Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

YouTube, Virtual Communities, and Teen Sexual Health

YouTube, like the Internet as a whole, has been invaluable in helping people find their virtual tribes. You may be the only Brony you know in the tri-state area, but other Bronies are always only a few clicks away (if you have good Internet access.) Similarly, teens have been building communities through YouTube since its beginning. Think of the things your teens are obsessed with – video gaming, anime, rock climbing, just being a teenager, etc. – whatever they are into, there is sure to be a YouTube community to address that interest.

When doing reader’s advisory these days, it’s not uncommon to hear that a teen doesn’t really watch television, but they watch a lot of YouTube. Certainly, there are many rabbit holes of entertaining content down which any viewer can fall, but I think it is more common that teens are watching YouTube videos that illuminate their own interests and help provide a virtual community of like-minded individuals. These videos can open new worlds to our teens and do the important work of letting them know they are not alone*. Every teen (or welcoming adult) who makes themselves vulnerable on YouTube does this important work. Similarly, every YouTuber with a significant audience who uses their audience reach to highlight important content by lesser known YouTubers helps to make this community a little more open and a little more welcoming. One of the best things about YouTube is the way it encourages these interactions and how its algorithms actually help viewers find relevant content (whatever else you think about them.)

YouTube can also provide a community or a resource for teens who have questions they don’t know how to get answered, especially teens who comprehend spoken language better than written language, or who feel more comfortable finding information in an interactive or interpersonal way. Additionally, videos can often contain demonstrations of important material that would be difficult or impossible to convey through writing and simple images. For many teens, this information can include how to apply makeup, cook for themselves, and live healthy lives. One of the most immediate needs many teens have is for information on sexual health. Many teens live in communities where these topics are not commonly discussed, or are not allowed as a part of their overall health education curriculum in their public schools. This does not negate their need for this information. In fact, I would argue that it only increases this need. I believe that information is power, and fully informed decisions are the best possible decisions. They can turn to their virtual communities for this information.

For several years (mostly 2011 to 2013) there were almost weekly thought pieces published on the damage caused by teens’ ready access to Internet pornographic content. Headlines like “What to do when you discover your teen has been viewing porn online” and “Sex therapist expresses concern over teen porn addiction” were quite common. But in fact, an article on the Slate website summed up the situation both accurately and succinctly – How Does Internet Porn Affect Teens? New Study Says: We Have No Idea!

Fortunately, regardless of which side of that argument you fall on, there are a number of YouTube channels that address teens’ (and others’) needs for information regarding sexual health, as well as sex and gender related information that may be either difficult to find, or meet needs a teen is unaware of.

One of the best YouTube channels covering this topic in general is Sexplanations, hosted by Dr. Lindsay Doe, who is a clinical sexologist. Sexplanations has been on YouTube for almost 2 years, has over 171,000 followers and has exceeded 14 million views. More information about Dr. Doe’s background and qualifications is available in the channel’s first video. The channel covers topics ranging from human anatomy, sexual terminology, and protection from sexually transmitted diseases to gender identity and expression, consent, abuse, and healthy sexual activity. It has a really broad target audience and approaches all topics with a sex-positive, educational mindset.

The best educational, sex-positive YouTube channel geared towards young adults and new adults I’ve found is lacigreen. Laci Green is a self described sex education activist. She describes the content of her videos as being about “sexuality, gender, body image, relationships, feminism, and sex ed for the internet.” Her recent video on Dress Code Sexism helps to clarify the issues surrounding this topic, and could be invaluable to young women in supporting their defense of their rights. She offers similarly valuable clarification on issues surrounding feminism, body autonomy, and gender identity, as well as practical sexual education information.

If you’ve been reluctant to explore the world of YouTube, you are really missing out on a wealth of resources you can provide for  your teen patrons. And all of them are freely available, given reliable internet access, and part of a platform with which they are generally very comfortable and eager to use. What is stopping you?

*Some of us had to rely upon books for this – isn’t it wonderful that our teens have both?

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