How To Tell If A Sexual Health Resource Is Legit, According To A Sex Educator

Hannah Batz/Bustle

In this week's Sex IDK column, Emma McGowan, certified sex educator and writer, answers your questions about how to find legit sexual health resources.

Q: What are the best resources for honest information about sexual health?

Phew, this is a deceptively complicated question! Sexual health information — good, honest, clear, non-judgmental sexual health information — can be surprisingly difficult to come by. How do you know what’s true? How can you trust the person doing the writing or podcasting or vlogging? The answers to those questions involve everything from your own personal ethics, to the certification the person doling out the info has, to a good understanding of media literacy. So are you ready?

When you’re looking for information about sex or sexual health, you have to be sure you can trust the person or institution that’s providing that information. One way to do that is to stick with established, respected institutions, like Planned Parenthood or the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), that you know have strict rules and regulations about what they publish. A medical institution is going to have oversight on anything they put out online, and that provides you with an added layer of reassurance.

But institutions aren’t the only reliable sources. And for certain people, like kinksters or LGBTQ folks, these formal institutions may not always have information that is relevant to their specific needs — and sometimes can even feel discriminatory. That's why it's helpful to follow a few individual sex educators or sexual health resources. For example, I'm a SFSI-endorsed sex educator and I learned much of what I know through their 60 hour training, in addition to writing about this stuff — including writing all of the copy for the sexual health website Sexual + Being — for almost a decade. Am I institution? Not yet. But I'm certainly an expert.

Be sure to check and see if your favorite sex educators have any certifications, which are a good indication that they know what they’re talking about. (If they have one, they'll list it prominently.) But also look at their experience in the field — maybe they were/are a sex worker or they’ve been hosting workshops for 15 years, or they wrote a really comprehensive sexual health book — as there are only a few sex ed certifications available and they’re not always affordable. Also, even if you’re not a part of the group the sex educator belongs to, following their work can give you a more expansive view of sex and sexuality — and that’s always a good thing.

The beauty of the internet is also its tragedy — anyone can publish anything. And that means that we each, as individuals, have to be discerning consumers. Rather than accepting the memes your Uncle Jim posts on Facebook as fact, take the time to do your own research. Read the “About” pages on websites to find out which perspective they’re coming from. Check out other work to see if their values align with yours. And, of course, check for those certifications.

With all of that in mind, here are seven resources that I, as a certified sex educator, love for information about sexual health.

1. Planned Parenthood

Planned Parenthood

Whenever I need a clear explanation of a sexual health question, I turn to Planned Parenthood. (Like if I’m writing about herpes, I’ll absolutely Google “Planned Parenthood herpes” at some point during my research.) They’ve mastered the art of presenting complicated clinical and scientific information in a clear, concise, and colloquial manner. The information you find there will be non-judgmental and more the clinical side, and you can absolutely trust it to be accurate.

2. Bedsider

Bedsider

Bedsider takes a slightly more conversational tone than Planned Parenthood, but don’t let that tone mislead you: It’s still staying on the side of science. Bedsider content is reviewed by a medical team to ensure that it’s accurate and up-to-date. They’re a great source both for clear information about contraception and personal stories from a range of different experiences.

3. Scarleteen

Scarleteen

Gracing the internet since 1997 (which, coincidentally, is the year I experienced public school sex ed for the first time), Scarleteen is one of the original excellent online sources for sexual health information. While the site’s design does kind of feel like the ‘90s still sometimes, its content is very 2019, including articles like How to Reconnect With Your Body In Spite of the Impact of White Supremacy and The Search for Gender-Affirming Hygiene Products, in addition to more general information about sexual health.

While the content is targeted to young people, as the name of the site suggests, I think it’s great for people of all ages who want to improve their sexual health literacy or just bone up on the facts in an accessible way.

4. O.school

O.school

Andrea Barrica founded O.school because she wanted a sexual health resource that existed “between Planned Parenthood and porn,” according to her “About” page. The site includes more SFW sex ed videos from sex educators alongside decidedly NSFW — but very educational! — videos that help viewers learn how to perform specific sex acts. It also has sex education articles and live streams, so there really is a variety of both content types and formats.

5. Cripping Up Sex With Eva

Cripping Up Sex With Eva

Cripping Up Sex With Eva is another relatively new platform, but founder Eva Sweeney has been writing about and creating sex ed for people with disabilities for 15 years. As a person living with cerebral palsy, Sweeney found that there were no resources for her as a queer teenager who wanted to learn about sex. So, she created them. Check out Sweeney’s site to learn about mobility-specific sex issues, including assisted masturbation and how to talk to your aides about dating and sex.

All of these resources are pretty clinical — and there's a reason for that. Sexual health info is different from sex info, generally, and I've focused on sexual health here. But you can also find awesome sex info in a variety of places online.

For example, Wild Flower — a sex toy brand and online resource founded by Amy Boyajian, a former dominatrix — is a great resource for sexual information. Boyajian and their partner launched Wild Flower with the express goal of creating a space for sexual information and products that was truly gender inclusive. They use gender neutral terms throughout the site and offer explicit instruction in their sex education section. They also don’t market toys that look like body part, use racialized marketing, or categorize their toys by gender.

From clinical to personal, these are the resources for information about sexual health that I recommend. But remember: Be critical, do your own research, and you should be just fine.

Read more from Bustle's 'Sex IDK' column: