For so long, I’ve been firmly in The Publishing World but, this year, I became more intentional about expanding my network in the world of sex ed. To that end, I joined the Sex Education Alliance (SEA) and also began attending online networking events and webinars offered by the Sex Ed Lecture Series, SIECUS, Everyone Deserves Sex Ed (EDSE), and other groups. I met Kara Haug, the founder of Reframing Our Stories, twice in one day: first, at SEA’s inaugural meet and greet and then, later that night, at a networking and skillshare event offered by the Lecture Series. I was immediately interested in how her faith informed the sex ed she provides and, well, here we are today. Thanks so much for hopping on Zoom with me, Kara!
So why don’t you first talk to me about your journey to becoming a sex educator?
I was a psychology major and I took some of the gender and women’s studies classes. But it wasn’t until I went to seminary that I became very interested in sex education.
I have a Master’s of Theological Studies and we had a class we could take that was called Sex and Sensibility. The professor said that in order to minister to people, you need to understand your own sexuality. And I thought that was brilliant and made a lot of sense.
Through the course, we had to write an autobiographical paper around our sexual history. Which was very personal to hand in, but it was also literally the best paper I ever wrote. I was also in a class, Pastoral Counseling, where we had to write a family systems paper. I did them at the same time and it was like my world exploded. It was through that [autobiographical] paper that I recognized a lot of the patterns that played out in my life and I was like: Fascinating! I felt that if everyone experienced that sort of insight, it would be amazing. We would be healthier.
And then I went into youth ministry and I worked in a church that was outside of D.C. and I worked with very wealthy individuals. And just seeing their lifestyle and having them come into my office and repeatedly ask me questions about sex and tell me about the pressures of success that they felt they had to meet… they would break down and cry. I just recognized that they were living in a fast lane and they were doing activities and they didn’t understand why they were doing them, but they felt like they had to. It’s like they were playing Follow the Leader with no rhyme or reason of why they were following the leader. The leader didn’t know what they were doing.
And then I worked as a foster home licenser and worked with a lot of children who were sexually abused. And they were going into conservative Christian homes and going to conservative churches where they were constantly told that sex was a sin. Essentially, these kids — who’d had sex without wanting it or knowing what it was — were being told every day that they were bad.
There was no real education happening and it made me really upset. And I was like, We are not serving anybody. We’re not serving our youth. We’re not helping them. This is not okay.
And being someone who is religious and spiritual, I was not okay with people going to church and feeling like they were not deserving or worth anything. So that’s when I decided to become a sex educator. And I did a sexual health weekend when I was working as a youth minister and I came back and I told my husband, “I have never felt more myself than when I was teaching these kids about sex.”
I went and studied Sexual Health Education and Counseling from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and I graduated in 2014 and I freelanced and then I decided to try and open my own business. And at first, I was at Grace Unbound and I focused on going into churches and talking to them about how to talk about sexual health without shame.
And then I decided to also teach families and I offered something I called “Table Talk,” and I went into family homes and I taught kids around their dining room table. It was wonderful. The kids asked me tons of questions and, at the end, all the parents would come together and we would have a meal. It would normalize the experience.
One of my friends, Jenny, hired me to teach her kids. She later told me it changed the way their family talks about things. And so, she’s like, “I have decided that I want to be your business partner. You can do more things. You need help to do it. I can be that person to help you.” So, I closed Grace Unbound and now we’re Reframing Our Stories. And that opened during the pandemic, in July. So that’s where we’re at now. We focus primarily on schools, churches, and families.
What would you say that it is about the work you do that feels so essential?
I don’t think people realize just how much our sexuality plays into every aspect of our lives. Our society wraps it up in so much shame and silence. We could end so many people’s internal suffering if we learned how to talk about it as a natural part of humanity. I feel like so many people have this sense that they’re not worthy of love and I do believe that stems from early experiences around sexuality. That’s one of the most deeply personal aspects of ourselves and, when that is wounded, it’s hard to recover from.
How would you say your faith and your theology background inform your work?
In my opinion, God created us, so God must have created sex for good. I jokingly say there’s a reason why people say “Oh, God” [during sex]. And I’ve said how brilliant it was for a creator to make this a place of delight and joy and fun.
But somehow, along the way, it got distorted. So, for me, I just want to help bring that sense of pleasure and delight and learning and connectedness back to the experience, and to help heal those who have experienced trauma.
What would you say is the toughest aspect of doing this work?
The misconceptions people have. Especially for me, it’s hard because I also do a religious bent. I don’t do a religious bent when I talk to families or schools, but people are hesitant to hire me at first because they’re like, “Are you going to bring God stuff into it?” And then I have to explain to them what I believe, and I tell them that I’m inclusive, I’m comprehensive, I teach from science. I have to break it down for people who aren’t religious and who don’t like religion and who’ve been hurt by the churches.
And then for religious people, they need to recognize why it’s important that I am inclusive and comprehensive. There’s hesitancy. There’s so much hesitancy on both sides. The misconceptions are the hardest.
Who are your sex ed superheroes?
Well, Melissa Pintor Carnagey for sure. I would like to learn from her. I would even like to sit in and watch her teach just to learn from her. I’m always impressed and amazed by her so, like, yes, I’m just going to say it out loud.
My friend Kristen Lilla, who wrote the book Vaginas and Periods 101. I think she’s very smart and creative.
I love Al Vernacchio. I’m just like, Come on! You’re so amazing!
And I like Kristin Hodson. She’s a sex therapist in Utah who works with the Mormon community and also does a lot of great things for parents.
So, if I could just have tea with all of them…
That would be so lovely.