Last month, I kicked off my Sex Educator Spotlight series with Nadine Thornhill, Ed.D. This month, I interview Yael R. Rosenstock Gonzalez, a sexologist, identity coach, workshop developer and facilitator, curriculum consultant… I could go on.
Full disclosure: Yael is a fellow contributor to Pure Romance’s Buzz blog and, as I got to know her work and her areas of interest over the course of our editorial meetings, I realized she was someone whose work I should be following.
Here’s our conversation about the five billion things she’s working on within the sex ed space, edited for clarity and length:
Tell me about your journey to becoming a sexuality educator.
At 15, I was a reproductive rights peer educator. I got some really awesome sex education in these weekly meetings from the New York Civil Liberties Union that I never would have gotten in school. They were just informative and fun and interactive. And then I got to speak to young people about their rights, which was beautiful.
I then started to volunteer with sexually abused children. I was seeking to understand how people experienced or processed recurring trauma.
Then I got interested in trafficking and I got interested in GEMS (Girls Educational and Mentoring Services) and I started volunteering with them as a big sister. It’s a group for women who have either engaged in survival sex or been domestically trafficked.
And then I was like, well, sex worker rights are super important. It’s one thing to be trafficked and it’s another thing to choose and even if the reason that you’re choosing is that you don’t have access to the things that you need and it’s for survival purposes, you do deserve access to healthcare. You do deserve access to protection and to rights. And so I started to write public health papers around sex worker rights and what the implications are for public health.
And then I was like, oh, I’m now having a very positive sexual experience. I’m happy where I am. I’m feeling confident. I’m feeling good. How can I provide those kinds of experiences to others? And that’s how I ended up in the sex education field. I wanted to help others experience positive, sexy, sensual, and safe sexual interactions that felt validating and good, and also help folks avoid and/or not create negative traumatic experiences.
You offer such a wide range of workshops and consultations. Which ones seem to garner the most interest or reveal the most need?
When I was with the Center for Ethnic, Racial, and Religious Understanding, I co-founded QC Sexploration and Information Group and we created a survey tool to ask students about their knowledge, their interests, and what kind of education they wanted on campus. The thing that was consistently at the top of the list was consent and boundary-making. So we asked, Do you want to know about kink? Do you want to know about polyamory? Do you want to know about gender identities and masturbation and bodies? And people said yes to all those things. But the thing that was by far the most popular every single year was consent and boundary-making. For me, it was very hopeful to be on a college campus where everyone just wanted us to offer ways to have these conversations and to build these skills.
Also, I just did two free workshops on Getting to Know Yourself for Better Sex & Relationships and when I polled the people in attendance why they were there, the most popular answer was: getting to know myself. It wasn’t for better companionship and better relationships and better sex. It seems that people are in fact interested in learning how to communicate and how to be heard and how to ensure that what’s happening feels good for everyone. And that is the underlying message in all of the things that I do.
Social justice and inclusivity seems to be naturally baked into everything you do. How did that come to be?
My heart hurts when people are unwilling to do the work and strive for inclusivity. We all get things wrong and we’re all going to mess up, but when people refuse or think it’s not worth it… my heart hurts.
[Growing up], I was surrounded by really awesome people. My grandmother was a social justice activist before that was a term. She was a marcher and she was engaging in work around children and people of color and pregnancy and access and abortion and that was my Orthodox Jewish grandmother. And I grew up in a home where we talked about sex and we talked about it freely and there was nothing wrong with it. And my father was the director of a theater he had founded, which meant that gay men were everywhere.
And I am Jewish and I am also Latina so my family comes in different colors. And we have different religions and we have different languages and so our holidays were multicultural, multilanguage, and multiracial. I’m a product of my environment in that I was raised to believe that there was nothing wrong with any of these things and that there was nothing different about any of us.
I think those values stayed with me. I don’t have to think about it. It naturally comes out. I don’t gender things and I consider different populations as much as I can to my knowledge and then I go and study more.
Also, I grew up super hella confused about myself because I am a white-presenting, Puerto Rican, Jewish woman whose mother is Catholic and so, technically, not Jewish, And I’m queer and I just knew about gay men. I didn’t know about women and the spectrum of sexualities that can exist. I just grew up thinking I wasn’t enough of anything. I wasn’t Jewish enough. I wasn’t Latina enough. I wasn’t queer enough. And so that neuroses and being able to get out of it led me to want to make other people feel confident and safe in who they are.
What are you working on now that you’re either the most excited about or maybe the most proud of?
I’m currently a full-time Ph.D. student and that takes up a decent amount of my time. I’m excited by the research i’m doing. Right now, I’m part of a study that is looking at erotic asphyxiation. It’s not my heartspace, but it’s still an interesting project. I’m part of a team that’s looking at Latinas in sexual education. I just this morning had a call looking at race and sexuality and what’s at play and what that means.
My own project is to look at Latinas across different racial groups and how they are fetishized by their partners and whether or not this influences their sexual desire.
And then there’s another project I’m working on that is around anatomical illustrations and human sexuality. I’m excited to be able to create a curriculum that I approve of. I want to be okay with what’s out there and now I’m just trying to figure out how to create those things and share them.
What is it about this great body of work you’ve created that feels so essential to you?
It’s increasing representation. That is the theme of a lot of my work. I look to create spaces where people feel confident about sharing their stories. Then, we can create a body of work that feels more representative so people can say, Hey, I relate to this. And I count. I’m real. I exist. Which I think is such a big part of it. If you don’t see yourself, you wonder if you are really there.