Researching an article on the private sector filling in the gaps that education, government, medicine, and research communities have left on sex education, I knew I had to talk to Andrea Barrica of O.School—a non-judgmental source for information on sexuality & dating. When we talked, she had just been on Twitter calling out Apple for suppressing search results for suicide hotlines for gay teens, so that’s where we started talking… And we took it from there to the need for safe places for people to talk about sexuality, to the harm that not talking about it can—and does—do.
Lynsey G: Hi, Andrea! So, the article I’m working on is about basically private sex tech companies that are basically stepping in to do sex education in lieu of actual sex education. But then I saw what happened on Twitter with you calling out Apple for not letting any sex education stuff get through their filters, and I thought that was really important thing to talk about.
Andrea Barrica: A lot of people get their information from searching. I mean, I’m used to being censored. Running a sex ed company, I live every day with censorship. It’s like, okay, we’re not allowed. I can expect that, but seeing like a gay suicide hotline not be allowed was really scary to us. And then also see Maxim be okay? Like Daily Stormer be okay? I was really, like, “Huh, who made that decision?” And in some ways, having O.School be a space where this information is accessible is so important because of all the barriers that you are now intimately familiar with it.
Lynsey G: Have you heard anything back from them?
Andrea Barrica: I’ve been getting no comment from them, but an investor of mine said that, confidentially, someone at Apple has reached out to her. They won’t make any public announcements, but we’re on their radar. And like I’m kind of glad. I mean, I’m not crazy about Twitter feeds, but I hope that it didn’t come out as like, “Apple’s terrible!” I mean it’s really just laziness on the programmer’s part, and I’m just like, “Fix it!” You know, I don’t really care like to embarrass them or anything. It’s just like, I’ve built software, I understand things happen, but this is egregious. For example, if somebody’s googling how to dominate a woman, there are ways that they could just be like, hey, “Here’s an article about consent!” There are material ways they can curb bad information and harmful information from getting out there. Because a lot of women-hating sites…like Daily Stormer is the number one rape-legalization website. It’s terrible. It’s not like these ideas are coming from nowhere. They come from the places that they can have a stance on.
My best-case scenario is [Apple] calls me and they’re like, “How do we fix it?” I would love that. Don’t just shadow-ban everything with the word “teen” or “gay.” Because gay suicide hotlines? We need to make sure that there’s groups like that get through!
It’s not intentional. It’s just laziness.
The engineers obviously didn’t consult experts on sexuality or childhood sexuality. You know what I mean? For me, it’s the word that was used. It’s evident that no one at Apple actually cared to test it. I don’t know if you saw my post about it, but the only reason we even knew about it was one of my teammates was trying to make dulce de leche, and it was blocked. And we did a little digging, and it was because leche is Spanish for sperm. You couldn’t search the recipe for dulce de leche because that’s the word for sperm. And it’s like, that’s so dumb. That’s just dumb.
Then it’s like, okay, so O.School and Scarleteen, which is like Planned Parenthood level? Like, you can’t even Wikipedia search “sex.” Like you know where you go on the Wikipedia site, and you type in your stuff? It doesn’t work. Like “sexual intercourse” is blocked on Wikipedia, but Maxim isn’t. It’s like, this makes no sense.
Lynsey G: It has a certain look about it. You know, it has the look of clearly being designed with the idea that, you know, this is bad. This is bad, this is bad, this is good, this is good, this is good, and that’s the end of it.
Andrea Barrica: Throwing the baby out with the bathwater in that, okay, you don’t want to be titillating. Okay, but make sure the medically accurate, lifesaving hotline, like especially with “gay” being blocked, like you can’t block suicide hotlines! You can’t! It’s lazy. It’s like, Apple, you’ve got more money than god. You could do this. I wouldn’t call out a small company because I get it. It’s really hard to do this, but Apple has more money than god.
Lynsey G: You know that they could do better, but I think that laziness is at the heart of a lot of issues around sex education. You know, it’s not necessarily that the information isn’t out there, it’s not that people can’t wrap their heads around many of these concepts. It’s that it makes people uncomfortable, so don’t want to think about it. And so they just don’t.
Andrea Barrica: Also what they’ll tell you is, like, it’s just so hard. Like they’d have to consult actual humans who deal with this. It’s not a clean tech problem. Then, okay, all sex is out. It’s like, no, something sexual can be life-saving for a young person. And if you are taking it away from the search, and we don’t educate kids, you’re really telling young queer kids, “We don’t fucking care that you need this.” It’s so insidious.
Lynsey G: Yeah. And I mean especially with the fear that’s going around now for the trans community, whether this is on purpose or just laziness, for kids who are trying to seek out information about who they are, it feels the same way.
Andrea Barrica: Yeah. I touched on this in my tweet-storm thing.When you are trying to ask this information and it’s blocked, even if it’s from a stupid lazy algorithm, it is still saying like, “Oh, this is bad for you. This is not good for you.” It creates a very clear message about the culture that we live in. And that really, really needs to change. For exactly the reasons you said. So yeah, O.School is trying to be this voice that’s in between Planned Parenthood and P0rnhub, and that’s what we are. We’re trying to be something where you can search about things but it’s not, you know, titillating. It’s not p0rn-based. It’s just medically accurate information. And you know, we feel these barriers every day.
Lynsey G: What other things are you seeing people coming to O.School with, from a sex education viewpoint? What do people not know, that they’re searching for information on?
Andrea Barrica: Oh my god. Validation. Honestly, Lynsey, like we are kind of choosing our identity too. We used to be just sex ed. We are just a nonjudgmental place for sex and pleasure information. The reason that we want to do that is…
Let me tell you something: People don’t want to be educated. They don’t feel safe about needing to be educated about something they should have learned a long time ago. We’re going to be a nonjudgmental place for you to ask questions. And it’s true, like a lot of people, yes, can Google like “What is a clitoris?” But like being a place where you don’t feel bad, like, wanting to know or like wanting to talk about masturbation.
A lot of our live chat content is all about communication.
It’s like, “How do I tell my partner I want to do this thing?” “How do I tell my partner that I don’t like this thing they’re doing?” Like, “Is it normal? Is it normal?” It’s all about validation. “My partner wants to add another person. Does this mean that our relationship’s doomed?” And stuff like that. And the feedback we get is like, “Oh my God, it’s so great to be able to talk to someone about this.” Because people are desperate to just be heard. We get a lot of people who are like, “I didn’t know the clitoris looked like this. That’s amazing.” I would say we have the best information on the clitoris in existence.
Our clitoris video, if you haven’t seen it, is really cutting edge. We have animation that we made custom. It’s great. We’re giving it to middle school teachers as an experiment. It’s just a medically accurate video about the clitoris. I think that every middle schooler, high schooler should see it. It’s anatomy. Everyone is entitled to learn about anatomy. Of course there’s going to be backlash on that. I’m kind of excited to see how that goes, that experiment. But we basically said to all teachers, “It’s our content, use it! Download it!” That’s our mission is to get this information out there.
That is why it’s an interesting thing, and it’s funny the kinds of questions, and the kind of reactions that we get. It’s almost like anger. It’s like, “Why didn’t I learn this? Why is it that I’m just learning about the clitoris now?” So we’re just medically explaining what the clitoris is. And then recently we’ve had a few doctors be like, “We didn’t know this.” Publicly.
Lynsey G: Oh my god. Wow. That’s nuts.
Andrea Barrica: There’s even the question, too, where if you do a poll of where Americans think they should get their sex information, they still answer that they think it’s their doctors. But that’s just awkward, you know? I talked to resident ob-gyns, and they’re like, “No, I don’t want to give sex ed lessons for everybody who comes in who thinks they’re broken.” They don’t want to vibrator demonstrations for someone with vaginismus.
Lynsey G: That’s a good point. And most medical doctors don’t have that much time on their hands anyway. Even if they did want to.
Andrea Barrica: Yeah, it’s not a medical problem. It’s an education problem. You know, people are like, “I’m broken!” And the doctor’s like, “Okay, well what’s going on?” “I’m having penetrative sex and like, nothing’s happening?” And the doctor’s like, “Well you need to do other things.” And it’s like, who’s going to do this work? They’re not a therapist. You need to go to a therapist to be like, “I’m not happy.” A doctor is not the right person to be like, “You need to go explore masturbation.” It’s professionally weird for these professionals to talk about it. And so O.School is even more important because what people are doing is going to read these blogs, which may not be medically accurate at all, you know.
Lynsey G: I think what you were saying before is that basically, it sounds like people are looking for help with intimacy. And that’s not a medical issue.
Andrea Barrica: It’s like, “How do I get my partner to go down on me more?” And that’s not a medical issue. That is communication stuff. So that’s where we want to be at O.School. People need information; they need to tell their stories. That’s why people are submitting their stories to us, and that is half of the healing. It’s just them being like, “Here is what I think about this.” It’s so important.
Lynsey G: And having a supportive and safe place to air that. Is there a way that they get feedback from other people when they say these things?
Andrea Barrica: We have educators in-house now. We have live chat now in the platform, and we also have our social media channels are places where people can submit questions. So submit at O.School, and with their permission and consent, like if they want us to share their stories, we can answer the questions publicly. And that’s where our brand is going. So, yes, we have education for people, but more so, we just want to be a safe space for people to talk, because that’s frankly what people need more. You can get the information, but that’s not the barrier to people. The barrier is that they need to feel like they’re talking to people who won’t judge them.
Lynsey G: That’s so true. There are definitely some people who can talk to their friends about what’s going on in their sex lives, but I then I started thinking that the feedback one usually gets from friends is, A) not medically accurate, and B) is usually more informed by their feelings about you.
Andrea Barrica: Or like, “Don’t be so needy. He’s good to you. He’s not cheating on you. He makes you dinner every night. Why are you so hard to please? No one wants that.” I hear that a lot.
Lynsey G: Oh, wow. Really?
Andrea Barrica: Yeah. A lot of people are like, “Oh, like I don’t need that. Why do you need that?” This is what’s the problem with sex-positive parenting. I tell everybody, we can’t get sex-positive parenting to be a thing until parents deal with their own sexual issues. They pass it right down to their kids. If you are ashamed of having sex, then there’s no way you’re going to raise a child that will have a healthy view on having sexual partners, or having a different sex life than you. That’s the problem with my mom. Filipino Catholic, did everything right. Got married, was a virgin when she got married, and didn’t have the space to like… Now, we’re amazing. She’s amazing and so supportive. But it took her years because she was trying to protect me from being judged by other people. But it really hurt me, being pressured into being a virgin until marriage. And she did it. So she’s just like, “You can do it too.” And that’s not right.
Lynsey G: Yeah, I mean every, everyone is groping around blindly in the dark, basically.
Andrea Barrica: I said this on another twitter rant about how I really am at the point of my experience in the field, where I believe that abstinence-only-until-marriage sex ed is child abuse. If you don’t equip your child with language about their body and a knowledge that their body is in their own… The child abuse rates are just through the roof.
And then secondly, I feel like all therapists can agree with me: When it’s being taught that being gay and having sex outside of marriage is a sin? That’s so bad. It has lasting effects. Right now people just laugh about keeping sex away from their kids. Just like a laughing matter. Like, “Oh yeah, no, dating till 30,” and it’s just not funny to me anymore. I get the 18-year-old traumatized kids.
Lynsey G: I’ve seen a few uncles make comments about how they’re going to greet the first boyfriend at the door with a shotgun, and it’s just like, you are not helping anything right now. That is terrifying. Why would you think that? That’s funny.
Andrea Barrica: Half of 18-year-olds are entering college without any sex ed at all. Seventy-five percent of them have only had abstinence-only-until-marriage sex ed, and then we demonize these kids for sexual assault on college campuses. It’s like, no one was taught about consent. No one was taught about anything! We are literally setting up not just the women to be abused, but men to be abusers. I really believe that we are setting them up to fail.
Lynsey G: Well, you’re doing something about it, though, and that is awesome.
Andrea Barrica: That’s why I’m like, we have to talk! Parents just all across the board don’t think 16- to 17-year-olds should be having sex. We have data around this. Yet the average age for men to lose their virginity is 16, and for women it’s like 17. It’s so common.
Lynsey G: Right. And I mean I don’t think that has changed remarkably over the past few decades.
Andrea Barrica: You’re totally right. Everything has become more progressive, like attitudes towards dating before marriage. Adults asked about 16- and 17-year-olds having sex. It just stayed stagnantly opposed. And adult discomfort about sex is endangering children. That is how I feel about it.
Lynsey G: I think that’s a really important way of looking at it because it’s this issue that people feel okay continually sweeping under the rug, but you’re right, it’s hurting people.
Andrea Barrica: One hundred percent.
Andrea Barrica is the founder and CEO of O.School, a non-judgmental source for information on sexuality & dating. Join the conversation!