Patricia Schiller: Shaper of Sex Education and Counseling

While reflecting on our anniversary a few years back, we were reminded of how many women have come before us, paving the way for straightforward conversations about women’s sexuality. We don’t see any reason not to keep adding to the series (read the first, second and third) meant to express our gratitude to them!

Patricia Schiller’s parents wanted her to be a teacher. And while she eschewed a degree in education for degrees in law and, later, psychology, she did end up teaching an entire generation, becoming “a leading voice in sex education and counseling.”

As a lawyer in the 1950s, it occurred to her that couples needed counseling more than the legal advice she was offering them. She returned to school and earned a masters degree in clinical psychology from American University in 1960.

In 1963, a time when pregnant teenagers were expected to drop out of school and did, she helped launch the Webster School, which gave pregnant girls the opportunity and support needed to finish their educations.

She also was a founder of the American Association of Sex Educators and Counselors, helping to establish standards for the profession. At the same time, she was changing the conversation about sex education. One of her goals was to make it acceptable to talk about sex, which she saw as being about more than just the act of sex. To her it was “a function of being human” and something that could lead to people becoming “warmer, more caring.”

Sex education should reflect that idea, she felt. In her book Sex Questions Kids Ask—and How to Answer, which she published in 2009, she wrote “sex education can teach children what it is that makes a mother or father sympathetic, understanding and respected.” She wrote two other books (Creative Approach to Sex Education and Counseling and The Sex Profession: What Sex Therapy Can Do), as well as many articles for professional journals.

People often joked about Schiller’s profession, saying things like “there’s the sex maniac.” “But I don’t mind,” she once told The Washington Post. “I enjoy it.” She died on June 29, 2018, an educator to the end.


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