Is YouTube trying to tell me something? I thought, when “How to Eat Pussy the Right Way” appeared at the top of my recommended videos. I could have been mildly offended by the algorithm’s insinuation, but as soon as I clicked, my indignation dissolved. Looking back, I owe that algorithm a debt of gratitude for two gifts that have since changed my life: Stevie Boebi, creator of the aforementioned video, and the queer online world she champions.
Three years ago, in response to an influx of queer teenage girls pleading for sexual guidance, Stevie founded YouTube’s first ever Lesbian Sex 101 series. With videos ranging from “How to Flirt” to “Fisting 101,” there’s virtually no topic she won’t discuss. She draws diagrams, demonstrates fingering techniques on water bottles, and screams about consent and communication at every available opportunity. It’s glorious. Within my first two hours on her channel, she had answered practically every question about sex I’d ever been afraid to ask.
The demand for a series like this makes sense. If kids aren’t getting this stuff in school—only 12 percent of millennials reported learning same-sex education at all—they’re most likely picking it up from their peers or from porn. Of course the queer kids were in need of a road map. Myself included, apparently.
While Stevie has one of the largest bodies of work on YouTube dedicated to the topic (and the only one with titles quite as blatant as “Literally How to Scissor”), she’s not the only influencer filling in the gaps in heteronormative curriculums. Through her, I’ve discovered a vast network of queer content creators doing the good work for the LGBTQ community; a veritable gay goldmine beneath the surface of a platform I had been frequenting for years.
In a single night, I jumped from Ash Hardell to Dodie Clark to Gaby Dunn to Amber’s Closet to Rose and Rosie until it was 3 a.m. and I had lost all concept of time and space. I was hooked. Almost instantly, “Queer YouTube,” as I lovingly began to call it, became a critical extension of my formal education. And once people like Alayna Fender and Hannah Witton highlighted the gaps in their own sex ed, I began to recognize what was missing from mine.
I had never even heard of a dental dam, for instance, before Stevie showed me how to make one out of a condom, nor did I have an ounce of familiarity with sex toys until Ari Fitz walked me through the logistics. Melanie Murphy was the first to inform me that washing your vagina with soap actually does more harm than good, and her sister Jessie’s enlightening video on “Shaving ‘Down There’” leaves no question unanswered at 13 minutes long. My gynecologist doesn’t even go into that kind of detail. The reach of videos like hers point to a severe stigma around talking about basic sexual health and anatomy.
Just as striking Queer YouTubers’ openness is the passion they have for their work: Despite how often YouTube demonetizes LGBTQ content, they continue to make videos. The effect of this kind of authenticity is powerful—it makes conversations about sex less intimidating. Whereas at one point I avoided the word vagina at all costs and wore headphones to watch Melanie’s masturbation tips, suddenly I was publicly denouncing societal perceptions of BDSM and enthusiastically explaining the difference between a vagina and a vulva (and that not all women have one or both). At this point I barely remember why sex talk made me uncomfortable in the first place.
Beyond teaching STI prevention and sexting tutorials, for many of these creators the most influential component of their videos is increasing visibility by simply sharing their experiences—not just in terms of sex, but of relationships, polyamory, sexual orientation, gender identity, mental illness, disability, and the ways in which they intersect. It was representation I’d never seen in any other form of media. For the first time, my educators were people in my community—polyamorous lesbians, bisexual trans men, asexual women, nonbinary couples, and queer people on every spectrum in between—all with their own perspectives and stories to tell, learning from each other in tandem. People like Jackson Bird and Stef Sanjati gave me the vocabulary to be a better trans ally, and collaborations like Ash and Melanie’s proved the importance of the conversation itself. And who better to give relationship advice on “How to Be Friends With Your Ex” than YouTube’s reigning lesbian queens Shannon Beveridge and Cammie Scott?
After two years on the outskirts of this weird little world, my favorite video to this day is still the one that served as my entry point: Stevie’s “Lesbian YouTuber Crushes.” “A really good friend once told me,” she said, “that changing the world is as easy as just talking about yourself.”
By sharing their personal stories, these influencers taught me more about my own community than I learned in 17 years of school and 22 years of life, ultimately making me a louder and prouder member of it. They provided a safe space for me to explore before I was comfortable asking questions, and they gave me the tools to start the conversation once I was. Above all, Queer YouTubers taught me what the American education system never quite managed: That there is always more to learn.
Feature collage by Emily Zirimis.