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WHEREIN I talk to Dr. Lindsey Doe about Sexplanations, sex education, and what it's like doing education on YouTube.


Guttmacher State Policies in Brief:


Hi, I'm Peter, and this is Go Verb a Noun.

Sex education is important in so many different ways. It teaches a person about their own body and self, and gives them the language they need to be able to talk properly about something they shouldn't be afraid or ashamed to talk about. This, when done correctly, helps keep people happy, healthy and in charge of their own bodies.

And yet, in the United States at least, it does not get the coverage that it should have. According to the Guttmacher Institute, as of July 1st 2014, only 22 states and the District of Columbia require sex ed of some form, and only 18 states and the District of Columbia require that contraception be covered during sex ed, if sex ed is provided.

So how the heck are people who live everywhere else supposed to get reliable information? Enter the internet!

(0:46) My name is Lindsay Doe. I am the clinical sexologist and host of Sexplanations.

 Why did you decide to start Sexplanations?

(0:55) The impetus for it was that... the university I was teaching at, was looking at shutting down the human sexuality class, and students still needed that education.

I was also in the process of getting set up to foster my daughter, and wanted to have a consistent income that wasn't reliant on me reaching out to people as clients to come into my private practice, and so... In that way, she is the reason that Sexplanations exists.

But it- it's a bigger idea than that, and so we have reasons like the need for sex education to be accessible and universe-wide, and we have the great collab opportunity with Hank Green being in the same city, the terrible system that is already out there that needs to be corrected, and then because it's fun! It's an amazing, creative process to make videos and movie magic.

The idea, I think, came about in March or April of 2013, and then we did a launch date of June 10th, which was the day after June 9th, 6-9.

 What's surprised you the most since starting the channel?

(2:15) I think the most surprising thing is how awful the messages are, that have been getting out. Horrible, horrible things I hear, from viewers, that say, "I was told that condoms don't work, that they have holes in them which do not protect people against sexually transmitted infections, and therefore we shouldn't even bother using them." "Sex is not healthy," or "sex is not okay," or "sex is... expected of you." "This whole concept of asexuality is not real, there's something wrong." Lots of messages that people are getting, which are kind of devastating for them to experience, but also for me to hear. So that was really surprising.

And then my relationship with Nick. So Nick is the videographer, the editor, the director for the channel. And I had no idea how instrumental he was going to be in creating what we've made. That relationship is really important to me, and it's been one of the coolest things to collab as artists, to make something. And he pushes me and he corrects me and he helps me grow and be a better educator... He's surprisingly really educated about sexuality, even though his track is design work and film school, he knows his stuff, and is very accepting of the diversity that's out there. So I was surprised by that. Happily surprised. 

 Making a video from conception to creation

(3:40) So right now, it's like having a whole bunch of ovum that are just percolating, they're hanging out in the ovaries, they're deciding which one is going to mature first, and we don't really know what that looks like. We don't even know that if multiple ones come out, this one's going to die or this one is going to embed and then impregnate, that the idea is going to actually come to fruition. So, those ideas come from viewer questions, viewer comments, they come from my background in teaching human sexuality and what I've seen students really need or what I really enjoy teaching. They come from what I want to be researching at the time or a feeling that I want to convey. So, if I look at the track of the last three videos and I say, "This is somber, and this one's dry, and this one's giddy, then maybe I wanna go for something that's unique or toss it up and I'm gonna throw in something very dramatic or jovial. I take those, I may start this script and then I have this one going as well, then I may break them apart. I would say that the process is so similar to Emily Eifler's when she was doing that interview with you and I got to watch it. The way that she puts the pieces together and strings them on a chain and then, you know, has that sentence that she comes across which just *brrch* glorifies it. I felt unisolated. What's the opposite of unisolated? Understood! Validated in my experience of creating a video. And so, to hear that and know that, yes, there's that much creative process going on with the script. And then I hand it off to Nick, right? That gets sent as a Google Docs. He receives it. Either he has enough time to go through and say wide, close, wide, close, wide, close, these are the kind of shots that we're gonna try and get with this lighting, or he doesn't, and then we just show up and I go over what is in my head and match it to what is on paper. He sets up lights and camera, coaxes Abby to get up onto the couch and be silent. The couch is suede; she likes to just lick it the whole time. And we record shot, shot, shot, shot. I have to memorize all the lines; we don't have a teleprompter. He takes that footage back to his office, cuts it, presents it to me. We probably go through about three edits. You can get a really good feel for how things are made if you go to our video on Subbable. It shows how, how we do it. Sometimes there's lunch in there, 'cause we realize how much food changes my energy and his. And there are usually a lot of great conversations about... AAAHHH! Porn! Or body image! *Mmm* and we end up diverging to support each other and the episode becomes better. When it becomes difficult or there is somebody kind of harassing me in the comments or I'm feeling desperate for ideas, I will go back and watch Sexplanations episodes that are full of energy and very much the cut Lindsey that reminds me that I'm capable and that's *brrch* *mmm*.

 Educating online versus in-person

(7:00) So the difference between a live audience and a YouTube audience is, obviously, that I have immediate feedback from the first group. They can let me know with their facial expressions whether or not they understand what I'm saying, if they need more, if maybe an anecdote would be helpful or building a lower floor and a higher ceiling. So, oh yeah, they've got it. We need to raise the ceiling so they don't feel bored. And with a YouTube audience, I'm having to put a lot of trust into myself and my knowledge of live audiences to kind of predict how the YouTube community is going to receive that and then, I get feedback, obviously, through comments, which helps future episodes. But, I also realize that there are more audience members than the people who write in the comments. And so, there's a lot more to consider when I'm doing a YouTube episode than when I'm in the classroom.

 Is Sexplanations reaching classrooms?

Yes. I get a lot of feedback from instructors and students saying, "This showed up in my classroom and we appreciate that it exists." A friend of mine who is a health educator suggested that we actually make a series, or package it so that it is complementary to a textbook. I don't know that I'm ready to go that route, because the way that Sexplanations is composed is so dynamic. But I am glad that what we create can go into classrooms, and that people are willing to use them because they see them as valuable.

 What are some challenges of talking about sex on YouTube?

The challenges to talking about sex on YouTube would be talking. Sometimes I'm not very good at talking. But the things that we are not sure how to say yet, or not sure if we're going to be permitted to say, is this fine task of juggling. There are topics which will get us flagged. I don't know what they are, because the YouTube server doesn't give that information back to us, we just know that we've been flagged and we can petition for that to change, but it's uncertain whether or not we will overcome the barrier. And I've talked to other YouTube sex educators about it, and they haven't found the formula either. We don't know where those topics are. Then the other piece is, how to say something. I would say that that's the hardest part. Let's take, for example, the topic of pornography. Even if I know that saying these words will get me flagged, that is not so much of a concern as how to say the pornography story. How do I take very little time from a viewer, four minutes - hopefully - is the goal, and share with them the story of pornography so that they are a more educated person in their communities? And hopefully share that with other people. That is more complicated for me, more challenging for me than the challenge of being flagged, or blocked, or hated even. I can take some of that stuff, but I want to know how to put my words together, and it takes some work.

 What is your most favorite thing about Sexplanations?

Nick. Oh, yeah, my most favorite thing about Sexplanations is Nick. Sometimes I've wanted to not be that way, because I'd like to think that the channel doesn't need him, that it doesn't need me, that it could exist without one or both of us, but when I think about why what I do is that much more successful, it is so much in part because there is a person I trust behind the screen to help me get the me out and cut that so it is the most receivable by the most people. I also really like when fans, *nahh be-ahh*, when they defend me, when conversation comes up in the comments and that dialogue happens even though it's a little bit itchy and I feel squirmy, it's the reason why this happens. The reason why it's YouTube, and not the University, because that dialogue is the most important thing to that channel. My favorite thing: Nick. Most important thing: the dialogue.

 What do you have planned for the next year?

If I say the plans, then I feel like I have to do the plans, and what if I don't do the plans? When I think about plans for the next year, I measure the ability to fulfill those plans based on the last year, where we accomplished a lot, a lot, a lot. Multiple times in Upworthy, book deals, going across the country for presentations, huge changes in my life. And so for the next year, I definitely want to get the coloring book finished, the one of masturbating monsters, which is a Subbable perk. I owe that to them. I have started the book outline process, what I want to say. I think that a Dr. Doe textbook, or even a guidebook, would be really helpful to people, and to me to use in my own practice. I would like to do more episodes including my own vlog channel where I can have more of an opinionated voice. Gear up - I don't know if we're there - but gear up for a tour where we have the van that's all decked out and then go around the country, and hopefully the world, to do sex education on the street.

 Advice for would-be YouTube educators?

My advice would be to triangulate everything, so if you put a string of words together and you say intuitively, "I know what this means, I know what kind of intent I have about this message," I still think that your responsibility as an educator is to be educated about your words in addition to your concepts, and so go through and triangulate each bead in the string. And what I mean by that is that you're not only looking at one source for the meaning of this word, but you're looking at three or more.

I would also suggest having buddies, people in your field, or outside of your field, that you can call and say, "Can you check me on this?" or "What are your thoughts here?" because if I were to just consult myself, then I am harming my community. I need my community to teach me what my community needs and to teach me what my community knows.

Stay curious!

Peter: Sexplanations is a great example of folks using the internet to address a shortfall in American education, and globally. Yes, it exists as a resource for those who are willing to go out and find it, but what I think is even cooler is the fact that it is making its way into classrooms, thus making the jump from the comfort and privacy of one's home and into the open where people can talk about it together. And when we're talking about sex, sexuality and identity, I think that open, informed dialogue is exactly what we need. Speaking of open dialogue, what are your thoughts on sex education? If you're from outside of the United States, how does your country cover sex education? Does Sexplanations have a place in your classroom? Let me know in the comments below or on the social medium of your choice.

Next week we'll be talking to Nick Jenkins, who is the other half of Sexplanations, so stay tuned, thanks for caring, and Go Verb a Noun!