- Queer creators like Katie Haan and Lydia Collins are filling a necessary educational gap on TikTok.
- They told Insider that they make the kind of sex-education content they wish they had growing up.
- Here’s more about how they make their work and how they get around the TikTok algorithm.
In Katie Haan’s TikToks, she looks straight at the camera as though having a casual conversation with the viewer. The quick-hitting videos feature Haan giving tips, reenacting common sex and dating scenarios, and responding to questions, comments, and other videos about everything from love and dating to how tampons work.
Viewers can digest her content easily, and it feels like the type of personal advice one would get from an older sibling. The combination of Haan’s care and consideration with this format leads commenters to trust her with questions they may otherwise consider embarrassing.
Haan, whose bio reads, “your tiktok big sis,” is working to fill in practical gaps conventional sex education leaves, particularly for women and queer folks like herself. And she’s not alone.
Sexual-health creators are using TikTok to make sex education more inclusive and accessible
Within the states that require sex eduction in the US today, curricula place greater emphasis on abstinence than on advocacy, and fewer than half require the curricula to be medically accurate. When schools do provide it, traditional sex education focuses primarily or entirely on relationships between heterosexual cisgender people and lacks intersectional nuance. In six southern states, educators are explicitly forbidden from discussing or answering questions about LGBTQ relationships and identities.
As a result, many young people — particularly queer youth, who often face additional social stigma — don’t have access to information that actually applies to them. In response, creators are building platforms to provide the type of practical, identity-specific education they wish they’d received.
Lydia Collins, a Black queer creator who works in sexual-health education, experienced the impact of race and sexuality being left out of sex-ed conversations firsthand.
“I never learned what protective barriers for queer sex could look like, or how racial fetishization and hypersexualization could present themselves in my sexual and romantic interactions,” Collins, whose content focuses on consent education and HIV prevention and awareness, particularly in Black communities, said. “And I certainly didn’t learn how that lack of information could compromise my ability to consent.”
Collins uses her videos to relatably break down complex or taboo topics and tactfully address users’ most sensitive questions. Commenters regularly express their gratitude to her for covering these less-talked-about topics, and answer each others’ questions based on their personal experiences.
Another creator, a gastroenterologist named Carlton Thomas, covers everything from STD prevention to practical tips geared toward the men who have sex with men, or MSM, community. In the comments, users commiserate over shared experiences, joke together about common blunders, and thank the doctor for providing terminology and advice that makes them feel seen.
Viewers have been overwhelmingly positive, but the TikTok algorithm is not always as kind
Educational content is ostensibly permitted under the TikTok Community Guidelines. Sexual-health creators, however, report that the platform’s algorithm regularly misidentifies their content as adult or sexually explicit, causing the platform to flag, deprioritize, or remove their videos.
To ensure their content stays live, creators use algorithm-friendly workarounds and euphemisms. Some, like Haan, use words like “seggs” to mean “sex;” “SA,” pronounced like “essay,” for sexual assault; variations of “le$bean” for lesbian; and simple iconography like the eggplant and cat emojis in place of the words “penis” and “vagina” respectively. Others, like Collins and Carlton, replace letters with numbers — like “c0ndom,” and “r@cist” — in their titles and captions.
Haan was initially determined to promote the use of proper terminology on her platform, but changed course after several of her videos were flagged and she was temporarily banned from posting.
“I kind of had to backtrack and rewrite my own personal mission statement, knowing that I can’t use the real terms because I won’t be able to get the information out otherwise,” Haan said.
She has since adopted more alternative language to help her reach a broader audience, though she still hopes to destigmatize the correct terms and send the message that everyone can have a voice in sexual-health conversations.
Despite obstacles, creators keep the important conversations going
While veiled terms and euphemisms can be a source of frustration, sexual-health creators are determined to provide not only resources, but representation on their platforms.
Collins reflected on her school years as the time she most needed content like the videos she now creates. In her experience, young people are not only the most interested, but the most willing and open to have candid conversations about sexual health. She hopes that seeing all aspects of their identities represented on platforms that are native to them will give young people tools that lead them to better futures.
“I hope that from my content, young people take away an enthusiastic attitude towards sexual health that is not rooted in fear, but rather pleasure and harm reduction,” Collins said. “And that they feel better equipped to make informed decisions about their bodies.”