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Doctor of Philosophy in Human Sexuality

A graduate department for professionals shaping the future of critical sexuality studies

Program Overview

Program Length

4 - 7 Years

Number of Units




Next Cohort


Our Approach

Our Human Sexuality Ph.D. program helps shape the research, practice, and cultural dialogue around a wide variety of sexuality-related subjects. We emphasize intersectional and critical views of sexuality that include attention to salient power differentials including: ethnicity, race, gender, class, age, ability, national origin, religion, and geography.

Our students engage in rigorous academic exploration by learning and evaluating differences in theories and synthesizing theoretical and methodological approaches. Through coursework, students undergo an analysis of power structures by exploring the many socio-cultural organizations of sex and gender that influence societies.

A primary goal of our program is the ability for each person to identify their own values and participate in exchange of controversial ideas and positions while maintaining the respect for the inherent worth of each person, even those with whom one adamantly disagrees. Our program is inspired by a spirit of inclusivity and equity, seeks to further the dialogue and actual benefits for expanded freedom, rights, and expression in human sexuality. 

Our students advance the field of sexuality studies through the original research in their dissertation. Many students use their dissertation to contribute to growing bodies of research in areas including clinical work, sex education, and activism.

Career Paths

Most students enter our doctoral program as early or mid-career professionals. Using their dissertation subject, students work over the course of their time in the program to network into exciting career pathways. The Ph.D. prepares students for a wide range of professional opportunities:

  • Research (basic research, translational research, or applied research) 
  • Education (K-12, higher education, and community education)
  • Clinical and counseling mental health (including LGBTQ+ Centers, community mental health clinics, women’s centers) 
  • Advocacy and policy advisement (including reproductive rights and pleasure activism)
  • Nonprofit health organizations (including women’s health, HIV/AIDs clinics, transgender health, and eating disorder clinics)  
  • Entrepreneurial pursuits and startups (including research consulting, starting SexTech or FemTech businesses)
  • NGOs or governmental efforts (including anti-trafficking efforts, health departments, and human rights organizations)

Students should note that while select courses integrate several core knowledge areas of the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT) to assist students seeking AASECT certification, the Ph.D. in Human Sexuality by itself does not lead to AASECT certification.


CIIS’ primarily online Human Sexuality Ph.D. starts with four semesters, 44 units of online coursework, including readings, and discussion boards which are taught asynchronously. Students then complete two comprehensive exams and a dissertation that contributes to the field of critical sexuality studies. After the completion of the dissertation research and manuscript, a public dissertation defense is held.

The program also includes academic residency weekends that engage students in-person or via Zoom where necessary. The academic residencies consist of three weekends per semester, spaced at the start of the semester, the middle and near the end. Academic residencies are incredibly important for our program, as this is where we meet to inspire and support each other on the journey towards tomorrow’s critical sexuality studies.

Our semesters are held over fall (Aug-Dec) and spring (Jan-May). The average time to complete the program is five to six years for full-time students.

Curriculum Highlights

HSX 7173 Sexual Theory and Intersectionality (3 units) This foundational course surveys various theories through a lens of critical sexuality studies using a triadic framework: (1) concepts, (2) abjection, and (3) normativities. It is a primer for orienting the vast works that inform the field using critical sexuality studies as a central way of understanding and synthesizing these. The theories examined in this course are not exhaustive, but many have been applied to provide fruitful insights into various questions regarding sexuality. Further, this course supports the idea that experiences of sexuality and gender are collocated within power structures articulated as intersectional positionalities, such as race, ethnicity, class, nation, geographic location, age, religion, sexed body, dis/ability, and various other salient social and cultural locations, identities, and ascriptions—neither sexuality nor gender may be accurately understood without such contextual specificity. The emergent field of critical sexuality studies aims to agree not on content but on a basic orientation for thinking about the phenomena of sexuality and related praxis in research and applied work.

HSX 7228 Global Sexualities (3 units) This course considers sex- and gender-related practices, desires, and identities around the world with an emphasis on non-Western contexts. In the first part of the course, students will become familiar with some of the problematic assumptions that have imbued theorizing gender and sexuality from within Western frameworks. Additionally, it will examine alternatives to approaching knowledge production about other peoples and practices that decenter a Western gaze. After becoming acquainted with this general approach, the course continues with a survey of contemporary issues and debates centering on different ways of knowing that inform sexual cultures. Special topics of focus may include sexual migration, globalization, and its impacts on Indigenous sexual/gender identities; transnational comparisons of sex work; virtual intimacies; body modification and desire; and the global HIV/AIDS epidemic, among others.

HSX 7232 Problems and Professional Issues in Sexuality (3 units) The focus of this course is to address issues of ethics, axiology, exploitation, abuse, harassment, assault, trauma, rape, rape culture, sex trafficking, problematic sex (e.g., compulsions, dysfunction, sexuality and substances, and disease), and other issues that can be thought of as problematic. While not necessarily subscribing to a pathologizing or criminalizing view, these important issues will be thoughtfully considered in a historical, contextual, reflexive, and critical manner. Attention will be paid to the history of the field, current controversies with internet sexuality, ethics, philosophical issues, and professional communication skills. These content areas are aligned with AASECT’s course knowledge areas and are part of the required content for sex therapy and sex educator certification.

  • First Year Coursework

    In the first year, we build the cohort experience, and lay down an intersectional foundation of knowledge including concepts, theory, and methodology. 

    Semester 1 | Fall

    HSX 7170 Introduction to Human Sexuality (3 units)

    HSX 7173 Sexual Theory and Intersectionality (3 units)

    HSX 7229 Sexual Function and Practices (3 units)

    Semester 2 | Spring

    HSX 7175 Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (3 units)

    HSX 7232 Problems and Professional Issues in Sexuality (3 units)

    HSX 7885 Understanding Research (3 units)

    Second Year Coursework

    In the second year, students continue to refine their research questions and learn more about methodology, content, and theory.

    Semester 3 | Fall

    HSX 7263 Sexual, Gender, and Reproductive Rights (3 units)

    HSX 7228 Global Sexualities (3 units)

    HSX 7237 Methodology I (3 units)

    Semester 4 | Spring

    HSX 7274 Gender and Queer Theory (3 units)

    HSX 7238 Methodology II (3 units)

    HSX 7236 Sex Education and Learning Theory (4 units)*


    HSX 7234 Sex Therapy Professional Skills (4 units)*

    *Elective course – students take one elective (of at least 3 units) in year two and may choose from the two listed above or any others offered online at CIIS.

    Third Year and Beyond

    Starting in the third year, students take comprehensive examinations, also known as qualifying examinations. Students get two tries on each exam and must pass these examinations to move to the dissertation phase of the program. Dissertation proposal generation takes one to three semesters maximum, with an average duration of two semesters. Once a proposal has been accepted by the student’s dissertation committee and approved by the department Chair and Provost, the student becomes a doctoral candidate and then may enroll in a dissertation seminar. Students are allowed a maximum of four years to complete and defend their dissertation once they become doctoral candidates. Comprehensive Examinations

    HSX 7883 Core Concept Comprehensive Examination (3 units)

    HSX 7884 Literature Review Comprehensive Examination (3 units)


    HSX 9800 Dissertation Proposal (0.1 unit)

    HSX 9900 Dissertation Seminar (0.1 unit)

    Total: 42.2 - 43.2 units

Entry Requirements

  • Online Admissions Application: Begin the application process by submitting an online application and paying the non-refundable $65 application fee.

    Degree Requirement: A master's degree from an accredited college or university. The master’s degree must be conferred to begin fall semester classes but may be in process during application to the program.

    Minimum GPA: A GPA of 3.0 or higher in previous coursework is required. However, a GPA below 3.0 does not automatically disqualify an applicant and CIIS will consider a prospective student whose GPA is between 2.0 and 3.0. These individuals are required to submit a GPA Statement and are encouraged to contact our Admissions Team to discuss their options.

    Transcripts: Official transcripts from all accredited academic institutions attended where 7 or more credits have been earned. If transcripts are being mailed to CIIS, they must arrive in their official, sealed envelopes. Transcripts from institutions outside the US or Canada require a foreign credit evaluation through World Education Services (WES) or CIIS will also accept foreign credential evaluations that are in a comprehensive course-by-course format from the current members of the National Association of Credential Evaluation Services (NACES).

    Admissions Essays: Please answer the questions below.

    1. What does critical sexuality scholarship mean to you? How do you see doctoral study in human sexuality at CIIS advancing your professional goals? (500-word maximum; Note: The admissions committee will consider both the content and writing style of your written responses to all questions.)
    2. Describe the research or topical interests that inspire your work in our program. Propose an area of study for your dissertation topic and a tentative research question. Mention or cite the names of scholars or academics, either those teaching within the Human Sexuality department at CIIS or those whom you have either read or worked with as a way to show us that you understand what doing doctoral-level work means. (500 word maximum)
    3. Please describe any relevant experience you have had working on the subject of human sexuality in your current or past employment and/or volunteering (e.g., in your work as a therapist, as a volunteer at an LGBTQIA center, working on issues of sex trafficking, teaching sex education in schools, activist work on transgender rights, running sexual harassment trainings/workshops, etc.). (200-word maximum)
    4. Please comment on how you will balance the demands of a doctoral program with your other obligations (e.g., employment, caretaking, volunteering, self-care, etc.). Be sure to include whether you participated in any form of distance education (e.g., fully online, or hybrid meaning part in-person and part online) coursework and how you manage to stay on task and motivated while in coursework. (350-word maximum)

    Goal Statement: A 500-word (typed, single-spaced) statement of your educational goals including your potential dissertation topic and the scholars (CIIS Human Sexuality Faculty or other scholars) you would like to work with on this project. Please also consider answering where you see yourself professionally after you graduate with this doctoral degree.


    Two Letters of Recommendation: One letter must be from an academic reference and one letter must come from a professional reference. Recommendations should use standard business format and include full contact information including name, email, phone number, and mailing address. If an applicant has been out of school for more than five years, two letters may be submitted from professional references.

    Academic Writing Sample: A writing sample that demonstrates your capacity to think critically and reflectively and demonstrates graduate level writing abilities. A sample that uses outside sources must include proper citations based on a style guide of your choice (i.e. APA, Chicago, MLA, etc.). You may submit copies of previous work, such as a final project paper, an academic paper, article, or report that reflects scholarly abilities.

    Group Interview: After an applicant submits a complete online application and all supplemental documents are received, the Human Sexuality department will review the application materials and will conduct group interviews with viable candidates.

Our Department in Action

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