“What do you teach in Human Sexuality?”

I recently told a friend that I would be teaching human sexuality at Austin Community College this fall. She replied by asking me, “What do you teach in that class? What is human sexuality?”

I was a little bit surprised at her question. It was past my bedtime, so I stumbled through an answer about the range of topics that it included: information about gender, the range of expressions that human sexuality takes, biology and physiology and embryology, STDs and safe sex methods, sexual pleasure, sexual coersion, relationships and how to navigate them, and so much more.

My friend was surprised, and said, “Doesn’t everyone already know about all those things?”

“Well, no!”

Now, my friend is highly self-taught in many areas. She is also very dedicated to living naturally and supporting her body naturally. Given this predilictions, she is probably more highly educated in human sexuality than many American adults. Nevertheless, I suspect that if my friend were to take my class, she would find that there is a depth to this information that she did not already know.

Another friend, a teenager, recently boasted to me that he had no need of such a class – he already knew everything he needed to know about sex and sexuality from the Internet and from his friends.  I started asking him specific questions about women’s physiology and sexuality, STDs, and homosexuality.  From the absolute lack of substance and high degree of humor in his responses, I am left with the impression that he didn’t have any what he was talking about.

While everyone is a sexual being, and so knows a degree about human sexuality, unless someone has made a study of human sexuality (whether formally or informally), they are often missing critical pieces of information that they don’t even know they are missing.  While there are extensive restrictions on what kinds of sexuality education public high schools can offer (particularly here in Texas), colleges and universities often have the freedom to offer high quality courses in Human Sexuality.

I cannot recommend that a high school student join college students for a Human Sexuality class, so a community college sexuality class cannot stand-in for high quality sexuality education in public high schools.  However, I highly recommend that high school graduates register for Human Sexuality their first year out of high school – particularly if their high school did not offer comprehensive sexuality education.  Because this is what I really teach in all of my sexuality education classes:

I teach basic information about people’s bodies, and how people’s bodies relate to each other sexually.  But more importantly, I ask the students to go beyond this basic level of information and to think deeply about the morals and ethics behind sexual and sexuality topics and activities.  Then I guide the students as they begin to form their own beliefs, standards, and boundaries about all of these topics.  When done right, this class has the potential to dramatically affect every student’s sexuality choices to be physically and emotionally healthier and safer.

I hope that any college or university Human Sexuality class would do the same.

About Karen Rayne

Dr. Karen Rayne has been supporting parents and families since 2007 when she received her PhD in Educational Psychology. A specialist in child wellbeing, Dr. Rayne has spent much of her career supporting parents, teachers, and other adults who care for children and teenagers.


  1. I think it sounds like a fantastic class that everyone should take. But, I would have been terribly embarrassed to have taken it as a new high school graduate–what if it caused someone else to think I was interested in sex?! A shame, ’cause I needed that information.

  2. It’s a good explanation to a question that probably a lot of people have. I bet most adults don’t think they have anything to gain from a Human Sexuality class. Too many adults I bet think that
    1) They know the basic facts about sex and reproduction,
    2) STD’s aren’t an issue for them because they are monogamous, careful, or choosy,
    3) Coercion is bad
    4) And the only other two issues are abortion and homosexuality – and they’ve already made up their mind about the morality of both.

    The gaps in their knowledge or inconsistencies in their logic/ethics sometimes only come out when they are trying to talk about sex in a non-joking way, like when they are trying to explain things to their kids.

  3. I’m in a human sexuality course at a community college, and I was wondering- what type of degree is necessary to teach the subject? My human sexuality teacher has a Master in Public Health- are there other degrees that lend themselves to teaching such a class?

  4. Sarah, There are quite a few ways to teach Human Sexuality. I have a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology with a focus on Human Development. There are schools that offer a degree in Human Sexuality, and even a few that offer degrees specifically in Sexuality Education. However, a broader degree (like Educational Psychology or Public Health or Health Education or even just Psychology) generally work just fine.

  5. Widener University in Chester, PA offers master’s degrees and doctorates in Human Sexuality Education as well as several options for dual degrees in HuSex and social work and clinical psychology.
    I began teaching Human Sexuality as an adjunct professor with a master’s degree and will be able to teach at the graduate level once I complete my doctorate this fall. I have my own consulting practice as well.
    There are opportunities with non-profit organizations, hospitals, and resource development/textbook companies. Sarah, this is a highly rewarding field in need of many more qualified teachers serving both children and adults, including senior citizens. You can learn about sex educator certification at AASECT.org

  6. Because of the nature of the material (and the ease with which Americans are embarrassed by it – whether teens or adults) – have you considered packaging up a downloadable module of some sort?

    That would allow those who wish to benefit to do so, privately, or to provide that benefit to their teens.

    I realize it isn’t the same as an actual interactive environment, but there is SO much that so many don’t know, at every age, and certainly only so much that even the most open household can provide, in discussion, with children (at each stage of development).

    Just a thought.

    By the way, thoroughly enjoyed your Belly Project. A wonderful idea.

  7. I have considered creating an online or downloadable something. However, I do not have the technical skills to manage something on my own, so it has moved to the back of stove, so-to-speak. If you or anyone else is interested in helping me with such a process, drop me an e-mail (karen.rayne@gmail.com)! I’d love to talk with you.

    P.S. Thanks for the Belly Project mention! I love it too. 🙂

  8. My sister in law in I were just talking about collages and what courses to take.. She brought up wanting to take a human sexuality class.. I have never hurd of such a thing.. Reading what you have posted above gave her and i a better understanding of this class… Needless to say we are both going to take this class for fun.. I would love to learn why i am so much more sexual that other women.. and even my fiance.. Would this class be able to help me better understand why im am such a sexual person.. And tame it for the sake of making my marage work? And im hoping that by us taking this class she will be able to convinse her parents that being a lesbian isnt “the devils work” thank you for influencing our choice in taking this class:)
    I hope to hear from you soon.

    Allie 🙂

  9. Glad I could help, Allie! And yes, I certainly hope that a college level Human Sexuality class would help you and your sister-in-law in the ways you’ve mentioned. Of course it partly depends on where you’re in school and what professor you take the class from how effective, informative, and engaging it will be. I hope you find a good one!

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