Sex, sci-fi and cisgender: Dr. Doe’s new web series reaches the masses
Clinical sexologist Lindsey Doe sits in the doorway of a tent—sans rainfly—breaking down the signs of sexual arousal with the aid of a line graph and emphatic hand gestures. She describes how during excitement, or the first phase of sex, the walls of the vagina thicken and lubricate and the cervix lifts. “This all works like an accordion. It makes more room for things,” Doe explains. Just as her audience may be questioning the purpose behind her camp-style setting, Doe’s voice rises. “And we call it tenting!”
That video, posted to YouTube Aug. 7, now has 66,851 hits.
For years, Doe has been Missoula’s de facto guide on the path to better sexual health and awareness. She founded Birds & Bees, LLC, as a sexual health collaborative in 2009 to give her community a safe place to discuss all things sex, and teaches the University of Montana’s wildly popular human sexuality course as an adjunct professor. Now she’s broadening her sphere of influence through a new YouTube channel called Sexplanations, the latest of Missoula web guru Hank Green’s many online endeavors.
“I’m not YouTube record-breaking at this point,” Doe says. “But the realization that some videos reach more people than there are in my entire city is really cool.”
Doe has already tackled a wide variety topics in her first three months of filming Sexplanations, from dental dams and dry humping to the history of sexology itself. She’s done so with a mix of clinical frankness and candor, combining education and entertainment to make a complicated, frequently discomforting subject informal and approachable. At the end of her Aug. 7 video on sexual arousal, Doe somersaults into the tent for the hell of it. In another segment, she caves to her inner sci-fi nerd and reenacts a scene from the film The Fifth Element in describing the human orgasm. She wears an orange wig, Leeloo style. A plush octopus acts as a stand-in for Bruce Willis. The video has been viewed 80,231 times.
“To have the responsibility be so far out of my control and to really feel like that four minutes is a big deal is a lot of pressure—sometimes,” Doe says. “And then sometimes I just say, ‘Heck with it, I’m going to have fun.’”
Green had singled out Doe as a promising personality for a sex education series years ago after appearing on a panel in her human sexuality class at UM. The stars never really aligned until six months ago, when Doe rekindled the conversation and Green paired her up with local videographer Nicholas Jenkins. Doe and Jenkins fleshed out the foundation for Sexplanations based on the areas each felt comfortable covering. They shot an unscripted introduction, the second-most viewed episode of the series so far, and met Green on a hillside above Missoula in mid-June for a pre-launch get-together. Green, who later posted video of the gathering to his own YouTube channel, asked Doe how she felt on the eve of Sexplanations.
“I’m excited, nervous,” Doe replied. “I don’t want people to attack me.”
While Doe’s goofy, charismatic persona—and, tangentially, her confession of “Firefly” fandom—has sparked an endless stream of positive feedback, that initial fear has at times materialized. The comment boards below numerous videos contain the occasional heated or even derogatory remarks; other comments have been removed entirely. Doe’s use of the terms “biosex male” and “biosex female” rankled several viewers. (Doe prefers these terms when discussing health care, as opposed to gender identities. It doesn’t mean the person identifies as masculine, feminine or trans, but a biosex female, for instance, does need regular pelvic exams.). People were also “all sorts of feisty,” she says, over her inclusion of “allies” in the acronym LGBTIQQAA2 (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer, questioning, ally, asexual and two-spirit). Doe responded by filming a two-part interview with Eden Atwood, well-known Missoula singer and intersex activist, to discuss the importance of allies to the queer community.
“There’s one that stings where somebody felt like our channel compromised the integrity of (Green’s) Vlogbrothers (brand), that we lowered the standard of performance,” Doe says. “I don’t give it power. Hank is the one that determines whether or not this compromises his integrity.”
Sexplanations has been working up to a segment on circumcision, Doe says, but even brief mentions of the topic in past episodes have wound up dominating the feedback. “If you bring up circumcision, that becomes the focus,” Doe says. “That is one of the goals, but I think we’re holding off on it right now because it monopolizes things for a while. We want people to hear what we’re saying when we get there.”
Doe and Jenkins have remained painstakingly cognizant of every syllable that makes the final cut in any given episode of Sexplanations. To get four minutes of footage, the duo will sometimes film for two hours. Every pronoun and verb is subject to intense scrutiny, a consideration that Doe admits can sidetrack her far more than the simple verbal flubs that dominate her first gag reel.
“This is why Nick is so helpful,” she says of Jenkins. “He thinks very similarly to me when it comes to being sex positive, but he’s also able to think like the audience and say, ‘Move on. Don’t get stuck there because you’re scared that they’re going to be upset that you said boys and girls. You’re communicating a message, and it is their issue if they get trapped in a component of that message and can’t hear the intent.’”
Ten years ago, when Doe first came to Missoula, “people didn’t have terms like asexual and cisgender.” (Cisgender refers to an individual whose self-perception of their gender matches the sex they were assigned at birth. Asexual is someone who does not experience sexual attraction.) Doe would tell locals what she did professionally and receive curious or offensive reactions.
“They would hear clinical psychologist, or they would sexually harass me, or they didn’t know what I was talking about,” she says. “Now, they know what a clinical sexologist does and they treat me with respect.”
The staggering number of questions coming in from viewers—which Doe tackles rapid-fire in separate segments called “Ask Lindsey”—has led Doe to the conclusion that she, Jenkins and Green are navigating largely uncharted waters. Not every community shares information about sexuality in the same way, Doe says. Many communities might not be as open or as educated as Missoula, which just three years ago passed its non-discrimination ordinance after hours of impassioned testimony. As stories from outside Missoula show up in Doe’s inbox and she hears “the voices of desperate teenagers and parents and students of all ages acknowledging how deprived they’ve been,” the gravity of the global role Sexplanations has taken on becomes more real.
“I’ll write a script, and so often I want to keep Missoula out of it because I don’t want to be this geographical spot when I’m communicating,” Doe says. “But if I’m storytelling and I’m in the moment, and not so concerned with the tightness of the script but the message I want to get across, bringing Missoula into that story is the fastest way to access some of that passion. Part of the story Missoula has to tell is how our view of sexuality has changed over time.” (Alex Sakariassen)