The wildly popular TikTok app is becoming an unlikely place for women to talk about infertility and reproductive health — and it's a clear sign the platform is for more than just teens

  • TikTok is a video platform particularly popular with Gen Z, and it has over 1.5 billion downloads.
  • However, not all users are teens: some adults are using the app to find communities and share personal stories.
  • Women navigating infertility and IVF, along with OB-GYNs trying to educate people, have taken to TikTok to spread their message and share their stories.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Monica Cox spent nine years trying to conceive, going through two rounds of in-vitro fertilization (IVF) before she successfully got pregnant.

Now, she makes videos on TikTok sharing the lifestyle changes that she believes helped her become pregnant, while also making memes about her infertility journey that other women can relate to.

Cox is one of many women who have begun using TikTok to talk about infertility and reproductive health. Dr. Danielle Jones, who has over 28,000 followers on the platform, calls herself "TikTok's first gynecologist," and brands herself as Mama Doctor Jones. Dr. Lora Shahine, another fertility doctor, has a bio that simply reads "Fertility Doctor out to educate without fear and have a little fun on TikTok." 

All three of these women, and others who post under the "infertility" and "IVF" hashtags, have found a surprisingly welcoming platform in TikTok and are using the app to discuss topics that are taboo in many settings.

Cox said she sees TikTok's informal nature of users being silly, dancing, and lip-syncing as key to her ability to be so open. It's become her passion "to help women understand that they have more control," she told Business Insider. 

Cox said she felt pushed into IVF before she could explore other options and aspects of her health, and it's part of what led her to start sharing what she's learned on TikTok.

"Society goes straight to the medical side of things," Cox said. "I received little to no support or information."

Cox finds that her videos resonate with viewers, who go through many of the same processes and feelings while trying to conceive, like in this video about how it felt for her to hear how easy it was for women around her to get pregnant.

So far, Cox has had far more engagement and views than she ever achieved on Instagram, she said. 

When Cox downloaded TikTok five or six months ago, she said she was "trying to prove myself right that people weren't talking about infertility." But she found that her assumptions were way off: Women reach out to her often, or comment on her posts that they feel the same way. The comments on this video are full of women saying how long they tried to conceive.

As of writing this, videos with the hashtag "infertility," have been viewed 12.7 million times, and "IVF" videos have been viewed nearly six million times.

Cox used one popular audio meme on the app, set to Ashnikko's "Stupid," to explain how she took it upon herself to learn about nutrition and health when she wasn't happy with IVF.

Now, she's trying to engage with the next generation of women who might go through similar experiences to hers, and, she says, TikTok is where they are. She shares nutrition information, a topic she says she was immersed in while trying to become pregnant. She's also conscious of the fact that IVF isn't an option for everyone because of the cost, which isn't always covered by insurance.

TikTok has risen to prominence in teen culture since its US launch in 2018. It evolved from video-sharing app Musical.ly, where users lip-synced along to 15-second audio tracks. China's ByteDance bought Musical.ly in 2017 and folded it into TikTok. ByteDance is the most valuable private company in the world, worth an estimated $75 billion. 

The app has been downloaded over 1.5 billion, and it is the top free non-gaming iOS app. TikTok declined to provide information on user demographics, but at this point, the app is likely closing in on Instagram and Snapchat in terms of active users — Instagram reached 1 billion monthly active users in 2018, while Snapchat has over 300 million.  

Audio can be as important as video clips on TikTok. Songs and remixes go viral on the app, and users can easily repurpose audio and apply it to their own videos. These trends have launched songs like Lil Nas X's "Old Town Road" from TikTok popularity to the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100. Some audio tracks have specific dances users do to accompany them, while others are more broad and can adapt to different situations. 

An opportunity to fight misinformation

Infertility is a subject that people tend to form tight-knit groups around online, because it can make people feel so alone, Jones, the OB-GYN, told Business Insider.

In October, a New York Times article explored the way that women online have embraced the pineapple as a symbol of IVF, and one fertility specialist told the Times that "probably 75%" of patients come to appointments wearing some kind of pineapple-themed apparel. (In her TikTok icon, Cox is holding a pineapple.)

Jones shares Cox's goal of educating people on TikTok, particularly young women. 

"I saw an opportunity," Jones said. "There's so much misinformation about sex education." 

She recently made a video, which was liked over 20,000 times, debunking the myth that melatonin can make birth control less effective. According a recent Daily Beast article, some teens are also taking it upon themselves to correct myths around sexual health that spread quickly on the app.

Jones, like Cox, believes that the relatively informal types of videos popular on TikTok make it a good place to reach young people and educate them, although she says that she is as approachable and silly in her daily life as on TikTok.

For example, she made a video where she dressed as an IUD at her practice for Halloween.

 

Jones also uses TikTok's duet feature, where users can add commentary to existing videos and display them both side by side, to make videos directly responding to other videos, like one where she responded to a meme to tell patients how to talk to their doctors about inducing labor — she said she's been in that situation "both personally and professionally." 

In another duet, she explained how people can work with their OB-GYN to avoid having their period on their wedding day.

 

'There's no hiding on TikTok'

Dr. Lora Shahine also says that she's on TikTok to "educate without fear," according to one of her first videos. 

Shahine is on the platform to educate about women's health, but also about OB-GYNs and what kind of training they have to go through. In another video, she breaks down the 11 years of education it took her to get to her position as a doctor, which she says is "worth it to make dreams come true."

Shahine even speaks directly to the communities that have formed around infertility struggles on the app, with one video in particular addressing the assumptions she believes some people make about fertility doctors and their prioritization of IVF treatment.

 

Although she's only posted 11 videos and follows 17 accounts, Shahine already has almost 10,000 followers.

These conversations might seem out of place on the more polished Instagram, or on a public Facebook feed, but on TikTok they fit right in. Cox believes that comes from the vulnerability TikTok can demand from creators.

"People can feel your vibe," she said. "There's no hiding on TikTok."