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Danielle Bezalel, MPH, host of the "Sex Ed with DB" podcast

Q&A: Meet Danielle Bezalel, MPH, Host of “Sex Ed with DB”

At Origin, we love to celebrate people who are out there sharing science-backed, scintillating info about sex and reproductive health. One of our favorites in that category is sex educator Danielle Bezalel, MPH, the creator, executive producer, and host of the podcast Sex Ed with DB.

On the air for over 7 years, Sex Ed with DB is a trusted source of inclusive, pleasure-centered, medically accurate insights, as well as a place where people can fearlessly share their experiences and ask questions of ALL kinds.

Just a few of our favorite episodes:

We recently had an excellent time talking to Danielle about the need for better sex education in schools, how hard it can be to keep up with sex terminology, and why a disturbing middle-school poster on crabs (definitely not the kind you eat) may have sparked her career.

When did you realize you wanted to teach young adults about sexual health? Was there a breakthrough moment that really set things in motion?

At UC Berkeley, I studied film and media and minored in education. I also mentored third through fifth grade girls for many semesters. So, from the get-go, I knew that storytelling, entertainment, and working with young people were all things that I was building towards.

Then I did have a breakthrough moment in the year after college when I was abroad teaching in Israel. A group of forty of us were on a field trip, visiting an Orthodox religious community, when the rabbi stood up to give a talk. He started by casually explaining how his 5 daughters would be married off by a matchmaker at 17 or 18, and would learn about sex for the first time on their wedding night.

He said this in a casual, almost bragging tone, and I was on fire with how angry it made me. I was the only one in the group who raised my hand and challenged him. What if his daughters don't want that? What if they’re not ready to be moms? How can they even know what they want when they don't have access to the internet or any resources from outside this orthodox community?

He brushed me off and was like, “That's just how it goes here. Next question.” I remember going home that night and researching public health programs. That was the turning point for me to say, okay, I want to make this passion into some sort of career.

When did you start your podcast Sex Ed with DB?

I started Sex Ed with DB two years before I started my Masters in Public Health program, so back in 2016. I was doing it while I was in school and have been doing it ever since.

Was there a niche you wanted to fill or something you wanted to be sure to do differently?

As a half-Afghani, half-white person who is white-presenting, I’m very aware of my privilege and power, and that most sex education podcasts are hosted by white women. From the beginning, it’s been important to me to use the platform as a way to engage in social justice. The majority of our guests identify as LGBTQ+ and/or BIPOC and my goal is to amplify their views and expertise.

How often has your own thinking shifted thanks to a conversation on your podcast?

There have been many moments where, for lack of a better word, I have been schooled by my experts. Not in a disrespectful way, but just in a sense where they're like, actually it's this.

One moment that comes to mind was early on in one of the first seasons. I interviewed Dr. Karen Scott who is an MD, MPH, and we were talking about birth control in the context of folks who are in poverty. I asked a pretty naive question, along the lines of, “If folks in poverty had free access to birth control, for all intents and purposes, do you think a lot of their problems would be solved?”

She was basically, like, absolutely not. As a person in poverty, you're worried about when you are going to get clean water and good food, whether you’re going to sleep somewhere safe, and about 800 other things.

Later, when I got my MPH, I would learn more about frameworks and environmental racism. But, at the time when I interviewed her, I didn't have that education and thought it was all much more simple. She very much schooled me at that moment and it was a great moment for me.

Speaking of barriers that many people face when it comes to accessing healthcare, I wanted to talk about pelvic floor PT for LGBTQ+ individuals. It can be such a powerful resource, but most people don’t even know that it exists.

Right. And, if they do know, they still need to go through the process of integrating that knowledge and taking action.

When it comes to getting people the care they need to be healthy, ideally it would be an opt-out situation instead of opt in. So, for example, for people with a uterus or cervix, they’re used to being offered a pap smear every certain number of years.

Right now, we don’t have that same kind of checklist for the pelvic floor. Doctors aren’t asking if you have symptoms of an overly tight or weak pelvic floor. We typically have to very actively opt into that care, to ask for it.

We need it to be automatically included in services, like, let's get you a checkup and here's a list of 20 most common questions we need to ask you in order to treat you or at least get a baseline for you.

So that’s true for everyone. For queer people, specifically, I think it’s really important for queer influencers to share their stories about how they engage with pelvic floor PT. To say “Oh, I didn't know this thing. Did you know this thing?”

People want to be able to relate to their heroes. They want to be able to relate to people who they look up to.

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A big reason you do what you do is because sex education is in such a sorry state in the U.S. What was your sex education like as a kid?

I went to a Long Island public school and I remember we had a health teacher who I kind of had a crush on, so that was fun. He taught us about STIs and unwanted pregnancy. Maybe we went over basic anatomy?

My most vivid memory is a presentation project where each student was assigned a different STI. A friend of mine, also named Danielle, was assigned crabs and she was really creative with it. She had this big tri fold poster that was filled with yarn, which was supposed to be pubic hair. Then she made little spider-like things and stuck them in the yarn. I still remember Danielle Dunn’s crabs poster 20 years later, so yeah, it definitely had an impact on me.

Were your parents pro sex-education?

My mom is an OBGYN, so yes, for sure. She gave me a lot of clinical information and also just offered to talk about things. I do remember feeling some shame and embarrassment when she would bring up sex, but I was also very intrigued.

What does great sex ed look like to you? What would you like to see happen in the future?

Ideally, the folks who are in positions of political power will come to believe that comprehensive, age-appropriate, medically-backed sex ed is necessary for all public school students ages, K through 12.

I stress that this education would be age-appropriate. When we're talking about kindergarten through fifth grade, it's more health education. It's more communication skills. And then the sex education part comes later.

In order to be most successful, sex education needs to come from multiple team players. One being at home, whether that's your parent or guardian or older cousin or sibling that you trust. Another piece is in school, so like a teacher that needs to be comfortable and informed about the material.

And then the third place, of course, is the internet. Young people need to know where to go to get science-backed information, places like Planned Parenthood, Guttmacher, SIECUS.

Amaze is another resource I highly recommend. They're in partnership with Advocates for Youth, which is another really fantastic organization, and they produce age-appropriate animated videos for young people, all about sexual health.

Different people use so many different terms to talk about sex — and everything changes so fast — how do you find the right words?

I mainly aim to meet people where they're at. So it’s really important for me to kind of be chronically online. It’s this double edged sword where you don't want to be consuming that much social media, but you also need to be on top of what people are talking about.

And, as sex educator, I also want to be sure to come from a place of authority. So I have the resources, the education, the frameworks, but I'm going to speak about it in a way that is legible so that you can engage with it.

I also just accept that I will get things wrong. We all will. And when that happens, you just correct it. And, if it's something that's offensive, that you didn't mean, say like, “Oh, hey, I'm sorry about that. I didn't know, but thanks for teaching me.”

Another layer is that, on social media, I can't even spell the word vulva correctly. I have to spell it Volvo, right? Like a car. So it's kind of like, okay, do people even know what I'm saying at this point? I am so shadowbanned by the algorithm, my captions may be barely readable.

Ok, last question. Do you notice awareness of the pelvic floor growing among younger people?

I think that more people know about the pelvic floor and pelvic floor PT than ever before. That being said, I do still think there’s very limited knowledge and it’s really on the fringes for younger people.

Pelvic health hasn't had the same cultural revolution as, say, mental health or even the orgasm gap, right? I think pelvic floor is something you tend to hear about if you’re pregnant or postpartum. In that zone, it’s super well known, and especially anecdotally.

I'm 31 and I have a lot of friends who are having babies — my fiancé and I plan to have a baby, you know, at some point in the next two or so years if we're lucky — and I think then my algorithm will shift once I start entering that phase of life and then the pelvic floor info will start flowing my way.

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Nicole Zeman

Nikki Zeman is the Head of Content & Community at Origin — a dream job that allows her to create eye-opening content about pelvic and sexual health. Before Origin, Nikki worked at Cosmopolitan, Women's Health, and Parents Magazine as an editor, health journalist, and advice columnist.

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