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Welcome to The Network, Mary-Margaret Sweeney

Lifelong Sex Educator Joins DVN Staff

I’ve been a sex educator for over a decade, most recently as a Health Educator with Indiana’s Social Health Association where I provided sex education, and healthy relationship education to the youth in our public schools around Indiana.    My specific niche of social service work began in Chicago where I worked with the city’s homeless youth, GLBTQ+ youth, and a smattering of north side college students.  Throughout both of these jobs, I’ve delivered trauma-informed, GLBTQ-inclusive, medically accurate, sex education. As I moved into other social service roles, I always managed to find ways to give my clients information about reproductive health. Even when I worked in restaurants and in the Chicago tech world, I quickly became the person cornered at the coffee pot, asked in a low voice, “Hey, I have a question.”

When I announced that I would be leaving Social Health Association to take on the role of Training Services Manager with DVN, many of my colleagues and friends gasped. “But you’ve always been a sex educator!”

I have been. And I still am.

It’s true that I have never identified professionally as strongly as I do with “sex educator.” It’s what I’ve been working toward my whole career, even when I didn’t know it. It’s what matters most to me. In doing that work for over a decade, there was never a class, STI screening, or one-on-one counseling session when I wasn’t asked about violence in a romantic relationship – about rape, about consent, about gender roles, about power and control. Of course, when I was teaching about healthy relationships, these topics would naturally come up.  Then I noticed 4th graders in puberty class were asking these same questions, as were expectant parents in childbirth education classes and middle and high school students in pregnancy and STI prevention classes.

During pregnancy tests the questions are virtually the same no matter the income bracket, racial breakdown, or age group. What it comes down to is: “How do I feel safe in my sexuality?” And, since we’re dealing in specifics, I’ll zoom in further. More often than not, the question is: “Do I have a right to feel safe in my sexuality?”

Our sexuality can make us feel vulnerable. That vulnerability can bring us to greater emotional depth, fulfillment, and bind us closer to our partners. It can also be exploited.

My role at DVN is to support those in the community doing frontline work with victims and survivors, and to educate everyone else in the community that this is their issue too, even if they are not aware that it is. I am reaching out to workplaces of all kinds with our @Work Project so that more employers feel equipped to aid their employees who are in violent relationships, and to make their offices safer places. Community groups, faith-based communities, and other service providers request trainings on how to better understand domestic violence. It all comes down to making people feel safe and empowered. That is the broad, general work. And under that umbrella, I am proud to serve DVN in my specific way.