In an 18-second TikTok, a woman who goes by “Nurse Holly” summarized the entirety of the sex ed I got as a public school student in Texas. In the video, Nurse Holly (who has more than 1.7 million followers on the platform) points a manicured finger at words that pop up on the screen: “Did you know… The best way to prevent STD’s [sic] is waiting for sex until marriage?” She shrugs and raises her eyebrows in an innocent whodathunk manner, and shimmies around while the words “Just the truth” float above her bobbing head.
Vigilante justice online came extremely fast: Other TikTok nurses posted their own riffs on Nurse Holly’s video, but with more substantial, actually useful information on how to prevent the spread of STIs. Someone outside of the medical field directly ripped it off, changing the message to, “The best way to prevent catching these hands is shuting [sic] the fuck up. Just the truth.” The angriest people are calling for her to be fired for spreading information that could harm public health.
In response to the swift backlash, Nurse Holly (thankfully) deleted the TikTok. In an interview with BuzzFeed News, she explained that the video was meant to show her younger followers that “there can be benefits of saving sexualty for one partner.” “I just wanted to present another option to my young audience,” Nurse Holly said. “I understand that my voice will not be accepted by many as it’s an unpopular view. This video was simply created with the intention of helping little girls see that saving sex for one partner may have certain benefits.”
Nurse Holly’s wrong about a lot of things, but she’s extremely wrong in thinking that her “young audience” hasn’t already been exposed to the medically debunked, moral pandering of “saving sexuality for one partner.” Abstinence-based sex education—any curriculum that stresses abstinence until marriage as the best/only way to avoid any of the pitfalls of sex—is still commonly taught throughout the United States. Only 20 states require sex ed programs to include any information on contraception, but 39 states require sex ed programs to provide information on abstinence—despite mountains upon mountains of evidence that shows promoting abstinence does nothing to improve health outcomes, and may even “threaten fundamental human rights to health, information, and life.” None of this seems to matter to the Trump administration, which has spent the past few years pumping more funding into programs that stress abstinence, rather than programs that give students actually useful information on condoms, birth control, and pregnancy counseling services.
It’s nice and even encouraging to see such a swift backlash to the message in Nurse Holly’s TikTok, a message that many students in the U.S. have already heard in their classrooms. But public health experts and medical professionals who don’t use their scrubs to preach moral values have exhausted just about every reasonable argument and iota of science to fight abstinence-based messaging… and yet it remains. Perhaps the same vitriol we’ve unleashed on an 18-second video should be aimed at the policymakers who are responsible for funding and promoting abstinence-based programs across this country.
Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.
Follow Hannah Smothers on Twitter.