Dr. Jennifer Lincoln, an OB-GYN based in Portland, Oregon, initially built a following on Instagram where she discussed women’s health issues, often geared to millennials navigating questions about pregnancy and family planning. But when some doctor friends she followed online encouraged her to explore TikTok as a way to expand her reach and demographic, Lincoln gave it a shot with a simple Q&A-style video addressing the question, “Do I have to have sex if my boyfriend asks?”
Originally, TikTok took down the video. But when Lincoln, 38, reposted and it received millions of views and a bunch of comments overnight, that’s when she realized TikTok was where she needed to be. Posting as @drjenniferlincoln, Lincoln creates content for 1 million followers who range from teens with burning questions about periods, sex, and birth control, to women in their 30s and older who still have plenty of questions about all of the above and more.
“I see TikTok as an extension of what I already do in my job, but I can do it in a much more effective way because I have more time, and I can address things that somebody might be too embarrassed to even bring up in the office or in the hospital,” Lincoln tells Bustle.
Many people growing up have fretted over puberty concerns to their best friends (hello, Maya and Anna on PEN15), talked to their mothers if they had that kind of relationship, or simply fell into an internet hole. Today, young folks can find answers to pressing questions about their body and sex on TikTok, thanks to a community of millennial OB-GYNs and sex educators who are making fun, accessible, evidence-based videos on all things reproductive and sexual health.
Young people just don’t want to go to the doctor to ask these questions, and they all have the same questions.
Dr. Staci Tanouye, a 38-year-old OB-GYN in Jacksonville, Florida, who posts as @DrStaciT, loves that TikTok allows her to educate far more patients than she’d typically see in her daily practice. Tanouye says she gets anywhere from 15-50 messages a day from followers with questions.
“TikTok favors quick and fast information, so you can deliver a very powerful message in 15 seconds,” says Tanouye, who has 1.1 million followers. “Young people just don’t want to go to the doctor to ask these questions, and they all have the same questions.” And that’s if they can afford to see an OB-GYN or even have access to one.
Dr. Nicole Sparks, aka @DrNicoleAliciaMD, a 34-year-old OB-GYN in Atlanta, Georgia, with 142.2K followers, tells Bustle that TikTok doesn’t replace medical advice or talking to your doctor. “But to me it is better than you Googling and finding something that is untrue,” she tells Bustle.
Lincoln agrees. “My content is meant to be educational only — it never replaces that face-to-face interaction with a doctor,” she says. (Tanouye and Lincoln both include a disclaimer in their bio stating that they don’t give medical advice.) In her videos, Lincoln references credible reproductive health sites, like Bedsider.org, to direct viewers if they still have questions.
Sexual health misinformation “spreads like wildfire online,” Sparks says. Sparks, Lincoln, and Tanouye all say they see their role as vital to dispelling harmful myths, like that birth control makes you infertile, or that you can DIY a miscarriage, or claims from so-called hormone experts who want to test your hormone levels as a ploy to sell supplements.
I used to think there were things wrong with me that I’ve now learned are normal thanks to them.
They’re having fun and getting creative as they educate. In many ways, their corner of TikTok is like a hipper, sex-positive Schoolhouse Rock, using Doja Cat’s “Candy” to explain how oral herpes can be spread to the genitals via oral sex, or debunking conservative pundit Ben Shapiro’s take that having a “WAP,” according to his wife, indicates a medical condition. Aside from Lincoln’s first video that was taken down initially, they say TikTok has been mostly supportive of their content.
Catalina, 17, follows Lincoln and Tanouye and frequently messages them with questions. “They create a really safe environment for girls around my age that don’t really have any access or experience with gynecology,” she says. “They’ve made it way less uncomfortable for me to ask questions and learn about stuff that’s usually weird or hard for me to discuss with my own parents. I’ve learned a ton about my own birth control and bodily functions. ... I used to think there were things wrong with me that I’ve now learned are normal thanks to them.”
The community they’ve created is primarily for the youths — although videos answering common questions about pregnancy and navigating different birth control devices certainly appeal to older followers as well — but these educators have forged relationships with each other, too, DMing throughout the work day, commenting on each other’s videos, encouraging each other’s platforms. “If a follower has a question about something I’ll say, ‘Oh, Dr. Staci already addressed this.’ We’re all trying to spread good information,” says Sparks.
Beyond answering questions about basic anatomy and what to expect at your first gynecology visit, they’re providing support to those struggling with body image and self-acceptance, too.
“The field of OB-GYN, yes, obviously we do amazing things like deliver babies and do gyn surgery and procedures, but so much of what our field is about is education and advocacy, and undoing a lot of what the patriarchal society has created in terms of how women see their bodies and view themselves,” says Lincoln. Maybe that’s by calling BS on “innie vs. outie” vaginas, explaining you need soap and water because your vagina is not dirty, or assuring that teenage boys don’t know what they’re talking about when they body shame you.
During the pandemic, young people might not be attending their sex ed or health classes — and that’s assuming their health classes were inclusive and sex-positive to begin with, if they even have them. Danielle Bezalel, MPH, creator and host of the podcast Sex Ed With DB, recently expanded her platform to TikTok (@SexedwithDB), where she makes videos that often address questions LGBTQ youth might have about navigating their sexuality and relationships. That might look like celebrating Bi Visibility Day, or posting a video that shows a parent reacting supportively to their kid coming out as trans to her 49.4K followers.
“I try to be inclusive with my language, using the word partner when I can instead of boyfriend/girlfriend,” Bezalel, 27, tells Bustle. She also makes a point to discuss periods and birth control without referring to gender.
With RBG’s recent passing leaving a Supreme Court justice vacancy that could put abortion and health care rights on the line, and the election just around the corner, the Tok docs have fresh concerns to address. “Within a day of hearing about the death of RBG, I had people messaging, ‘Should I go get my IUD right now?’ and it breaks my heart that patients have to worry about that very intimate decision because of something like the election. But that’s the reality,” Lincoln says. She’s already posted a video warning about the dangers of DIY abortions and is urging followers to vote to protect reproductive rights.
While the future of TikTok looks murky right now, these voices of support plan to create longer videos on YouTube and look to other social media platforms like Instagram if need be.
“I’ll be a little heartbroken, but it won’t be the end of the world,” Tanouye says. “Obviously I have a whole bank of TikToks that I can transition to Reels.”