Curious about reproductive health, STDs, or why it stings when you pee? Dr. Ali Rodriguez might have the informative TikTok for your sexual health question.
Within a year, “Dr. Ali” has gone viral, serving a TikTok community searching for answers. The Phoenix OB-GYN, who's on the app as @alirodmd, deploys her expertise in fun, humorous videos that have gained her over 1.4 million TikTok subscribers, 61,000 Instagram followers, and 10,000 YouTube subscribers.
“Once the pandemic hit in March, I was studying for my board exam and TikTok had boomed,” Rodriguez says. “I thought, I’ll post my own videos and see if people respond to it.”
She had been on TikTok a little over two months when, in June 2020, she posted a video answering a question she's heard frequently: Do women poop when they’re in labor? “The answer is yes. Everyone poops when we have a baby,” Rodriguez says. “It’s completely normal.”
She posted the video at night, watched a movie with her husband, Cory, and then went to bed. The next morning, she woke to 100,000 followers. (That video now has more than 5 million views.)
“It was surreal,” says Rodriguez.
Born in Puerto Rico, Rodriguez and her family moved to the United States when she was 3 years old. She studied as an undergrad at the University of Arizona, then moved back to Puerto Rico for four years of medical school. For another four years, Rodriguez completed an OB-GYN residency at the University of Oklahoma.
She’s since moved to Phoenix where she practices. Occasionally, patients will seek her out because they know her from TikTok.
“The first time it happened, I walked in and they said, 'Oh my God! We follow you!' I almost got a little shy,” says Rodriguez.
As her following grew, questions poured into her DMs, usually from young girls, wondering about their period or their bodies. It gave Rodriguez an opportunity to talk about the dangers of sending pictures online (and remind followers that she can't give medical advice with a full evaluation).
“The problem is, a lot of people will message me for personal medical advice,” she says. “All of these young girls send me pictures, and this is not okay. You cannot be sending images like that to anyone."
Rodriguez hopes that her videos shed light on sensitive topics and help get rid of the stigma surrounding sex talk or sexual education.
“Between the U.S. and Puerto Rico, it’s still very lacking. You have your one class in fifth grade where they show you scary pictures of STDs,” says Rodriguez “At least, that’s what I remember in middle school, which is not a great way to teach sex.”
Rodriguez also reaches the Latinx community by creating content in English and Spanish.
“Growing up as a Latina, it’s almost worse," she says. "We just sweep it under the rug. You have your sex talk from your parents and you don’t ask questions, you don’t talk about things openly. It's almost a big cultural thing.”
The biggest shocker to Rodriguez is just how little the general public knows about sexual health. Every day, her messages are bombarded with questions sometimes as simple as, "How do I use a tampon?" Or, "Why am I experiencing pain during intercourse?" Or, "Do women pee and give birth from the same hole?"
“We need to be better about teaching, especially our younger generation,” says Rodriguez. “I’m hoping someone who stumbled across my page would feel educated but also empowered to ask more questions.”
Adjusting to social media stardom was challenging and rewarding for Rodriguez. “I’ve had to learn a lot very quickly,” she says, which she's done by watching videos, reaching out to other content creators, and going through analytics.
Now she works with TikTok on The Creator Educator (@thecreatoreducator), helping the platform in their educational content. She’s also worked with Tampax to show women how to properly use a tampon.
Rodriguez sees TikTok as a creative outlet and recognizes the purpose she brings within a world of misinformation or lack of education. And by speaking openly about sex on her videos, Rodriguez hopes to encourage her audience to do the same.
“Whenever patients come to see me, a lot of them feel nervous, anxious, embarrassed, and sometimes shameful,” she says. “But, it’s a judgment-free zone. I want to encourage women to speak openly and honestly because we’re there to help you.”
To learn more about Dr. Ali Rodriguez, visit her website.