OSU’s SEXpert normalizes curiosity about human sexuality through social media

Teresa Ashford sits at Interzone Coffee on July 28th. Ashford has been dubbed Oregon State University’s “Sexpert”, she works to make content educating students on various topics.
Teresa Ashford sits at Interzone Coffee on July 28th. Ashford has been dubbed Oregon State University’s “Sexpert”, she works to make content educating students on various topics.
Jules Wood

When Teresa Ashford, an instructor in Oregon State University’s College of Health, began teaching human sexuality in 2018, she inherited an anonymous online question box along with the course.

Now, Ashford has ventured into TikTok to share her knowledge. This question box has become a safe space for students to freely ask questions about relevant topics, whether it’s an everyday issue or a more obscure topic. For students discovering themselves and exploring new experiences, this is an ongoing resource.

In Ashford’s first TikTok video from April, she discusses whether or not the word “queer” is a slur and advises viewers on how to avoid offending people when using the term. She said to not use “queer” as a slur, and be conscious of the difference between generations.

“With language, it continues to evolve, right? So language is living, it shifts with our culture and with the times, and it can be messy,” Ashford said. “So ‘queer’ can be a source of pain for some folks, but also empowering for others. ‘Queer’ can be more gender neutral and more culturally inclusive.”

Some of Ashford’s other SEXpert TikToks cover topics like the difference between polygamy versus polyamory, why to drink cranberry juice before sex, how therapy can help people explore their sexual orientation and more.

While Ashford said anyone can be a “SEXpert,” her background teaching the human sexuality course, as well as her education–a master’s from OSU in human development and family sciences and another in women’s studies–certainly qualify her for the role.

She also said her genuine passion for related topics, like gender and sexuality, helped make her a great fit for the position.

“It’s about doing the research, remaining intellectually curious and not being afraid to talk about human sexuality,” Ashford said.

According to Planned Parenthood, less than half of high schools and less than a fifth of middle schools in the United States teach the CDC-recommended “essential components” of sexual education.

Most of the questions Ashford gets come via the anonymous question box, although she does get a handful of students who stay after class to ask questions as well. And, Ashford said, if she doesn’t know the answer, she makes sure to follow up with resources.

Most commonly, the questions involve gender, the act of sex and relationship advice.

“Sexuality can feel like a tender and taboo topic,” Ashford said, “and a lot of people simply aren’t comfortable talking about it…I think at the end of the day most people want to know they are ‘normal.’ I don’t really care for the word ‘normal,’ but people want to know they are typical and not alone.”

Ashford isn’t the only instructor utilizing an anonymous question box; SexPositiveFamilies.com wrote about the benefits of allowing anonymous questions to enhance access to judgment-free information for curious students who may otherwise be too uncomfortable to ask.

According to Ashford, the HDFS college is interested in sharing their knowledge with students interested in social services and human development, and her role as SEXpert helps reach those people via the internet.

“I had been thinking about it for well over a year and my friends kept encouraging me to create a TikTok series,” Ashford said. “They had heard many of the anonymous questions and I was slowly becoming an ‘expert’ on common and obscure human sexuality topics: who knew there are testicular jacuzzis?”

The HDFS college is able to reach a broader audience by posting answers to those anonymous questions on TikTok and YouTube, Ashford said.

That audience now extends beyond OSU, due in no small part to help from the college of health’s marketing department, who handles the actual posting of content.

“But most importantly, we are highlighting the class and the field of HDFS,” Ashford said. “It’s a degree students are happy to stumble upon during their time here, and there’s something for everyone in HDFS.”

Ashford said the SEXpert TikToks are doing well so far, although it has been a learning experience in terms of figuring out what is and is not allowed on TikTok.

“During the school year, we were releasing them weekly and over the summer, every other week,” Ashford said. “I’m proud to say that the TikTok on “drinking cranberry juice before sex” has nearly 200,000 views! Most of the others have at least 400 or more views.”

As for Ashford’s future as a SEXpert, she would like to start bringing in guest speakers to feature in her videos as well, such as a gerontologist who could speak about aging and sex.

“I want to be famous! Jokes aside, I want to continue to normalize talking about human sexuality and that there are no stupid questions,” Ashford said.

Ashford’s videos can be found on TikTok and YouTube under username @oregonstatehealth.

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