Sexual wellness content creators have a tough time existing in social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. Anyone who has ever used social media can probably tell you just how sexualized they are — it’s hard to go a few posts without seeing someone’s bare butt, a “belfie.” Meanwhile, sexual wellness content creators have to contort themselves into linguistic pretzels to avoid censorship, especially if they cater to women or LGBTQ+ groups.
For example, Playboy has millions of followers, and they never get censored even though they regularly feature women in various stages of undress for a primarily male audience. Meanwhile, a safe-sex platform called Bedsider constantly gets flagged and cannot advertise because they talk about sexual wellness in a funny and relatable style. Unfortunately, this example is far from isolated.
Social media platforms constantly clamp down on sexual health educators and platforms that engage in healthy discussions of sexuality and sexual wellness, while providing free rein to accounts that objectify women’s bodies or cater to the male gaze.
This is particularly sad because social media is uniquely situated to challenge traditional norms of sexual education. It’s an accessible area where people worldwide can access the information they can’t access anywhere else. Sexual educators can reach out to individuals who are uncertain about safe sex practices and sexuality and help them out.
But most social media platforms actively prevent sexual educators from discussing sexual wellness. This article explores how sexual wellness content restrictions affect sexual education.
Why abstinence-only sex education doesn’t work.
Only 13 states in the US require sex education to be medically accurate. Many schools still focus on abstinence-only sex education, even though it’s widely considered ineffective, unethical, and discriminatory. The following are some of the primary reasons why abstinence-only sex education doesn’t work:
- They’re based on a scientifically flawed and disproven myth that sex before marriage has harmful psychological and physical effects.
- Research shows that they consistently fail in their primary goals — preventing STIs and teen pregnancy. If anything, teenagers are more likely to engage in sexual intercourse anyway but without safe sex practices, thus increasing the risk of teen pregnancy and STIs.
- The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and most major associations of physicians don’t support abstinence-only education.
- They stigmatize non-heterosexual youth.
- They’re based on gender stereotypes and actively slut-shame young girls for engaging in sex outside marriage, often comparing them to used chewing gums or old shoes.
- They ignore the realities of teenagers who may have been sexually exploited or abused, and are then made to feel guilty.
- They violate medical ethics because they promote falsehoods about contraception.
What sexual education SHOULD include.
Instead of focusing on “raging” hormones, promoting falsehoods about contraception, and comparing young girls to old and used shoes, sexual education should inculcate a healthy attitude towards sex. The following are some things that sexual education SHOULD teach us:
- Sexual pleasure is natural and normal — you’re not sexually deviant for wanting to have sex.
- There’s nothing wrong with masturbation, and it’s a healthy means of learning to appreciate your body.
- Demystifying the female body by teaching young kids of all genders about female anatomy.
- The difference between “good touch” and “bad touch” and how to identify if a situation is wrong.
- STIs are incredibly common and can happen to anyone — there’s no morality attached to STIs; they’re diseases just like any other.
- Safe sex is actually better sex.
- Evidence-based, non-biased, and non-judgmental discussions of safe sex practices.
- Consent goes a lot deeper than “no means no.”
- The value of speaking up when something feels wrong or listening to your instincts.
- Your value isn’t tied to your “purity.”
- Queer sex is just as healthy and normal as heterosexual sex.
- Queer sex can still lead to STIs.
- Sex isn’t necessarily penetrative.
- Gender and sexuality are a spectrum — all sexual identities and gender expressions are equally valid.
How social media can be a positive tool for sexual education.
Teenagers and adults alike use technology and social media as one of the primary sources of sexual health education and information. Since formal education does such a terrible job of inculcating healthy sexual awareness, teenagers (and adults) go to social media to clarify their questions and concerns.
Approximately 89% of all teenagers say they learn about sexual health practices from online sources. That means social media platforms have the power to be a positive tool for sexual education. Unfortunately, social media platforms have policies against adult content that actively penalize sexual educators and users who engage in frank discussions of sexuality.
Why sexual wellness content restrictions impact sexual education.
Most social media platforms have policies that aim to curb the availability of sexual wellness content on their platforms, even though most of these platforms are driven by hyper-sexualized posts. According to Susan Gilbert, co-director of The National Coalition for Sexual Health, this double standard represents our cultural attitudes towards sex and sexuality in general.
She says, “We live in a hypersexual world. Sexual images and content are literally everywhere, from suggestive advertisements and erotic romance novels to provocative TV series to sex-tip columns in magazines and on the Internet. Yet we have limited access to positive, credible sexual-health information and open dialogue that can help keep us healthy.”
Social media platforms often use vague terminologies to curb adult content. Facebook and Instagram’s policies state that they censor contents that promote “sexual pleasure,” “sexual enhancement,” or “overly suggestive or sexually provocative content.” YouTube’s sexual content policies state that they ban contents that promote “sexual gratification.”
All of these are vague terminologies used to censor sexual educators and sexual wellness content creators. For example, sexual health vloggers on YouTube are “shadow-banned,” i.e., YouTube de-incentivize users from accessing or clicking on those videos, which makes them essentially invisible in the platform. In another egregious example, LGBT+ content creators recently noted that YouTube simultaneously demonetized their videos while playing them alongside advertisements by anti-LGBT organizations, including conversion therapy groups.
If these examples show anything, it’s that social media platforms have all the potential to be equal and democratized tools for sexual education, but the inconsistent and biased implementation of their vaguely-worded policies actively thwarts that potential.