Sex Educator Profiles: Guli Fager
What led you to become a sex educator?
My early childhood. A few days after I witnessed my brother’s home birth I was discovered demonstrating what I’d seen for a friend. My mother taught me about sex when I was really little and when you have that information, other kids want to get it from you. I have a Master’s of Public Health in Sexuality and Health from Columbia University which has opened the doors professionally but I don’t think I’ve ever not been a sex educator.
What kinds of sex education do you offer?
At the University of Texas at Austin I have the privilege of being in charge of the Healthy Sexuality Education Program. Our primary objectives are prevention of pregnancy and STIs, of course, but a huge part of what my students and I do is foster dialogue about sex on a campus filled with students who have never had anyone in a position of family or institutional authority communicate with them openly about sex. I meet with students individually to discuss a wide variety of concerns; I train and manage a group of Healthy Sexuality Peer Educators who offer interactive, fun workshops and classes all over campus; I guest lecture in academic classes and to fraternities, sororities, and other student organizations; I run a condom distribution and social marketing campaign; and I lead workshops at sex toy stores in Austin and with youth at Quaker conferences all over the US.
How did you start giving sex advice?
I’ve always talked to my peers about sex but I think I really got started when I was a high school student at a co-ed boarding school. My mother gave me a copy of “Our Bodies, Our Selves” when I was twelve and I brought it with me to school. Countless girls came into my dorm room to ask me to help them figure out what birth control method to use and when I started collecting other sex books, like “The Joy of Sex” and so on, they were constantly out on loan to other students. I was never shy about discussing sex and young people are drawn to that because so few teenagers will talk about sex openly and honestly. I even wrote an article for the newspaper my junior year called “Sex From All Angles” that was about the no-sex policy at our school. When the paper came out I walked down the hall and every person I saw was sitting down with the paper open to the article I wrote. It was exhilarating to have everyone in school read my article but also made clear that there was a huge vacuum for information about sex.
Where did you get your education in sexuality?
As with fashion and finances, I like to think of sex education as a portfolio that is always stronger when you diversify. I learned from my mother, a huge variety of books (my all-time favorite is Alex Comfort’s little-known and out-of-print “The Facts of Love”), talking to people, the sex ed class at my Quaker meeting that my mom taught, porn, and experience.
What do you love about giving sex advice?
Nothing makes me happier than hearing back from someone that they tried the thing I told them about and that it was awesome. I also love hearing from college students “I’ve never said/told anyone/been able to talk about this with anyone before.”
What is your most common question?
“I want to do X but I don’t know how to tell my partner.” The answer, obviously, is to just tell them.
What is the most difficult or hard-to-answer question you’ve ever received?
“Will anyone ever want to have sex with me again?” when someone is newly diagnosed with herpes.
What is your favorite sex toy or product and why?
This is a toughie! I don’t think I could pick just one product or toy because there are so many options and they all serve different purposes. My favorite lube is Maximus, my favorite dildo is the VixSkin Tex, my favorite condom is the Kimono Type-E/Textured, my favorite butt plug is the Ryder, and my favorite vibrator is the simple silver bullet.
How do you think your website is different from others out there?
I write more about politics and public policy than many sex educators. Because I have my MPH I am a health policy nerd in addition to being a sex nerd. So I do sex Q & A, product reviews, and sexual health policy editorials.
Where do you teach? If you travel, what is it like? Where was your favorite place to teach? Most unusual panel or experience?
I work at the University of Texas at Austin so my biggest audience is college students. The best part of speaking to students is seeing the look of disbelief on their face when they realize that I’m not going to lie to them, because most of them have only ever heard “The only safe sex is no sex” message. I recently got this comment from a student whose class I visited: “I really loved Guli’s visit. She opened up about sex more so than any of the past sex educators have in my life. She also made the potentially horrifying consequences of sexual activity more approachable. It is good to know that if anything bad happens to me in the future, there will be support and people to help back me up through the difficult time. It’s also good to be aware of the resources available on the campus itself to provide us with guidance in case we need it. I actually did not know anything at all of these resources before her visit. Maybe it’s all just psychological but she does a really good job of making reality seem a lot less terrifying!”
I also travel to do workshops with Quaker youth a few times a year. My most unusual group was probably a class I taught at Forbidden Fruit in Austin where the audience included some of my students from UT, a professional escort, couples with children, and a triad in their 60s.
What was the most interesting thing you learned in your exploration of sex?
That there is still not a big place in our society for a woman who is deliberately sexual. As Kinsey put it, “A nymphomaniac is simply a woman who has more sex than you do.”
What would be your number one piece of advice for someone interested in a career of sex education?
Start asking questions. You either have the ability to get people to talk to you about sex (not to mention the interest in hearing about it) or you don’t. The only way you’ll find out is to start asking people about sex. My biggest regret as an educator is that I never got to talk to my grandmother about sex before she died this spring at 92. She knew what I do for a living and I’m sure she would’ve had interesting stories to tell, but I was afraid to ask!
What’s the best thing you’ve learned or best advice you’ve received?
That if you really want to make change, you must be open to new experiences and challenges. I never, ever imagined that my dream job would materialize in Texas but coming here has allowed me to make real, tangible change. I never planned to come to Texas but I feel like I’m doing what I’m meant to do.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about sex?
That partner sex should meet all of a person’s sexual needs.
What is your best piece of sex advice for women?
“If the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem will look like a nail. Find more tools!” Translation: Masturbate. A lot.
What projects are you working on now?
Where can people find out more about you?
I’m on Facebook and you can read my blog.