By Conal Morrison

I’m sure we can all remember how awkward sex-ed classes were in high school and how outdated they were! I’m not long out of the school system, so my classes weren’t that long ago. Sex-ed was part of the health curriculum I learned as a 13 and 14-year-old student in 2013 and 2014. We had Kahoots on Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) and what they looked like, videos from the ’80s (yes, from over 40 years ago!) on how to wear and use a condom and slideshows about menstruation. 

But none of those lessons really helped at all when it came time to actually do the deed. Except for how to use a condom, of course, stay safe out there, readers!

Despite this lack of real information, I, as a teenager and young adult, of course, did not turn to my parents. Instead, I took to the internet and my friends for answers. Unsurprisingly most of the information, tips and tricks I learned were simply made up by my friends. 

Fast forward a few years, and we’re in the middle of the pandemic. Teens and young adults are discovering a whole new frontier of their lives via TikTok. On the one hand, this is a great thing as it’s so crucial for people to learn about sex and sexual health to keep themselves and their partners safe. On the other hand, and not just to sound cliche, don’t trust everything you read or see on the internet.

Lack Of Sexual Education

The sexual education deficit in our schools is a massive problem for this next generation of teens and young adults. And arguably has been a huge problem for a long time. I can’t speak globally, but we have a very closed view of sex here in New Zealand. It’s all very hush-hush. People are embarrassed to say the word, let alone discuss sex and sexual health. This attitude causes so many problems; adults are embarrassed to help educate their children, and children are afraid to ask questions. In my own experience, I was afraid and ashamed to ask questions about the ins and outs (pardon the pun!) of sex, and I’m sure many of my friends felt the same. 

How Is Social Media Affecting The Problem?

During the Covid-19 pandemic last year, social media use climbed by an entire 10 minutes on average in the United States alone, resulting in young people looking for answers to their sex questions coming to TikTok. It’s encouraging that they are seeking answers, and luckily, there are medical professionals with TikTok accounts aiming to help educate the masses, such as Jennifer Gunter. Jennifer is a qualified OB-GYN assisting young people globally to learn about women’s sexual health. 

TikTok, in particular, is an excellent platform for this as it allows users to put a large amount of information into a short flashy video. The massive downside to this is that anyone can do it; literally, anyone, qualified or not, can make a video about sexual health and spread their misinformation online. 

This is immensely problematic as incorrect information presented in a nice flashy way will always be more widely seen and accepted than accurate information presented in a boring way. This can lead to the spread of many sexual myths and misinformation on social media.

How Bad Are These Myths?

Some of these myths are potentially extremely harmful to the viewer if they follow these “health tips”. One such trend was “Stick x item in your vagina to tighten it”. Of course, as explained by Dr Staci Tanouye in this video, no item can actually ‘tighten’ your vagina, and in some cases, the item or product can cause it damage instead!

A myth targeted at men by user beaupinto stated that seeing attractive women releases dopamine. They said watching porn regularly causes your brain to become addicted to the dopamine of seeing beautiful ladies. Now porn addiction is a somewhat contentious subject within the mental health circle and has not been classified as a real disorder. However, the video has over 20 thousand likes, 800 comments and 3.5 thousand shares. On top of that, almost all the commenters agree with him and his point despite the lack of any actual qualification or evidence. 

Thankfully TikTok does a great job of verifying qualified medical professionals. So if you find yourself seeking sex or sexual health advice on the platform, make sure to look out for the blue checkmark and ensure the advice you get is from a qualified professional.

No matter where you are looking for information, advice or ideas for a healthy sex life, it is vital that you look for professionals who truly know what they are talking about. Life is confusing enough without getting caught out by some lies or myths online. Remember—safety first and take care out there!