Bill Taverner is a distinguished educator and leader in the field of sex education, with a career spanning over three decades. Currently serving as the Executive Director of The Center for Sex Education (CSE) in Morristown, New Jersey, Taverner has dedicated his professional life to enhancing the quality and accessibility of sex education across the United States.

Born and raised in Staten Island, New York, Taverner’s passion for understanding human behavior led him to pursue a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology at the State University of New York at Albany. He furthered his education by obtaining a Master of Arts in Human Sexuality from New York University. His studies abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark, broadened his perspective on global health issues and deepened his commitment to culturally sensitive education.

Taverner’s contributions to the field are extensive, including founding the Sex Ed Lecture Series during the COVID-19 pandemic to support continuing education for sex educators. He has authored and edited over 85 publications, ranging from academic articles to comprehensive teaching manuals, significantly shaping the curriculum and practices in sex education.

Recognized for his innovative teaching strategies and leadership, Taverner has received numerous accolades, including the prestigious AASECT Book Award and the Schiller Prize for best workshop using interactive strategies. Beyond his professional achievements, Taverner is a passionate New York Mets fan and enjoys participating in community theater, embodying his belief in lifelong learning and community engagement. His work continues to influence educators and policymakers, driving forward the importance of comprehensive and inclusive sex education.

How did you get started in this business?

I started in the field of sex education after realizing during my psychology studies that people often lack crucial information about sex and relationships. In particular, the first college course I took in human sexuality revealed how much I did not know, and how much there was to learn! This sparked my interest in making a difference by teaching and I taught my first class over 35 years ago as an RA. I pursued a Master’s in Human Sexuality, which equipped me with the knowledge and skills needed. My first job in this field involved working at a substance abuse treatment program, developing educational programs on sexual health and recovery. From there, my passion and commitment to the field only grew, and I joined the CSE 26 years ago.

Tell us about your work.

My full time work is as the Executive Director for the Center for Sex Education. We run the National Sex Ed Conference and publish sex education teaching guides. The newest publication is Representation in Sex Education: Cultivating Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging. Dr. Tanya M. Bass served as author and I served as editor. I have been involved in the publication of more than 25 other books addressing a spectrum of sexual health issues. The National Sex Ed Conference is the largest gathering of sexuality educators in the U.S., and this year’s conference will take place in December in Philadelphia. Separate from my work with the CSE, I run the Sex Ed Lecture Series, which provides weekly webinars on sex education topics, and I serve as the chief editor of the American Journal of Sexuality Education.

What is the business model behind your work?

The business model for all the projects with which I am involved is largely reliant on a fee-for-service model. For example, health teachers purchase the books, register for the conference or lectures, and subscribe to the journal. Sometimes we have grant funding or donations to support a particular project like the development of a new teaching guide. It’s great when that happens as it allows us to give away materials for free or at reduced fees.

When you were starting out, was there ever a time you doubted it would work? If so, how did you handle that?

Yes, there were definitely moments of doubt, especially in the early years. For example, my graduate studies did not prepare me for grant writing. I had to learn that by myself by studying and learning from successful grant applications from people before me.  Throughout, I remained focused on our mission to educate and empower. I also sought advice from mentors and continuously adapted our strategies to better meet the needs of our audience.

How did you get your first customer?

At the CSE, there was already a customer base, as people had been purchasing our books and attending our conference for more than a decade. I saw my role as expanding the offerings that my predecessors had built, updating old publications, expanding the conference, and creating new resources that reflected the changing priorities within the field of sex education.

What is one marketing strategy (other than referrals) that you’re using that works really well to generate new business?

One effective marketing strategy has been to make materials available for free. If customers see that you are offering something of value for free, they are willing to consider other offerings. It is a process of building trust through engagement.

What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make in the last few months?

One tough decision was to resume the National Sex Ed Conference as an in-person-only event. For the past two years, it has been a hybrid conference and for the year before that it was all online. Hybrid and online events are less costly, but professionals crave the kind of networking and learning that can only come about from in-person events. I am grateful to have the support of my organization’s leadership in making this difficult but important change.

What do you think it is that makes you successful?

I believe my success comes from a genuine passion for education and a commitment to making a difference. Staying informed about the latest research and maintaining a flexible approach to adapt to new challenges are also key. I think the ethical reputation I have built is also important. This is a small field and integrity is everything.

What has been your most satisfying moment in business?

Shifting our annual conference to a national one was a daring and ultimately satisfying move. For several years in the early 2000s, I noticed that people were registering for our one-day New Jersey conference from out-of-state. Then I started receiving emails asking about the conference from other countries on other continents! Health professionals were impressed with the programming and apparently willing to travel long distances to learn with us. I began to wonder what a national conference might look like and if we could expand our conference to a multi-day event. I wondered if this would address a national need for professional development among sexuality educators that had not yet been addressed. It was a nailbiter watching the registrations come in when we moved to a national conference about 14 years ago, and I worried if we would meet our budget marks!

What does the future hold for your business? What are you most excited about?

The future looks promising as we continue to expand our digital offerings. I’m particularly excited about developing more interactive tools and resources that can make sex education even more accessible and engaging for students everywhere. The potential for global reach and impact is exhilarating.

What books have inspired you?

I try my best to keep up with the newest books in the field. One of my favorites is The Science of Babies by Deborah M. Roffman. It is an age-appropriate book about reproduction for younger learners. Every page and every word was meticulously considered for its appropriateness based on child development experts.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

I would advise my younger self to be more accepting of critical feedback. In fact, I would tell my younger self to actively seek it out. It helps us think better and make better decisions.

Do you consider yourself a mentor?

Mentorship is so important to me, and I am grateful whenever a developing professional thinks of me as a mentor. I have coached many younger or less experienced educators and interns and I have learned a great deal from them as well!


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