At first, Dr. Jennifer Lincoln was afraid to join TikTok because she thought it was reserved for teenagers, dancing and teenagers who are good at dancing. But when the now-famous OB/GYN saw users tossing around misinformation about sexual health, she knew she had to chime in.
With more than 900,000 followers and counting, the gynecologist uses her platform to debunk all types of misconceptions about women’s health. From addressing false information about birth control to discussing racial biases in health care, Lincoln covers a range of evidence-based posts in what she calls her “virtual sex-ed class.”
TMRW: Your TikTok bio says "the health class you wish you had in HS." So many kids don’t get a quality sex education — what inspired you to make a TikTok dedicated to it?
Dr. Jennifer Lincoln: The reason I was inspired to do it is because I am so passionate about educating women, specifically young people, because they don't get it in school. Few schools teach comprehensive sex education because it's not mandated by the government, so teens are graduating high school having maybe the briefest of overviews about how their body works, how to have sex safely, how to protect themselves.
The first TikTok I posted got taken down, and it was a super benign one. And then I reposted it again and overnight it had over a million views. And I thought, there's clearly a need for this. So many of the messages I got were teens saying, "I didn't know how my body works," and "Why did (we) not learn this in high school?" So it’s sort of morphed into a virtual sex-ed class.
Why do you think it’s important to debunk false information about women’s health?
Women's health seems to have the market on misinformation. And a lot of it goes back to (the fact that) we're not taught in school how our bodies work. There's shame around periods. There's shame around discharge. There's shame about knowing if sex should hurt. It's an underground festering of old wives tales and misinformation.
There's no other part of your body where people are so afraid to talk about it, and I think a lot of it has to do with the patriarchal society (that views) the vagina as dirty. I mean, look at the whole feminine hygiene industry — that's how they make their money.
It's an underground festering of old wives tales and misinformation.
Dr. Jennifer Lincoln
What are some of the craziest misconceptions about sex or women's health that you had to address?
I would say there's a lot of misconceptions about birth control and how (people think) using it will cause infertility down the road. There are so many misconceptions about what's normal in terms of vaginal discharge and a lot of misconceptions that the vagina should smell and taste like cherries or passion fruit or that anything other than a crazy product is abnormal or dirty.
How many questions would you say you get a day?
There will be days where I get maybe only 30 or 40 direct messages or emails, but then there are other days where I get a few hundred. I have to be very explicit. On all of my posts and on all of my social media accounts — and this is so important for anybody who's on social media — you have to put forth that you're not going to give personalized medical advice because that's unethical, and I can't do that.
There are some messages that are heartbreaking like, "I got my period, and I'm afraid to tell my mom" or "I think I have a yeast infection, and I don't want to go to the doctor because they're going to think I'm having sex." It all boils down to miscommunication or misconceptions.
One of your TikToks addressing racism in health care went viral. How can medical professionals use this moment amid the Black Lives Matter movement to address implicit racial biases in health care?
I think it's important for medical professionals to see racism as a public health issue. It's not new, and we need to own that we should have been talking about this for a lot longer. We need to address it when it comes to communicating with patients, treating patients, understanding where they're coming from.
Specifically, when it comes to the women's health realm, understanding that black women are disproportionately affected by maternal morbidity and mortality in childhood. Partnering with them and saying, "What do you need from us and how can we help you?" and listening.
I think the reason it (went viral) is because I'm a white physician saying that. If it was another black physician, I wonder if I would have gotten as much traction. I don't want people to think that I am the expert in this. Keep amplifying and listening to the voices of people who actually go through this every day.
You often post about wearing multiple hats: you're a mom, a doctor, an essential worker and an author. What does success mean to you? And what keeps you inspired today?
Everybody's picture of success is different. Especially as women, I think it's super important that you decide what success looks like for you. You don't have to have a career or be a mom. I would say success is figuring out what inspires you and not letting other people tell you what you're supposed to do.
What inspires me, truly, it's the messages I get from people who say, "the reason I went to the OB/GYN today was because I saw your TikTok, and I wasn't scared" or "I was too afraid to ask my doctor about pain with sex and I was able to do it, and we had great conversation." I save all of those messages, especially for the bad days when I need a reminder when people are not so nice on social media.
What would you say to people who want to break taboos around women's health like you are?
It starts with the simple things — it's calling breasts, breasts and vaginas, vaginas and realizing they're not dirty words. If you're a parent, teach your kids the correct words. Don't make silly euphemisms. It not only helps the conversation down the road when you want to talk about sex, but it also helps to teach consent. If you tell them a body part is a dirty word, they're going to think that they're not supposed to talk about it, and they may be less likely to come to you when they're having an issue that might be about abuse. When you realize that your body is not shameful, you are so much more likely to feel that you can access care and take care of yourself, so don't let other people make you feel dirty about your body.