Sex education wasn’t exactly a comprehensive—or pleasure-focused—experience for most of us. Cue the cringe-worthy memories of a stuffy classroom with awkward teenagers stifling giggles during “educational” videos that raised more queries than they answered. Sex education, when it’s offered at all, doesn’t often create an open floor for discussion around sex, sexuality, or anything that ventures beyond the fertilization of an egg or the risk of STIs. There’s no discussion of the “normal” shape for a vulva, the intricacies behind genital discharge, and certainly not the importance of sexual pleasure.
In a sex-illiterate society, TikTok—killer of millennial beauty and home to viral fashion hacks—is giving sex ed a much needed update thanks to sex educators ready to answer the stickiest questions.
“Teenagers have so many questions,” says Tessa Commers, M.D., a licensed pediatrician who recently stepped away from practice after having her first child. Commers started a TikTok account to continue to reach out to young patients after noticing a pattern in her practice; as soon as patients felt comfortable, “the floodgates sort of opened up,” she says. “I thought maybe I could figure out a way to answer teen health questions [on a larger scale].” She’s amassed 1.4 million followers in just nine months.
The internet has long been a place to get information about sex you didn’t get in school. But TikTok educators—from doctors to certified sex therapists and licensed sexologists—are bringing credibility to lessons on everything from the clitoris to consent. Tess Vanderhaeghe, a sex educator based in Toronto who creates content on TikTok as @Yes.Tess, has worked with schools to bring healthy sex education curriculum into classes, where she often encounters the consequence of leaving sex education up to a Google search: porn.
“You never see consent [in porn]. You never see good negotiation of boundaries,” Vanderhaeghe says. On TikTok she addresses that along with all the huge gaps she sees in school curriculums: IUD insertion, erection facts, myths about the hymen, and where to find the clitoris. Her audience, which she says is mainly teenagers, are receptive to her content, which ranges from discussions of what endometriosis feels like to how to use a menstrual cup at school. Her comments section is filled with more questions to answer.
But it’s not just teens who are finding real answers on TikTok—adults are getting schooled too. “What happens to your body after you have a child and you have a weak pelvic floor? How do you deal with a prolapse? What about health and sexuality, aging and sexuality?” says Valerie Nefertiti, Ph.D., who creates content on TikTok as @DrValNefertiti. She started creating content to answer these questions after her 10-year-old granddaughter introduced her to the app and she realized it could be a fun “space for people to learn about their bodies and the sexual components of their bodies.” In her videos she speaks to a more grown-up audience. Her content focuses on, unsurprisingly, sex, from swingers culture, to sex and cancer, to orgasms.
Content creators see TikTok as a powerful place, for women especially, to unlearn the shame that often shackles sex and pleasure. “People want to talk about their sex lives more often,” says Amanda Keohane, director of content and outreach of MySexBio, a sexual empowerment organization who turned to TikTok to create content. “They don’t want to feel like it’s taboo because they’re doing it and everyone else is doing it and we’re all just pretending like it’s not happening. It would just be so much healthier if we could just talk about it openly.”
Pixi, a content creator, educator, and artist, focuses on undoing the stigma around sex and opening up communication through kink and fantasy. Treating sex as a taboo, she says, “perpetuates dishonesty. It means that people can’t be safe and they don’t know how to have control over their own mental and physical autonomy. And the more we talk about it, the more open we are, the less shame people feel.”
TikTok isn’t the perfect platform to do this—the algorithm is complicated, the audience is unclear, and the restrictions imposed by the app even more foggy. Pixi notes that her content may not be appropriate for all ages. With an unclear rulebook of what is and is not allowed, she suggests a “mature content” option available for uploads, but for now both she and Nefertiti currently block minors if they notice them interacting with their content.
It may not be the ideal situation of fully funded and fully functioning sex education in school, but the sex educators on TikTok are definitely making up for lost time.
Bethany Dawson is a freelance journalist based in the U.K. who writes about health, human rights, and news. Find her work and thoughts @bethanymrd on Twitter.
Originally Appeared on Glamour