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Is TikTok actually a safe place to learn about sex?

Raise your hand if you've spent hours in quarantine spiraling down TikTok holes way past your bedtime. Keep it raised if you've tried out a viral recipe (whipped coffee, anyone?) or a complicated dance involving your entire family. Now, lower your hand if you've *never* used TikTok to answer questions about your body or to get information about sex.

Is your hand still raised? Then you're one of the many TikTok users who have tapped into some of the 532.5 million #sexeducation videos on the platform. And what you see there is probably very different from what you're used to from health class in school. Instead of one teacher sharing facts, millions of users with different backgrounds and experiences are sharing info and diagrams at the speed of light.

So is this vast and diverse landscape a good thing to have at your fingertips? When you consider that only 30 states and the District of Columbia require public schools to teach sex education (and only 22 of those states require that the information shared in sex education classes is medically, factually or technically accurate), the resource seems much-needed for so many tweens and teens.

But there's a catch: Many of the TikTok users sharing sex ed "lessons" haven't studied medicine. And they aren't licensed professionals in any relevant field. It's hard to tell what's legitimate, truthful info and what's misinformation or just plain made up. So how do you safely explore the sex ed space on TikTok? Our do's and don'ts...

Do get to know your "teachers"

When it comes to those clips, who's creating the content? "Make sure the person who made the 'educational' video has some credentials in a related medical field and knows what they are talking about," says Tessy Vanderhaeghe, a licensed sex educator based in Vancouver with an M.A. in Gender Studies who posts as @Yes.Tess on TikTok.

Vanderhaeghe is the real deal: Her videos touch on how to use period products and how birth control options work, and she separates fact from fiction when it comes to harmful myths about your body. (Plus, Vanderhaeghe is all about inclusive, accurate sex education in both her actual practice as well as on TikTok, which we heart.)

Ofc, there are tons of other experts out there, but whomever you choose to follow, make sure they have their professional credentials listed in their bio on their profile (ex. OB/GYN, MD, LPC). If they don't, Google their name. No expertise? Keep swiping.


Many of the TikTok users sharing sex ed "lessons" haven't studied medicine. And they aren't licensed professionals in any relevant field.


Don't self-diagnose

Whether it's a random bump along your bikini line or a new odor, you're worried something's not quite right down there. Never use TikTok videos (or anything on social media, for that matter) to diagnose a medical issue. If you're concerned about something, talk to a parent right away or call your doctor.

Nora Gelperin, director of sexuality education and training at Advocates for Youth (a nonprofit organization that fights for sexual health, rights and justice), applauds the accessible info on TikTok, but stresses you need to be mindful of its authenticity.

"It's important that these awesome content creators do their research. Just as with traditional sex education, to be effective, information needs to be accurate, inclusive and nonjudgmental," says Gelperin.

So that means never, ever trusting "home remedies" posted by non-experts to treat a possible infection or disease as well as being honest about what's going on with your body and going to the doctor ASAP. Taking IRL action will save you time and, most important, your health.

Don't feel self-conscious

Remember: No topic is off-limits. Dr. Tessa Commers, a pediatrician (MD, FAAP) known as @askdoctort on TikTok, wants you to know that no question about sexual health or your body can surprise her—as a doctor with many young patients, she's seen and heard it all.

While it may be uncomfortable for you to type out what's on your mind, getting the right info is worth it. And don't worry, it'll get less awkward over time.

Ask your favorite qualified experts all the questions—or follow up about any topics they mention in their content.

"Tag them in the comment section of a video if you're not so sure about something they said or if you need further clarification," Vanderhaeghe says. "I'm always happy to debunk a myth with facts and science."

If you're still nervous about asking in the comments? Look for an email address in their bio where you can privately submit a question. Or at your next checkup, tell your doc you'd like some extra time to discuss your health and share your concerns with them. Do what makes you feel comfortable and keeps you safe.

Do take the conversation offline

Tapping on videos and emailing experts is a great way to inform yourself about sexual health. But maybe you still have concerns unique to your body or there are things you don't understand, like birth control, condoms or period products.

Talking with your parents is always a good first step, then scheduling an appointment to talk with your doctor can be super informative. And if your doc balks at your Q's, switch to a medical professional who focuses on teen health or whose website notes they deal with the issue you're struggling with.

Whomever your go-to IRL source is, know that talking about sex is totally normal and an important part of growing up. You should feel empowered to continue the conversation.


Be your own fact finder

Use these three resources if you need a second opinion on sex ed "facts" you learned on TikTok.

Planned Parenthood for Teens
plannedparenthood.org/learn/teens
Every question that's crossed your mind, answered.

Planned Parenthood, a nonprofit providing health care in America, has a blog dedicated to sharing information about sex, relationships, gender, sexual orientation and more. They also have a private chat bot for teens called Roo that can answer your most burning questions about things like puberty and crushes.

Bedsider
bedsider.org
A safe space to learn about birth control.

Created by Power to Decide, an organization that works to ensure that all young people have access to trustworthy information about their bodies and reproductive health, the information on Bedsider comes directly from experts, so you can rest assured that the information you're learning is legit.

Six Minute Sex Ed
teaandintimacy.com
A podcast dedicated to providing shame-free sex education.

Sex education teacher Kim Cavill provides information for families that's positive, inclusive and informative. This pod is great for you and your parents to listen to (separately, if you want) to break the ice on topics like consent, healthy relationships and STIs.

Slider image: Paul Hanaoka on Unsplash
All GIFs via Giphy

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by GL | 3/22/2021
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