Talkin’ Bout’ TikTok: Intimate with the Internet
Many teens turn to TikTok for information about the most intimate matters – sexual health.
Junior Janelle Gonzalez usually relies on her aunt for information about sex and has been taught what to avoid in relationships. But sometimes she receives information through social media. She recalled that she learned about the fertility treatment IVF (in vitro fertilization) from a lesbian couple on TikTok.
“People sharing their lives on [social media] can help other people learn about things they don’t hear much from,” she said.
English teacher Amy Reilly, who also teaches Sex Ed to sophomores, juniors and seniors, said social media – especially TikTok — provides an avenue for people to talk about sexual health because there is a huge amount of stigma around different aspects of sex and sexuality.
“Labeling it ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is not productive because it’s reality,” Amy said.
A trans senior who asked to stay anonymous, relies on her trans and gay friends for information because they have similar experiences. Still, she does sometimes follow tips from TikTok creators on how to embrace femininity.
“Media does help in opening your eyes to other ways of identifying,” she said. “Because before, I thought it was hopeless to change an aspect of myself.”
However, TikTok can also be a “toxic environment,” she said when trans women criticize each other for being “unfeminine” or use stereotypes about what it truly means to be a woman.
Several medical doctors on TikTok, including Jennifer Lincoln from Portland and Staci Tanouye from Florida, focus on health facts and try to correct the inaccurate sex advice that TV shows present. Sources like these could be useful for teens looking for reliable information. But in the flood of trending hashtags, not all teens will see those sources.
“Many doctors have social media platforms, but I worry that the algorithms won’t funnel the info for teens,” Amy said.
Senior Bryce Ammons said that when others share their sex experience online it prevents him from making unhealthy mistakes for himself and for a sexual partner.
“Sometimes through these TikToks, and when you read what others are commenting on that video, I learn more about the female body,” Bryce said. “And it helps us understand what women like, because schools do not teach us that explicit content.”
The school sex ed curriculum should teach students how to take care of their bodies before and after sexual activities, he said.
Amy said that it is important for young people to be fully aware of all sexual activities and to learn what their body likes.
“It’s important to be aware rather than to take a romanticized idea that your sexual life will magically unfold for you,” Amy said.