Chapter 1- Introduction

My first experiences with adult sexuality education took place in 1989 when, as a university sophomore, I joined my campus queer student outreach group and spoke to incoming learners about my experiences as a bisexual man. I quickly discovered that talking about sexuality or sexual orientation often led to feeling and/or witnessing shame. Sometimes, an attendee’s shame was implicit in his or her questions or comments, but it was more often evident in people’s postures and defensive language. At other times, I felt shame when I did not know the answers to various questions, or in response to a question that triggered my personal shames. At the time, I believed that all we needed to do was be open and honest and that people would respond openly and honestly, that is, without shame. This was an assumption built into every aspect of the training I had received to prepare me as an outreach team member.

In the fifteen years since then, I have provided sexuality outreach, training and education; I have served as a safer sex outreach provider, a rape crisis hotline counselor, a speaker on issues of sexual justice and a peer counselor; I have trained hotline counselors, therapists, nurses and hospital workers on issues faced by male survivors of sexual assault and by male partners of women who seek abortions; I created, developed and managed a training program for Sex Educator-Sales Associates at Good Vibrations, a retail and mail order company whose mission includes providing accurate, non-judgmental sexuality information. Throughout these experiences, I have come to realize that while sexuality educators commonly use terms like “normalize sexuality” and “non-judgmental information,” we almost always fail to address what shame is and how it works, and we rarely ask what purposes shame might serve. Often, implicit in our teachings are the assumptions that the experience of shame is indicative of a lack of maturity or understanding, that shame is inherently maladaptive, or that if we simply knew enough about sexuality we would not feel shame.

In my research and my understanding of emotional experiences, especially Affect Theory (Tomkins, 1962, 1963), I have come to recognize shame as one of many affects that help people assess their situations or circumstances in which they find themselves. Just as physical sensations are signals about somatic experiences, the affects are signals about emotional experiences. In contrast to the idea that shame is always maladaptive, I believe that the ability to listen to shame, as well as other emotions, can help us move towards changing our circumstances to better serve us. Similarly, physical pain is a signal that our bodies require attention; the fact that it is often unpleasant does not make it maladaptive. In United States society, there are few areas that trigger shame as strongly as sexuality, so exploring how sexuality education can integrate this perspective became a topic of great interest to me.

Over the last few years, I have witnessed and facilitated people’s abilities to engage with the intersection of sex and shame through profound transformations that allow a deeper connection with their authentic selves. According to Cranton (2001), authenticity is the “expression of one’s genuine Self in the community and society.” (p. vii) My personal goal within this dissertation is to describe the ways in which I have learned to support processes that foster authenticity through the integration of theories on education, shame and sexuality. My hope is that this will serve as a model for others who wish to develop their own perspectives and techniques.

My focus on adult sexuality education, as compared to education for teens and children, is motivated by a few different factors. First, the issues that arise when discussing sexuality education for minors are politically challenging. In fact, even asking questions about what healthy sexuality for children might look like can result in being vilified and labeled a pedophile or sexual predator (Levine, 2002). Working with adults avoids the thorny questions around childhood sexuality and the validity of youth sexuality education research. Secondly, I believe that helping adults address erotophobia and maladaptive sexual shame is the first step in creating the programs so desperately needed by youth. Since adults are the policy and decision makers, as well as the parents who may or may not choose to support youth sexuality education, helping adults in this way supports the future development of non-shaming sexuality education for people of all ages. Lastly, and most importantly, I am personally drawn to the interactions that develop within the context of adult learning and find it more satisfying than working with children. My personal authenticity is supported by working within adult education.

The literature on adult education generally maintains the perspective that adults learn differently than children and adolescents do. In part, this is based on Knowles’ (1980) definition of an “adult” as someone who a) performs social roles typically assigned by society to adults, and b) perceives him/herself as an adult. In effect, adulthood is both socially granted and self-defined. Part of the difficulty in developing a definition for an ongoing process is that neither of these points is simple to evaluate. We acquire both the social roles and the self-perception that define adulthood over time and these processes are not necessarily linear. However, for the purposes of this research, Knowles’ definition will suffice; an adult is someone who feels like an adult and acts like an adult.

Along with education around sexuality and shame, I am also committed to the inclusion of social justice issues in the classroom. Bell (1997) writes that social justice “includes a vision of society in which the distribution of resources is equitable and all members are physically and psychologically safe and secure.” (p. 3) Given the ways in which United States society narrowly defines acceptable sexuality (Rubin, 1992), I believe that attempts to address social justice without including sexuality are guaranteed to fail since sexuality is inextricably linked with psychological safety.

What is Authenticity?

One of the observations made by educators of adults and researchers in adult education is that opportunities for transformation often emerge within the context of learning. Whether these opportunities are planned for or they spontaneously arise, adult educators are generally aware that shedding old perspectives and developing new ones is often part of the process of adult learning (Imel, 1995). However, while Mezirow (1991), Freire (1995) and others have discussed ways in which adult education can facilitate the learners’ steps towards developing self-awareness, increasing their autonomy, and becoming critical of the world around them, it is only recently that research has begun to explore the overarching concept of authenticity.

Cranton (2001) defined authenticity as the expression of the genuine self in the community. More recently, Cranton & Carusetta (2004) wrote that authenticity is “a multifaceted concept that includes at least four parts: “being genuine, showing consistency between values and actions, relating to others in such a way as to encourage their authenticity, and living a critical life.” (p. 7) Transformative learning is the process by which uncritically accepted assumptions, perspectives, beliefs and values are questioned and either validated or used to develop new understandings (Mezirow, 1991). According to Cranton and Carusetta, what motivates this process is the desire for authenticity; understanding how people often experience authenticity offers useful insights into what makes adult education effective.

One of the important insights that Cranton (2001) offers is that “[n]o research has shown teachers with certain characteristics are consistently more effective than teachers with other characteristics.” (p. 40) While many educators might like a checklist that would guarantee that their teaching would be successful, Cranton suggests that the most effective teachers are those who are most authentic in their practices, which includes working with one’s strengths while also developing new skills. Since teachers, when asked to describe their weaknesses “usually describe the flip side of their strengths” (p. 35), a challenge that educators face is learning to develop complementary skills without giving up their talents. When they are able to do so, teachers do not take on a role and perform as a teacher; instead, they use their skills in order to teach. Thus, they teach through their genuine selves.

Since authenticity is a demonstration of the genuine self, it follows that consistency between values and actions is one of the factors that Cranton and Carusetta identify. It is through our actions that others may observe who we are and what values and beliefs we hold. This transparency is one of the relational aspects of authenticity and it fosters trust for the teacher. This trust can become the foundation of the teacher’s credibility for the learners. Unfortunately, many of us have observed and participated in classes in which the teacher’s behavior did not match their words; in my experience, this has made it difficult, if not impossible, to believe anything that the teacher offered.

Acting in ways that are aligned with one’s genuine self has effects in addition to fostering credibility; it also models authenticity for the learners, which can help them find their own motivations for moving into their authenticities. Jarvis (1992) wrote that part of being authentic is choosing to act in ways that “foster the growth and development of each other’s being.” (p. 113) This is consistent with Freire’s (1995) observation that teachers and learners learn together through dialogue. It also implies that “[f]or educators to be open to this way of seeing, their practice requires a questioning and perhaps rejection of some expectations about what teaching is - a transformative process.” (Cranton, 1994, p. 8) Since authenticity is about being who we are, not as we want to be, nor as we think we should be, nor as others want us to be, an educator can inspire it in learners both through modeling it and by supporting them as they discover their genuine selves. And as these processes develop, the teacher will have opportunities to become more authentic herself. Thus, it becomes a cyclical relationship among all the people in the classroom, including the teacher.

Lastly, authenticity requires critical thinking on several different levels. Since we are each constantly changing throughout our lives, critical self-reflection (Mezirow, 1990) can be a helpful tool for re-discovering our authentic selves. In addition, other people and the many communities through which we each move usually have some definition of how we each should be. However, authenticity does not mean reacting to these external definitions by rejecting them unquestioningly. Instead, it “involves knowing and understanding the collective and carefully, critically determining how we are different from and the same as that collective.” (Cranton & Carusetta, 2004, p. 8) Moving towards authenticity can be a response to changes in our internal landscape as well as disconnects between our internal selves and the world around us.

Overview of the Research

This dissertation describes a model of adult learning that encapsulates many of the predominant perspectives and theories on effective teaching. I used this model to develop and teach a semester-long course on sexuality, spirituality and shame for Unitarian-Universalist seminary learners. This model helped me to increase my skills as a teacher, to help the learners move into their authenticities, and to become a more authentic person myself. Through a first-person account of how I applied this model, I hope to demonstrate how each of these processes supported the other and offer suggestions for how other educators can do the same. While this model and this dissertation may not resonate with everyone, my belief is that it will help some educators find ways to integrate their genuine selves with their teaching practices.

This research was supported by Starr King School for the Ministry (SKSM), a Unitarian-Universalist (UU) seminary in Berkeley, California. SKSM accepted my proposal to teach the class Sex and Shame, Spirit and Power during the Fall 2003 semester. I approached SKSM for a variety of reasons. First, in seeking an institution at which I could teach, I believed that working with a group of learners with overlapping needs, values and cultures would simplify the task of making the course relevant to the learners’ professional goals. One of my working assumptions was that by interviewing program graduates, I would be able to assess the educational needs of current learners, which would help me create a curriculum that was useful for them. I would simultaneously be able to acquaint myself with both the school’s culture and UU culture. I believed that this familiarity would help me understand what current learners could gain from the course and would make it easier for me to use language appropriate for the group.

A second motive in working with SKSM was that I needed to find an institution that would recognize the value of a course on sexuality, but that had not yet developed one. For example, one possibility that I had considered was to work with learners in the mental health professions, such as therapists or social workers. However, education programs for these groups generally include some sexuality training already. In addition, many professional groups resist being taught by someone from another field. As an outreach provider and educator, I have often been told, both directly and indirectly, that I can’t effectively meet a group’s needs because I do not share their theoretical or professional training, regardless of my background in either sexuality or education. On the other hand, many other fields do not currently recognize the importance of sexuality training for their learners. I expected to face the difficulty of limited support and the possibility of greater resistance from the administration, the faculty and the learners if I approached these programs. SKSM and its Curriculum Committee acknowledged both their learners’ need for a course on this subject and that there was none available. This helped create an ideal partnership.

A third reason for working with SKSM is that, as an institution, it is committed to issues of social justice on an individual scale as well as on a societal scale and supports inquiry into challenging social issues in order to better understand and respond to them. This gave me the opportunity to explore sexuality issues and how they intersect with social roles and oppressions on both personal and societal levels. Finally, one member of my Doctoral Committee, Dr. Ibrahim Farajajé, is a Dean at Starr King School; working with SKSM would enable me to build his oversight and support directly into the framework of this project. All of these factors made SKSM an ideal institution to work with.

Although I originally decided to work with SKSM for these external reasons, early on during this research I found my relationship with the UU community to be a source of joy and pleasure. In every interaction that I had with my research participants, the administration, the learners, the faculty and with other community members with whom I met, I felt drawn to their commitment to authentic, heart-felt and open connection. This experience was a benefit that I had not expected and I found that it supported me through the many challenges of the dissertation process. While the word “community” is used in many different ways, working in the UU world as a researcher, a teacher and a doctoral learner showed me the depth of their passion and the strength of their fellowship. In addition to all that I learned about adult sexuality education, I also experienced a type of community for which I am deeply grateful.

This project was divided into two phases. Phase 1 was a series of interpersonal interviews with SKSM learners, graduates, professors and UU ministers, that were undertaken in order to develop a model of the responsibilities and roles of UU ministers. This portion of the research was approved by the Union Institute and University Institutional Review Board on February 24, 2003. Phase 2 of the research was the collection of data during the semester and its analysis through both qualitative and quantitative techniques, and was approved by the IRB on September 10, 2003. Since I served as an Associate Faculty Member, my teaching was overseen by SKSM.

In writing this document, I have chosen to use the first person where relevant for several reasons. Throughout the research, the teaching and the evaluation, I was my primary research tool. This project is rooted in my observations, my perspectives, my experiences, my beliefs, and my implementation of education theory to address the topics of the course was constantly influenced by my values and judgments. Writing in the disembodied third person, such as referring to “the researcher,” generates a false sense of objectivity in order to attempt to gain credibility in an academic setting that valorizes scientific detachment (Patton, 2002). The traditional pursuit of objectivity tends to obscure bias and confuses being factual about observations with being distant from the phenomenon being described. All distance ensures is distance; it does not ensure objectivity (Scriven, 1998). By way of contrast, Lincoln and Guba (2000) have proposed an emphasis on trustworthiness and authenticity, rather than objectivity. Both of these terms presuppose a relationship between the researcher and the reader; by bringing myself to your attention, I offer you the opportunity to decide where I stand.

Further, Kvale (1996) emphasized the “pragmatic validation” of findings. This approach allows research results to be judged by their relevance to and use by the people to whom it is presented. As Patton (2002) observes, this “shifts attention back to credibility and quality, not as absolute generalizable judgments but as contextually dependent on the needs and interests of those receiving our analysis.” (p. 580) In order for the evaluation of this model of adult education to be responsive to the needs of current and future teachers, I believe I need to make explicit how my choices influenced how I implemented it. This will help others make their own decisions regarding its utility and execution in different settings and with different participants.

As a description and analysis of my teaching, this document follows a trajectory similar to the research itself. The first section, Chapter 2- Overview of Adult Education, discusses the field of adult education, followed by Chapter 3- Applying the Theories to Practice: A Model of Effective Adult Education which describes the model of effective teaching that I created for this research. The next section, Chapter 4- Phase 1: Using Grounded Theory as a Tool for Needs Assessment, discusses my use of Grounded Theory to develop a model of the role of the Unitarian-Universalist minister, which served as a needs assessment for the SKSM learners. A summary of the content of Sex and Shame, Spirit and Power is presented in Chapter 5- Overview of Shame Theories, followed by the application of my model of adult education to the content in Chapter 6- Teaching the Class. Chapter 7- Phase 2: Measures of Effectiveness, contains the analysis of the research data gathered during and after the semester in order to evaluate how the curriculum met the needs of the learners and in what ways, if any, the learners’ attitudes, beliefs and knowledge changed. It also includes an exploration of how the authenticities of the learners and my authenticity evolved during the semester. In each of these sections, a description of the relevant literature precedes the description of how the theoretical underpinnings were applied and extended as part of this project. The final section, Chapter 8- How Did the Model Support My Authenticity?, explores the successes of this project in terms of how my authenticity was influenced by my model of adult education.

Throughout this dissertation, I will describe my experiences in teaching Sex and Shame, Spirit and Power. I think that it is important to remember that this is the story of a specific teacher working with a particular topic within the context of an individual school and with a single group of learners. Each of these circumstances is specific to this particular course. Educators working in other settings, with different subjects and with different groups of learners will find that norms and expectations vary widely, as do effective practices. Even if I taught this same course at SKSM again, since the learners would be a different group of people and I am a different person than I was when I first taught it, the story of the class would be different. My experience is that teaching resists codification precisely because each time that it happens, a unique story unfolds. Consequently, my hope is that by offering a detailed narrative of the learners, the content, the course and how they interrelated, I will help other educators to apply the principles and framework that I offer to their needs. A characteristic that authenticity and effective teaching share is that they are processes that emerge from the interplay of personalities and settings. Rather than hoping that others will follow in my footsteps, I invite you to use my experiences to help you on your journey.

Go to Chap. 2