A Love Letter To Internet Sex Ed
The sex educators who can teach circles around Doug Ford
It’s free, it’s accessible to anyone with a wifi connection, it includes information on consent and LGBTQ2S+ sexuality, and it’s engaging as hell. You might be thinking to yourself, “this sounds too good to be true, what is it?” The answer: the Internet.
Whether or not parents like it, the Internet has become a haven for people to learn about sexuality and I am no exception. I am the living proof that online sex education has the power to create healthy relationships, increase confidence in managing sexual health, and facilitate personal discovery. At four pivotal moments in my sexuality journey, I found a new online sex ed resource uniquely suited to the challenge I was facing, which ultimately changed my life for the better.
The first time this happened was in high school. After learning from a friend at summer camp that her school had a Gay-Straight Alliance (now more commonly referred to as a Gender-Sexuality Alliance or GSA), I returned home with the determination to start a club of my own at my high school. With tentative support and arguably too much freedom from staff advisors, my co-lead and I were left to devise programming for the GSA on our own. In this moment, the deities of online sexuality education presented me with Laci Green (before I jump into how Laci Green changed my life, it is important to note that she has since shown colours in the shade of transphobia, such as denying the existence of intersex and non-binary individuals). Laci is a bold presence on YouTube and a popular sex ed YouTuber with over a million subscribers. When I was watching her videos in 2011, she created content that facilitated my first understandings of feminism and sexuality, covering topics such as sexual fantasy, hymens, and labia shapes with a sex-positive, pleasure-focused, and LGBTQ2S+ inclusive approach. Equipped with this knowledge, I used the freedom I was given in leading the GSA to run peer workshops on gender and sexuality inspired by her videos. One such lesson included re-creating a video about gender roles using suitcases to demonstrate how individuals are assigned male or female at birth. This was the beginning of my journey with sex education! While I don’t support Laci’s career choices now, I’ll forever be grateful to her for laying the groundwork for my judgement-free attitude towards sexuality and my start in sex education.
Flash forward about three years later, when I was entering my first serious relationship, and the universe once again shone down on me the sex ed knowledge I needed. In 2013, the Vlogbrothers shared a video introducing the viewers to a new and exciting project, Sexplanations, an “entertaining sex ed show” with clinical sexologist Dr. Lindsey Doe. As a first-year science student spending her days learning more than chemistry and biology (read: exploring her sexuality for the first time), this channel changed my life. My mind was blown by the way Dr. Doe talked about how exciting and fulfilling dry humping could be, soon enough want/will/won’t lists became mainstays in how I articulated my desires to my partner, and I was able to put words, and to research, how my body experienced arousal, sexual communication skills, basic reproductive anatomy, and the basics of condoms. All of these topics were essential in navigating my first sexual experiences with less shame, more confidence, and greater intimacy. I have no recollection of being taught any of these topics in my in-person high school sex ed. I knew how to put on a condom for the first time because of YouTube, not because of traditional sex ed.
Now this is the part of the story where the pupil becomes the teacher. After being a dedicated viewer of YouTube sex education for five years, I decided it was my turn to do The Thing. In my last two years of my undergraduate degree, I had begun to explore sex research from a psychological perspective and had written research reports on the history of the birth control pill and the history of the science of orgasms, as well as writing a questionnaire to better understand my peers’ attitudes and sexual health behaviours. I also became involved with the health education centre at my university and was on the sexual health committee, of course. I was bursting with knowledge on sexuality and sexual health and figured it would be more efficient to make a video on, say, the internal structure of the clitoris, than to tell each friend individually. After learning from sex educators on YouTube, it felt like the natural progression to have this be the platform for my own sex education content.
Even though I had started my own channel, my journey with my own sexuality was far from over. After my first serious relationship ended, I was entering my last year of university without any real clue about how to date or explore the “college hook-up scene.” Cue The Dildorks! The Dildorks is a podcast about “dorky discourse on sex, dating, and masturbating” and is hosted by sex bloggers and educators Kate Sloan and Bex Caputo. This duo became my slutty (I mean this in the most complimentary way possible) BFFs as I explored my sexuality as it belonged to me, without a partner. They destigmatized casual sex and talked about the companionship and playfulness of friends with benefits (FWB), the joys of sex toys, and opened my mind to the idea of kink and non-monogamy. With the help of this amazing podcast I was able to have my first FWB relationship with a total cutie who, after our first sex date, drove us to pick up fries and bought me a ping-pong paddle for my birthday. I was able to access my pleasure and my relationship to myself and others in ways I hadn’t imagined.
This now brings me to the most recent sex educator who changed my life: Stevie Boebi. Stevie is the creator of the first ever lesbian sex ed web series, which might give you a clue as to where this is going. Despite the fact that I spearheaded the creation of the GSA at my high school, I was a bit slow on the uptake of my own bisexuality. While Stevie didn’t “make me bisexual” (even though she is indeed an absolute babe), her lesbian sex ed series aired, as the universe somehow miraculously planned, right around the time I started questioning my sexuality. I began to watch it in full force when I started flirting with an incredible gal I met on Twitter. As we got to know each other over several months, I watched Stevie’s videos demystifying how two people with vulvas might have sex. Her videos made me feel like part of the community even before I was out and dissolved my trepidation at the prospect of having sex with a queer person I really liked. By the time I met the aforementioned girl in person, I felt prepared, excited and supported — everything that comprehensive sex education should have done, all thanks to YouTube. These experiences also helped give me the courage to come out a few weeks later, and to talk openly about my experiences as a bisexual person on my own YouTube channel.
Where high school sexual health education failed me, the Internet picked up the slack. When health teachers were wary of talking on subjects like sexual orientation, gender roles, pleasure, and masturbation in health class, resources like Laci Green, Sexplanations, The Dildorks, and Stevie Boebi were there for me at pivotal moments in my sexuality journey. But, as much of an optimist as I am, it’s also important acknowledge that the sex education on the Internet, or YouTube more specifically, isn’t perfect, despite being a goldmine of sexual health education. The Internet has been placing increasingly greater barriers for accessing sexuality-related content. For one, sex education content on YouTube largely does not qualify for monetization. Most videos on YouTube rely on revenue from advertising in order to continue making content and improving the quality of that content. However, in the last few years, videos related to sexuality have been deemed “unsuitable” for most advertisers and many are age-restricted so they cannot be viewed by people who are under the age of 18. These policies make it incredibly difficult for creators to sustain sex ed YouTube channels They also inhibit youth from finding these important channels.
Creators like Sexplanations and Stevie Boebi have spoken out about the impact of these policies on the future of their content in videos and on social media, emphasizing the importance of crowdfunding sites likes Patreon to sustain their channels. My YouTube channel has also experienced the negative effects of YouTube’s restriction of sexuality education content. While currently none of my content is eligible for monetization, as it does not meet the required view count, before this shift in policy, nearly half of my videos at the time were demonetized, including videos on sexual anatomy, contraception, and sex research.
Other social media sites are not much friendlier for sexuality-related content, in part due to new policies passed by the United States early in 2018. FOSTA and SESTA bills, disguised as attempts to decrease online sex trafficking, have negatively impacted sex workers and sex educators by holding websites accountable for any users posting ads for sex work on their platforms. These policies have influenced the increased censorship of sexuality content on social media platforms including Facebook, Tumblr, and Instagram, where mentions of “sexual partner/sexual partner preference,” “female presenting nipples,” or #stripper are banned. It is also important to mention that all of these acts of censorship more severely impact queer people. LGBTQ2S+ content on YouTube has been lumped into the extremist or controversial category and have become ineligible for monetization. Author and YouTuber Gaby Dunn of the channel Just Between Us noted that only the LGBTQ2S+ and mental health related content had been demonetized on her and Allison Raskin’s channel. Similarly, trans YouTuber Chase Ross has documented how including the word “transgender” in the title or tags of a video causes YouTube to demonetize his content.
The Internet still has barriers and limitations for accessing sexuality-related content, but it’s undeniable that platforms like YouTube can reach more than a health class of 30 students and can create a community of like-minded individuals eager to learn. YouTube sexuality education changed my life for the better and inspired me to pursue sex education myself. I’m currently in my second year of my graduate studies in sexuality (my research looks at sexting) and I make videos almost every week. These videos are based in sex research, and are LGBTQ2S+ inclusive and feminist – much more than the current Ontario sexual education curriculum can boast. They aren’t perfect, but if they can help one person like the previously mentioned resources helped me, I’ll be more than satisfied.
So, while my solution isn’t perfect, it’s certainly a step in the right direction. Ontario’s sex education is severely lacking and platforms like YouTube adhering to damaging policies like FOSTA/SESTA are preventing youth, especially queer youth, from accessing the sexuality education that they desperately need. If you want youth to be healthier, have better relationships, and have better sex—I urge you to support online sexuality educators. Give them the credit they deserve for changing people’s lives, pay them, and stand up to politicians trying to erase them.