Fearless Sexuality Educator, New York City

After Kirsten rocked it at the New York City mayor’s office directing domestic violence education initiatives and developing school curricula, she zipped right into the training and prevention area and sexual violence response at Columbia University. I know Kirsten to boldly state sexual facts so matter-of-factly, without flinching that she can’t help but normalize the topics through conversation.

1. Name
Kirsten deFur

2. Where is your hometown?
Richmond, VA

3. What is your profession/career/title/self-label/designation?
Sexuality training & education expert

4. What was the journey like to get where you are (career wise)? When was the mental shift to start the journey?
Well it's not like when you're in elementary school and adults ask you what you want to be when you grow up you hear any kid say, "I want to be a sexuality educator!" But I did say I wanted to be a teacher (then a back-up dancer, then a professional flute player, then a massage therapist, then an ethnomusicologist). So maybe I knew all along that I wanted to teach, and help people understand the world.

But I did have a huge 'AHA' moment at the end of my college career as I was searching for internship opportunities. I only needed six more credits and I would get my bachelor of music AND a bachelor of religious studies. In my search I discovered that being a sexuality educator was a real thing that people did for a job, and boy was I the right fit for that! People were always coming to me with questions about sex, and I always brought the topic of sexuality up in conversation. I realized that was a skill that I had, that many people didn't. And I wanted to create awesome affirming welcoming learning environments about sexuality for others- because my own sex ed in 8th grade did just that and sure helped me out! And after growing up in a culture inundated with 'just say no', I was adamant that we needed to be talking more about deciding how and when to say YES. After that my mission was on- do what I needed to do to become a go-to sexuality educator. 

I worked for a couple years doing technical assistance for a HIV data collection project while also doing youth programming support at a Unitarian church, then went to Columbia University for my Master of Public Health in sexuality & health. After finishing my program, I landed a job at the New York City Mayor's Office to Combat Domestic Violence directing a peer education program on dating violence and healthy relationships. While not what I thought I would be doing, this position has been foundational in my career, helping me see the profound connection between barriers to experiencing healthy sexual relationships and abuse of power. 

Now in my role as Assistant Director of Training and Prevention at Columbia University's Sexual Violence Response, I am constantly talking about how shame and negative gender norms and a culture of sexual silence are contributing factors to sexual violence and rape culture. And I have opportunities to talk about enthusiastic consent and pleasure and sex positivity. 

Kind of wild to think about it, but if you told 22-year old Kirsten what 37-year me does, I think she'd be shocked! And pleased. 

5. Biggest accomplishment since making the (physical/mental) move?
In 2015 I had the opportunity to work on two curricula revision projects. I edited and updated a manual called Unequal Partners: Teaching about Power, Consent, and Healthy Relationships for the Center for Sex Education. This was a HUGE project, with 50 new lesson plans including an entirely new edition for college age students. I added in a number of resources for facilitators and really put my stamp on the manual, even lessons that were just updated from previous editions. I was able to write about content that is often overlooked, such as dealing with rejection, revenge porn, and kink and consent. It's pretty thrilling to see my name as editor on these publications. 

I also am the co-author on the 2nd edition of a curriculum for 4th-6th graders in a program called Our Whole Lives. This age level is one of my favorites to teach - they are like sponges, and the information is so relevant! Puberty, anatomy, sexual orientation, values- these topics are critical for young people to explore BEFORE they really hit puberty. It's also one the first full curriculum I facilitated as a budding sexuality educator, and my own great sex Ed program in 8th grade was the predecessor to Our Whole Lives (a program with curriculum that spans the lifetime). It's an absolute honor to have contributed to this curriculum. 

6. What was biggest disappointment and plan to overcome it?
One the things that continues to disappoint me is the number of people that are working to do good, but not doing good work. Whether it's poor leadership, mismanagement, lack of strategic planning, bad communication, or plain old disrespect- I've observed and heard countless stories of barriers being put up and upheld within organizations and institutions and communities. Not for lack of good intentions, but unhealthy and toxic work environments hold us back from making the impact we could be making. 

Personally I work to model healthy and productive leadership, and organizationally look for issues early and address them head on. It's not easy, but I try to be assertive and strong in voicing concerns about how we are working and providing solutions that are effective and respectful. 

7. Advice for other women?
Engage in professional development to help you recognize your weaknesses and build on your strengths. Identify conferences and professional gatherings in your industry where you can meet others, hear their stories, and find your place in your field. 

Continue thinking about current issues related to your field and find a way to engage with others regularly- my book club that reads books about sex and sexuality has been a wonderful way to both read books I might not have, and connect with fellow sexuality educators. 
Practice self care! 

8. Where in the world do you feel “tallest”?
Probably NYC. It's a tall city, and this is where I finally felt I could be myself after so many years of moving around and living in cities where I felt out of place. 

And my yoga studio. 

9. What is the future goal/challenge (career goals in 5-10 years)?
Write a book - you'll have to stay tuned for details! 
Do more training of trainers- I want to help other sexuality educators be great at teaching sex ed! 

10. What fears are you still hoping to overcome?
Fears? Hmmm- not many! I guess that's why im fearlesssexualityeducator! Or @fearlesssexed. My approach has always been to go in confident and strong, and not let the fear get in the way.

But for real- I guess I wonder what will happen when the conservative nut jobs find my blog, or my publications on pleasure, or hear me talk openly about orgasm and masturbation and how I don't think we should ashamed of any of it. 

11. Anything you'd do differently (if you had another go at life?) 
Not that I can think of, because then I might not be where I am today, which is a pretty awesome place to be. 

12. What inspires you?
Seeing people do it wrong makes me want to do it differently. 

Seeing people do it well makes me want to be just as good, or better! 

My peers and comrades in my field, especially my fellow book club members. 

My friends, family, my husband! 

13. Where can others find you/your work (links to websites, blogs, etc.)?
Blog: fearlesssexualityeducator
Twitter: @fearlesssexed
Unequal partners