience) do involve volunteering: with non-profits, community-based activist organizations, and sometimes with professionals such as researchers and writers. In most cases you can figure out ways to get college credit for these sorts of positions. In most cases, the volunteer work you do can make your application stand out when you apply for a "real" job. And in all cases, you may be able to narrow down your interests and figure out whether sexuality is a field of study you want to pursue.
I don't mean to be discouraging. However, dealing with sex professionally isn't something the whole culture supports. Sex is marginalized in the US, and professional sexuality-related work is usually marginalized too: less grant money, pretty much no government support, and very little institutional support within most professions for people who want to specialize in sexuality-related positions within those professions. (A person who wants to be a sex therapist, for instance, will be ill-prepared to do so by the standard therapy training s/he gets, unless s/he goes out to add to this training in a specialized program or through a mentorship.)
But let me now try to give you some hope. First, when you are putting together elements for your resume, take any life experience as well as academic work seriously and list it, at least for your own reference. If you have worked in the sex industry but don't necessarily want to say so, try to break down what positive gains doing so gave you and develop a skills-based, rather than a position-based, resume. List comfort talking about sexually explicit topics, not "I did phone sex." (Note: When applying for some positions, it would be completely appropriate to say that you've done sex industry work; don't automatically assume you have to hide the life experience that gives you the interest in the first place, but do judiciously evaluate whether disclosing it will be a good idea in each specific instance.) Similarly, if you have studied up on sex but don't have even volunteer or subcultural work to show for it, you'll have to make a case for your knowledge and your interest. Consider what you could include in your cover letter to pitch your enthusiasm. Sadly, "I like sex and so I'm interested in it" probably won't be enough. Really assess your experience and skill set to figure out how to present yourself. If you have any relationships with professors or other professionals who might speak on your behalf (and whose mentorship you can cite), get in touch with them, ask for advice and contacts, and give them the heads-up that you'd like to list them as a reference.
Then it'll be time to figure out where any available jobs might be. List all the local possibilities you know about: academics who specialize in sex-related research, teaching, or writing; non-profits (don't forget any AIDS organizations); sex therapy clinics; private sector businesses -- list everything you can think of. Rank them (how interesting to you is the work they do? How likely is it they hire people?). Then start querying and, if appropriate, applying. While you're doing this, ask yourself if you'd be interested in working with these places as an intern or volunteer, if no paying options are available to you. Another reason to volunteer at a place you're interested in working is to get in the door and get taken more seriously if a paid position opens later. This may also optimize networking opportunities. Chat with people. Collect business cards. And if you're enquiring someplace that has a training you haven't taken, consider taking it. Once you've gone through this process for your own area, ask yourself whether you would consider relocating for the kind of job that interests you. Then start searching the Web. Don't forget to comb the links pages of organizations or businesses that interest you.
As the summer progresses, my non-profit, The Center for Sex & Culture, will be building up its links program. You might find useful information and places to query there, so bookmark us and check back from time to time: www.centerforsexandculture.com. Also, let's ask for other readers' feedback; if I get any good suggestions for you, I'll pass them on.