Molly-Margaret Johnson got home from work one night with a strange feeling down there. She reached into her underwear—and, five seconds and a few fingers later, pulled out a condom. Mortified, she threw away the offending item and texted the guy.
Then she posted about the whole ordeal on Instagram.
Johnson doesn’t like dealing with vagina problems in private. “There were no resources to help me feel better [about my vaginal-health problems],” she explained to Ms. “I was just really craving a personal situation, and you know what they say: ‘If it’s not made, make it.’”
And so she did. In November of 2017, Johnson launched her Instagram page, @whatswrongwithmollymargaret, titled at the time “What’s Wrong With My Vagina.” Today, the 26-year-old has more than 41,000 followers.
The account is a thought catalogue of semi-nude photos, sex-positive mantras and snapshots of vaginal-care products like menstrual cups and salves. In her captions, followers can find short stories, how-to guides on menstrual care and poetic musings on sexuality and relationships.
Johnson had been toying with the idea of WWWMM long before she launched it, but it wasn’t until the perfect cocktail of recurrent yeast infections, bacterial infections and vaginal cysts landed her in the hospital that she finally created the page. She had considered a YouTube channel, an app, even a podcast—but as an Instagram-loving millennial the photo-centered platform seemed like the best fit.
All she needed was a name. “I tried on a few titles, trying to think of something sexy or funny, but nothing was grabbing me,” she remembered. “I was in that 2 a.m., WebMD click hole trying to self-diagnose vagina problems when I googled, ‘what’s wrong with my vagina?’ and I laughed out loud. This is the thesis… I can’t be the only one searching for this.”
The page has evolved over time: When WWWMM first started, Johnson asserted, it was “too wholesome and removed,” nothing more than a tips-and-tricks blog. Today, the page is anything but impersonal: In addition to her mass-circulated posts and stories, Johnson offers her followers one-on-one attention and guidance.
This generally takes place over DM: Johnson’s followers slide in and ask her for advice on personal matters, and, on an average day, she responds to about 75 of them. Sometimes, Johnson also offers 30-minute phone consultations that followers can book for about $40.
“It feels like catching up with an old friend,” said Johnson’s former classmate Emma Sullivan. “There used to be physical spaces like [WWWMM], like feminist bookstores in the ‘80s and ‘90s, where women congregated and talked… But in the online world, it’s faded. Pages like this are filling that space again, whether or not we’re aware of it.”
These messages and consultations can cover just about anything. Sometimes followers contact Johnson looking for guidance after unprotected sex. Sometimes they’re checking in to make sure everything’s “normal.” Sometimes they just need to talk. Sullivan, 23, DM’d Johnson after a doctor failed to implant her IUD. Other times, she messaged the page to talk through various friendship and relationship problems.
Johnson’s posts, stories, personal counseling and in-person fan “meet-ups” share one objective: keeping her followers away from the Internet’s self-diagnosis wormhole. But although Johnson tries to offer whatever advice and insight she can based on her experience, she’s also careful to warn followers that she’s not a doctor.
“My goal is to be a very personal WebMD,” she said as she puttered around her New York apartment during our phone interview one Saturday night. “I’m never going to guess on something… I’m just super authentic, clear and inclusive.”
That makes her page one of a handful of other Instagram-based health resources. “This account fills a need for people who don’t necessarily want medical help,” maternity concierge Hehe Stewart told Ms., “people who don’t know where else to go for information. That makes her more relatable. She’s not trying to be your doctor… I think a lot of people need the help she’s providing but also find comfort [from the page].”
Stewart follows similar accounts like @thevaginablog, @the.vagina.whisperer and @vaginatowntv, which function as forms of mental health care, alternative medicine and self-care. But Johnson’s is the only one she found that’s run by and for millennials who are dealing with unique social norms and stigmas.
But if Johnson’s work is Peak Millennial, so are its challenges. Whereas Margaret Sanger faced censorship at the hands of a puritanical set of laws, Johnson has faced down the infamous Instagram Ban. In July, her account was disabled with no notification for three days. Johnson never received an explanation for her temporary suspension, but the action fit into a larger trend of disabling sex education accounts for supposedly straying from Instagram’s community guidelines.
After regaining access to her page, Johnson changed the name of the account to the less provocative @whatswrongwithmollymargaret, according to her sister, Rosemary Johnson, who has followed the page since its inception.
Longtime followers like her have witnessed slices of Johnson’s life far more intimate than her lingering condom debacle: In the past six months alone, Johnson has shared, in real time, generous glimpses of her personal personal life—including devastating heartbreak, a scuffle with loneliness and her “terrifying and exciting” gay awakening.
In the two years since Johnson posted her first faceless, detached Instagram post, her account has evolved—but the at-home sex educator, who recently left her day job to pursue this work full-time, hasn’t changed her mind about what she wants to do.
“Instead of googling the f*ck out of it,” she declared, “come to me. Let’s solve this mano a mano.”