Every Wednesday The CSPH highlights 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 Sarah Patterson!
1. What do you do in the field of sexuality?
I am a sexual health educator and trainer, as well as a sex worker advocate and researcher. I design and implement sexual health education for youth, adults and health professionals. I specialize in working with LGBTQ youth populations, as well as adult-age individuals in the sex trade. Along with current and former workers in the sex trade, advocates for workers in the sex trade and health professionals in New York City, I organize PERSIST (Providing Educational Resources in Support of Individuals in the Sex Trade) Health Project, a project designed to both educate health care professionals on the needs of individuals in the sex trade, as well as provide direct health services for those currently or formerly in the sex trade.
2. Where are you based out of?
I live in Brooklyn, New York, and work in the Bronx and Manhattan.
3. What is your focus? What do you do?
For me, I regard sexual health education as a social justice effort – it is an act of self-preservation to know one’s body and one’s right to health care. To be healthy and knowledgeable about one’s body and one’s sexuality empowers folks to feel more whole, and therefore more entitled to health care and other human rights. I feel very strongly that marginalized communities should build their capacity from within, by educating each other and themselves. We are all experts of our own experience and have tools within us to create amazing change. My focus is to show people the tools they have and can build to do that important work.
4. What are your particular goals and passions in the field?
I am passionate about improving the rights of, as well as minimizing the stigma and discrimination towards, LGBTQ folks and sex workers. My aim is to do that through education, as well as advocacy. I am passionate about improving people’s health and wellness, so that they themselves can make the best decisions for their lives.
The health care community has historically regarded sex workers, as well as many LGBTQ folks, either as victims or vectors of disease, rarely being treated as whole individuals in need of comprehensive health care. My aim in my work is to refocus conversations about health (and what it means to be healthy) to prioritize individuals’ experience, rather than the medical community’s notion of what people are or what they need.
5. Why did you choose to work in this field?
When I went into my Masters program, I thought I wanted to be a researcher exclusively, and did not think of myself as an educator. Now, as you can see, researcher is third on my list of “Things I Do.” The moment I got up in front of people in school to teach them about a sexuality topic, I saw the transformation that was possible in that moment – and I was hooked.
People often react to my work as being “difficult” (which I think may say more about how we feel about sexuality topics, especially ones related to social justice, than about my work), but I can’t imagine a more exciting line of work – I empower people around their sexuality every day! Sure, sometimes it’s hard, sometimes it hurts, but the work is overall extremely healing and nurturing. So I think I re-choose this work in every training that I teach, in every classroom that I step into. It’s a very rewarding, albeit very consuming, field to work in.
6. Where did you go for school/training?
I went to Widener University for my Masters in Human Sexuality Education and I am currently enrolled as a PhD candidate in CUNY’s Social Welfare program.
7. Do you have any literature out (websites, articles)?
All the links to my work can be found at SarahElspeth.com.
8. What would you recommend to future professionals attempting to get into the field?
Having a unique voice is critical, not only from a personal marketing standpoint, but also as a means to truly be effective in creating your own workshops/classrooms/writing/so on. People really are drawn to what you are providing, and as the field grows, it will become more and more essential to teach what you are passionate about, what you do best, and speak from a unique standpoint.
That being said, it is also essential to find a balance between having a strong voice and listening to others. I often see a lot of people fall in love with their own approach to things, which is good (because how else will you get others to love it?), but then stop pushing their growing edge. We can learn so much about our own sexuality and our own work through honoring the voices of those around us, and thinking critically on what they have to say, especially when we don’t agree with them. I learn the most when I listen to folks I have difficulty listening to, or whom I don’t agree with. It ultimately deepens not only my commitment to my own mission, but it also gives me a full perspective on an issue.
9. What is the most challenging aspect for you working in this career?
I work to make spaces safer and more inclusive of LGBTQ folks, as well as individuals in the sex trade. There are many people in the world who do not share this desire. The biggest challenge in my work is my biggest challenge in life: striking a balance between honoring people’s thoughts and experiences, without taking people’s oppressive behavior home with me. Anti-oppressive sexual health education can be very draining for that reason, because it means facing and tackling people’s deep-seeded oppressions, whether they are directed at others or back at themselves.
I could never put it better than Audre Lorde when she said: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” I get up to do my work another day by reminding myself that I am up to something bigger than myself and that in order to get that done, I have to keep myself feeling safe and healthy.
10. One must read-what would you recommend? Why?
Saint James Infirmary’s Occupational Health and Safety Handbook is an essential read for anyone who is interested in working with sex workers, in any health-related capacity.
In general, I think it’s important to balance deeply academic texts with application focused ones. Michel Foucault and Barbara Carrellas both have things to teach you about working in sexology.
NOTE: We do not necessarily endorse or agree with all the opinions of our featured Hump Day Heroes. If you have concerns over someone who is currently featured, please let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.