Better known to her 400,000 Instagram followers as @killerandasweetthang, 21-year old social media sensation Eileen Kelly is trying to transform the conversation around sex. With projects like online forum Birds.Bees, a sex ed app, and a live workshop series in the works, Kelly works to reach young people all over the country to kill taboos and redefine “the talk.”
YH: How did you first get interested in sex ed?
EK: The reason I started any of this is because I went to Catholic school, and I lived through the reality of what it’s like to not have sex education. I watched it ruin a lot of people’s lives. I started a Tumblr when I was 15 or 16. So I had this following that I gathered a few years ago, and I was like, “It’s not worth anything if I’m not doing something helpful.” I realized I could make my [online following ]into a career if I made it more specific. So I shifted my focus to sex and sex education. So I kind of just threw together my new site last April, and I didn’t think it would get this big or go where it went. I’m really happy.
YH: How did you build a following?
EK: On my first blog, I would talk about my first boyfriend and parties and this and that and answer questions honestly. Almost too honestly. And I joke about that. Because it was kind of before people were like, “No, really everything you put on the internet stays there forever.” But I don’t regret it because it got everything to where it is today. I think it was that rawness that kind of inspired me to start the blog and stuff and talk about questions that people normally don’t talk about, that are taboo and silenced. Now I’m open in a different way. I’m very specific about what I choose to be open about. I don’t think that’s a bad thing.
YH: How did you go about launching your new site?
EK: I really just met a coder one day, and I was like I want to start a blog. So we put up this website, then it kind of grew from there. Originally I wrote everything on the website, which was way too much for one person. So I took it down for two months and put out an application to have new writers. I can only share so much—what I’ve lived through as a white female—I can’t talk about feeling racially discriminated against because I haven’t lived through that. I can’t talk about what it’s like to be a gay guy and open up to my family. We have a group of eight writers now [of various] gender, sexualities, and races, and they share their stories of things I haven’t lived through. It’s important to make it more well-rounded, and I think that was a big thing for the website. People can connect to it better now… I didn’t want it to be “oh this is another blog about sex from some white girl.”
YH: Besides the intersectionality, what makes your blog a more relatable sex resource than others?
EK: It’s different because I feel like you go to your gyno, you go to your doctor, and you’re talking to someone who’s like fifty and went to medical school. And clearly they have information in a way that we don’t. But at the same time, it’s like, can you relate to that person? When I go in and talk to my gyno, am I telling the truth always about my sex life, or is there a generation gap? So I’m working to bridge that gap. We have these peer-to-peer stories that I think are useful on the site.
YH: Beyond you and your writers, who is involved with your site?
EK: We work with a doula, a professor at NYU, and a couple medical professionals that can answer questions from a medical standpoint.
YH: How will your work change now in light of the Trump administration?
EK: I think getting out all this information is more important than ever. I actually worked with some people and put out a zine recently called “Repro Rights,” and we talked about Trump’s election and how rights for women will change. It’s important for young people in middle and high school to look at something [that they can learn from]. A lot of people come to us saying “oh this is so cool” or “cute” on Instagram or this and that, but the actual information it is really important. We are trying to connect with young girls and guys who maybe come to the site for the wrong reason but then realize, “Oh, I can actually learn from this.” We work with Planned Parenthood, and some of our proceeds go there, too.
YH: Tell me about Birds.Bees. Where did that name come from?
EK: Originally, we were thinking of naming it Bees.Birds, kind of flipping them. But then I thought that was confusing and didn’t sound great. So we thought, why don’t we actually take the birds and the bees and redefine them? Because we use this terminology to keep things taboo and to not be fully honest with our children. Our ultimate goal was to open up conversations about sex. With Birds.Bees I wanted to create something similar to a Reddit-type forum.
YH: Who will use that? What’s your readership like?
EK: We find that the strongest response is from people in high school, people who are just experimenting with sex and hooking up.
YH: Do you feel like you’ve you formed strong relationships with readers?
EK: One hundred percent.That’s probably my favorite thing about the forum. I go on the forum all the time, at least twice a week, and read the comments from readers. What’s funny is how much these things have changed over the years even since I started my blog. Because of social media and Snapchat, I get questions that I didn’t have to deal with when I was in high school. Like, “This boy broke up with me, and I can see his new girlfriend on Snapchat or Instagram.” I think all my writers understand that, and we’ve lived through it, so we can relate to it in certain ways that parents or Cosmo can’t.
YH: Where do most of the hits come from?
EK: The majority of our readers live in New York, which is interesting. But we do have readers all over the world. We definitely get feedback from people from the Midwest and down South who are like, “We’re so glad we found your website because no one talks about this stuff here.”
YH: What are some of the other specific issues you try to tackle with your work
EK: I like to study abstinence-only education and the amount of government funding that goes into it. The majority of states take excess money from the government, even Washington state, which is funny because Seattle is so liberal. It’s been shown that abstinence only doesn’t work. In fact, kids in states with abstinence-only education have the highest rates of teen pregnancy and STIs. Especially down South and in the Midwest, STIs are on the rise.
YH: What projects do you have in the works?
EK: We’ve been putting out a monthly zine that you can download from our website. We work with different illustrators every time and make it really user-friendly. We did one on a healthy vagina. We did one on consent, which we’ll be launching in a few months. I’m working on [a series of] in-person workshops for the summer. A summer school-type thing. I’m working on launching an app, as well. Planned Parenthood has a similar app that they put out a few years ago where you can have a chat system [and] you can talk to a nurse or someone about what’s going on with you. I wanted to bring that to the website. It was really important to me. We want to reach more people.