An Interview with Sexuality Professional Shanae Adams
By N’dea Carter
N’dea Carter: Hi, Shanae, thank you for taking some time out of your day and busy quarantine schedule to do this interview with me. So let’s jump in with some questions…
You are a sexuality professional and professor. What role do you see yourself playing in education as a sexuality professional?
Shanae Adams: So as a sexuality professional I provide comprehensive sex positive sexuality education in my community, and that looks like the lectures that I do in community resource centers, I’ve taught at universities, I’ve spoken at conferences. I teach more or less anywhere someone will let me come teach.
Carter: And how long have you been in this role as a sexuality educator?
Adams: I have been in sexuality education for about 10 years now. I joined a group when I was an undergrad called S.H.A.P.E. that stands for Sexual Health Advocate Peer Educators. I joined it because I was a transfer student trying to make friends and needed something to do. They taught us, you know, comprehensive human sexuality, how to present, how to create conferences, they taught us classroom management and I kind of fell in love and every job I’ve had since then has been related to sexuality in some way.
Carter: That’s awesome that you found that program as an undergrad and it really shaped your entire career.
Adams: Yeah, I was already, like, low-key the sex-pert of my friend group. So I was already interested in sex and sexuality, and then finding out that this is an actual profession was mind-blowing for me.
Carter: That’s so cool! And that’s amazing that there’s an actual career for people to be educated in [sexuality] and in a very intersectional mindset and way. I think that’s so important.
Carter: So why do you think education is important? And specifically education around sexuality.
Adams: For sure, so the United States has a very “don’t ask, don’t tell”, keep it under the rug relationship with sexuality. But we are also plagued with things like rape culture and double standards within sexuality, and all of that, to be a 100 % honest is the influence of colonialism and the patriarchy.
And when we have these conversations, when we approach sex and sexuality in a comprehensive, positive, inclusive way, we actually shift the narrative of our society and we shift the narrative of our culture. Comprehensive sex-ed helps to deter things like rape culture. It helps to break down the patriarchy and actually liberate all peoples as a whole. It makes society and community safer for all of the people that inhabit it when we come from the perspective that everybody has experiences, everyone’s experiences are unique and valid. That you should believe people’s experiences because there’s no way you’re going to know my experience, because you’re not me.
When we talk about comprehensive sex positive sexuality, those are the three pillars that I built all of my education off of. Really paying attention to who’s in the room, who’s not in the room, the experiences that could possibly be in the room, and helping to make sure that I provide a really inclusive, comprehensive program that you’re able to then take home and impact your life.
A lot of the things that we talk about in sex and sexuality are actually things that impact other aspects of people’s lives, not just their sex and their sexuality; so things like being able to advocate for yourself sexually, may make it more easier for you to advocate for yourself professionally and make it more easier for you to advocate for yourself personally.
I teach consent to kindergartners and it’s really about, you know, you can’t hug your friends unless you ask you can’t touch your friends toys unless you ask. If you already have this idea that you need to get permission before you invade another space or encroach on another person’s thing when you move into the sexual landscape, it becomes a lot easier– and you’re also just a better human in general, who’s paying attention to the fact that people get to decide how and when and why they’re interacted with.
Carter: That is so awesome. I love how you teach that consent to children at a young age, like you have to ask permission if you want to hold hands when you want to cross the street, or if you want to hug your friend. And it really is inspiring that you take that into other areas of life, bringing consent into how we think about things as a whole, and also with how creating the landscape in this foundation of breaking down these barriers into other aspects of people’s life like it is– I feel like I’m repeating myself– but it is just so important.
Adams: Oh yeah, most definitely.
Carter: You are a highly sought out presentator. You have a lot of workshops. You have a lot of youth and adult workshops, can you get into a little bit about those, and what you provide in those workshops?
Adams: Yeah, so all of my workshops are sex positive comprehensive and inclusive. Basically no matter the topic that I’m talking about, I’m always really thinking about who’s in the room, but most importantly who’s not in the room, and just the fact that like, I don’t know everybody in the room’s experience. So I really want to cast as wide of a net as I can. A lot of the topics I’ve broken down into adult and youth workshops, but really sex and sexuality is a learning process that takes place over the whole lifespan– were sexual creatures even in the womb. So we are sexual beings from the point that we’re ready to come out, to the point that we’re ready to go into the ground. And there is a way to provide all of those topics in an “age-appropriate” way. So I always like to make sure in my workshops that I create an environment where people feel like they can ask questions. I create an environment where people feel like they can learn, and they can, you know, take educational and emotional risks if they so choose and then I always provide myself as a resource after the workshop. So that way people can continue their learning, expand on their learning or, you know, if they have any more sensitive discussions that they want to have in a one-on-one area. I do make myself available.
Carter: Oh awesome. And I see that you provide online workshops, which is perfect for during this pandemic. So, how can people reach out to you to get those services to start their experiences with you?
Adams: Yeah, so my website [HonestlyNae.com] is the easiest place to learn about me and find out what I’m doing. All of my workshops are there, with a link that’ll connect people to my online webinar platform, which is through Thinkific, and I constantly am adding more. I believe there’s only two workshops up there now, but I’ve written a couple of others that go through there. People can also find my therapy and my coaching services. And then I also own, run and have co-founded a sex positive collaborative, which is basically a community resource center, where we provide a food pantry, we have clothing pantry, currently we’re closed because humans make me nervous. But before Covid-19, we were having maybe like 10 to 20 events a month, because my co-founder and I really just truly believe that community is literally to cure for everything and that’s the same perspective I take as an educator. That’s the same perspective that I take as a therapist– that community is secure for everything. So we founded a community center where we can come together as a community. We teach black people how to play Spades, which is healing the black communities– healing work as we like to say– and we host kink events. We host a monthly Munch which still happens, it’s now virtual and happens the last Thursday of the month. So building community and making myself available for my community is really important to me. Another good place to find me is on all my social media, @honestlynae, to keep everything consistent people can find me there as well. Even my YouTube is “Talk Sex with HonestlyNae”.
Carter: Awesome, I will be sure to follow you on all fronts. And what is your sex positive collaborative called?
Adams: The name of our sex positive collaborative is the Chrysalis House and we say that our goal is transformation. So, a chrysalis is the cocoon caterpillars going to before they become butterflies. And literally that process involves the caterpillar turning into a gelatinous mess. So we tell people that you can come and you can be a mess here and you can emerge as a butterfly who can go out and do you know these beautiful things.We always like to highlight the fact that butterflies can’t see their wings. So we’re also here to, you know, remind and affirm you of your beauty and of all the power and strength of things that you can do.
Carter: That’s wonderful. I saw on your website that the Chrysalis House is one of your partnerships, that it’s you and your partner’s brain child. You also have partnerships with the Center on Colfax, which I’m very familiar with, be well, Inter Fest, Vag Esteem, MCA Denver, The Weekend Soiree and the list goes on.
Adams: Yeah, those are all places where I’ve presented and collaborated with things of that nature.
Carter: Very nice. Now, what advice would you give to the younger generation about their education? How do you think younger people can really benefit from different types of education?
Adams: One thing that I’m really learning is that Gen Z is out here pushing the envelope. They’re challenging their parents. I’m loving all the Tik Tok’s from Gen Z’ers recording their racist parents. Gen Z really has a voice, and they really have a platform, and they really know themselves and they’re really, you know, ready to put all of that on the line. I think when it comes to education, especially given the fact that, you know, the patriarchal capitalistic white cis hetro system runs the education. You have to push and you have to advocate for the information that you want to know, because they’ll have you thinking, that black history started with slavery and not that slavery interrupted black and African-American history. You’ll have you thinking that your women and femmes haven’t played a role in every single social justice reform. That queer people don’t exist outside of their queerness, and the the educational system is really good for trying to use your queer people’s words without acknowledging their queer identities. And so I think that it’s really important for people to educate themselves, for people to seek out educators that they know, and that they trust and that they feel like and support and affirm them. And then also just like not to listen to what the mainstream tells us and the bullshit they want to continue to push to us. Because at the end of the day what you know is what you’ve gathered and you can gather information from anywhere. You don’t have to get it from the “sources” society tells us are available to us.
Carter: I completely agree with you. Gen Z has really done such a good job, and at such young ages are really pushing the envelope and I love your advice to keep pushing past what society wants us to know and keep learning more. That is great advice.
So what’s the best advice you have received about impacting the education sector? Especially, being the melanated representation we all need.
Adams: Yeah, the still the sexuality landscape is very much dominated by white people by cis white people to be specific. So, you know me trying to bring melanated representation, queer representation, kink, BDSM and fetish representation is something that you know is really important to me and I really let all of my identities in my experience shine through in In the work that I do. I think the best piece of advice that I have ever received is, “I can’t do nothing for nobody if I’m not okay”. And I think that especially as educators, and especially as community leaders and people who want to be of service and want to do want to give, we oftentimes– I’ll speak for me– I have known other people who have given themselves to the point where they burn out. Especially depending on the field you’re in, like I’m a mental health clinician and one of the things that is really known in this profession is that people burn out really fast and they burn out really hard. It’s because people have this Superman mentality that we have to save everybody and I very much know that I can’t save nobody. I’m not here to save anybody. I’m here to be a resource. I’m here to support you. I’m here to give you tools and support, but ultimately, at the end of the day, you’re the one who’s going to save you. But I also know that if I’m not good, I can’t do anything. So I’m very good at saying no and I’m very good at disappearing. I will go take a nap– is what I like to tell people all the time. And I definitely during this pandemic from clients, and even with myself, there is this idea that like we’re not doing enough we need to be doing more. And I’m like, you know what the world’s on fire. If you want to go and take a nap, you should do that. If you want to go and get away and turn off your phone, you should do that. The world will be on fire when you come back, because, unfortunately, that’s the reality that we live in. So if there’s something you can do that will make you happy and give you rest, I highly believe rest is reparations. And you know, that’s one of the reasons why I am this entrepreneur who works for myself so that I can set my own limits and set my own capacity and I don’t have to conform to systems that are in place. I can make sure that I’m taken care of so that way I can continue to be of service and be a support to my community.
Carter: Yes, 100% Yes. I think the first time that I heard that you can’t build up somebody’s house. If you don’t have one of your own, was from… I think my mom told me that, or someone really really close to me. And so I absolutely think that is so important– and yes, take that time to nap, girl. Mmm. That is beautiful advice.
Last question. What do you love most about your role in education?
Adams: I really enjoy the light bulb moment that pops for participants and for students. I like it when, you know, I teach this lesson or I provide this education and it clicks. I know for me I fully understand something when I can teach it to somebody else, and I want people to take this education in and go and deliver it to places. One of the group norms I send in programming is that lessons leave, story stay. In that, somebody teaches you something if they tell a story and you learn a lesson from the story. I want you to go tell the whole world. I want you to take this lesson. I want you to go tell the whole world what you learn. But I want that person’s story to stay here in this confidential space. And there’s so much that we can learn from each other, so even when I’m out, you know teaching participants, some of my participants are able to teach me something and are able to put something new in my tool bag that I can take and run with. I always like to let people know that sometimes there’s a power dynamic, you know, that is set up for like educators and their participants and that makes me think of Matilda– “I’m right, you’re wrong. I’m big and you’re small” kind of thing, but really education that sticks around and lasts is a collaborative process. I really want to know what it is that you want to know, so that way you’ll leave here with the knowledge that you want.
Adams: It is healing work. We’re just trying to heal the community.
N’dea Carter: Yes. That is so important. Okay. Well, thank you so much for your time and commitment to our community.
Shanae Adams: Yeah, of course, it’s a pleasure.
Shanae “HonestlyNae” Adams, MA, LPCC, CIGT serves her community in a variety of ways including therapist, educator, and sex-positive enthusiast. Her mission is sexuality normalization, explanation, and melaninated representation. Her passion revolves around the liberation of embracing sexuality. She is known for dynamic workshops, sex-positive mindset, and eliminating the “taboo” surrounding sex and sexuality.