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Why is dating advice on TikTok so sexist — and so bleak?

Self-described “dating experts” on TikTok are pushing advice that’s both regressive and depressing.

A drawing of a 1950s-era young man and woman sharing a fountain soda.
A lot of people on TikTok’s idea of a perfect relationship, apparently.
Getty Images/CSA Images RF
Rebecca Jennings is a senior correspondent covering social platforms and the creator economy. Since joining Vox in 2018, her work has explored the rise of TikTok, internet aesthetics, and the pursuit of money and fame online. You can sign up for her biweekly Vox Culture newsletter here.

Everyone has someone on the internet whose content they consume despite disagreeing with pretty much everything that person has to say. Some refer to this practice as hate-watching, but I actually love the woman who’s constantly showing up on my TikTok feed: Her name is Shera Seven, and she instructs women how to marry rich.

Alternatively known as the “sprinkle sprinkle” lady, Shera Seven is a YouTube livestreamer who gives advice to frustrated single women. What kind of advice? When a lady asks what zodiac sign to avoid while dating, Shera warns her, “The negative bank account sign. The minus sign.” “Sprinkle sprinkle” refers to what can only be described as her catchphrase: Every time she dispenses a nugget of wisdom or a particularly witty dig at an angry man in her comments section, she’ll end it with “sprinkle sprinkle.”

An example: A woman asks her, “Are 22-year-olds trustworthy?”

Her reply: “No man is trustworthy. Sprinkle sprinkle.”

Shera is among the funniest people on the internet, the rare type to possess the quickness and comedic timing of a hardened standup without the humiliation of actually having to have done it. Over the course of a decade, Shera (real name Leticia Padua, according to her Instagram; she didn’t return my DM asking for an interview) has amassed nearly half a million YouTube subscribers. Since she started posting clips of her streams to TikTok in the spring of 2023, she’s grown to nearly 700,000 followers. Her videos regularly receive millions of views, with titles like “How to get money from a man instantly,” “How to get $5,000 by the second date,” and “Men like toxic women.”

Herein lies the paradox of Shera Seven: As hilarious as she is, she is also part of a wave of arguably regressive and deeply nihilistic “dating experts” currently taking over TikTok. A scroll through the hashtags #datingadvice, #datingcoach, and #datingexpert will reveal hundreds of these authorities, with many lauding their credentials (a BS in psychology, for example) to spew advice for heterosexual singles. Not all are created equal; some are more blatantly gender essentialist than others (when men “provide,” women will naturally “submit,” etc.), some cloak their beliefs in New Ageisms like “embracing the ‘divine feminine.” Some simply read self-help books from the ’90s and 2000s to their followers, favoring titles like Why Men Love Bitches, The Rules, and Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus; some of these books have become so popular on TikTok they’ve returned to the bestseller lists decades after they were first published. They’ll tell women not to “chase the man” or sleep with him too early, to lose weight before they start dating, that “your silence is your strength.” Most frame their perspectives as “telling it like it is” or “hard truths” pushing back against feminist — which is to say, equal — dating norms.

None of this is new. (It is, in fact, very old.) But by tailoring their content specifically to TikTok, these self-proclaimed experts gain views by saying controversial statements in the first few seconds of the video, knowing they’ll drive engagement whether or not their commenters agree. They’ll film themselves in high-definition or in what appear to be professional podcasting studios (sometimes when they aren’t even on a podcast) and pepper their worldviews with jargon that has the veneer of legitimacy or authority.

A popular way of describing ideal partners, for instance, is terms like “high value man” or “high value woman.” A “high value man” might mean a traditionally masculine man who makes a lot of money. A “high value woman,” on the other hand, is a woman who is, at the bare minimum, hot, but also possesses a laundry list of other qualities that make her “wife material,” from dressing modestly to not being “ran-through,” meaning she hasn’t had sex with very many people, to being financially independent and educated — but not too educated and financially independent so as to intimidate the man.

You might not be surprised that much of this advice is also explicitly anti-sex work and anti-women-having-sex-in-general. Dating advice from Sadia Khan, a Pakistani television actress and psychologist, is all over the TikTok dating advice circuit, shaming women who don’t dress modestly or who post sexy pictures of themselves. “The girl who’s doing OnlyFans, these men are not going to come to your funeral. No one’s gonna care,” she says in one video. Ask Nelly, the self-proclaimed “number one dating coach for high value singles” who has nearly 800,000 TikTok followers, made a recent video captioned “High value men don’t wife pole dancers.”

“High value singles” dating coach Ask Nelly.
TikTok/@ask.nelly

If this all sounds adjacent to someone like Andrew Tate, the proudly misogynist influencer beloved by middle school-aged boys and currently awaiting trial for rape and human trafficking, it’s not entirely unrelated. There are plenty of content creators on TikTok spewing explicitly anti-feminist dating advice, among them Pearl Davis, the 26-year-old reactionary who caters to the manosphere and models her content after people like Tate or Ben Shapiro. But for the most part, TikTok dating experts say they do the opposite: By telling viewers not to settle for less than what they deserve, they claim they’re actually empowering women. Shera herself has been jokingly dubbed “the female Andrew Tate” by her commenters, though this is less because she espouses hatred for women but because she calls for a battle-of-the-sexes approach to dating: Men will disappoint you, so you might as well use them for their money.

The fact that these videos are gaining so much traction is a pretty clear repudiation of the way most young people date now, by using dating apps to endlessly swipe through singles, often dating several people at once. Apps have gamified dating, encouraging people to continue looking for someone “better” no matter who they’re seeing. The result often leaves people feeling disposable, and consequently, they feel entitled to dispose of others. After years of swiping, people report losing their sense of how to talk to strangers and flirt with potential partners in real life. They’re burnt out but feel like they can’t log off out of the fear they’ll miss meeting “the one.” And they’re particularly frustrated with the dating app companies themselves — which is to say the virtual monopoly that is Match Group, which owns Tinder, Hinge, Match.com, OkCupid, and others — a company that has allowed known sexual predators to use its apps. Though they have been shown to create more diverse couples by matching people who may not have met through existing social networks, dating apps are also very good at making people forget that the photos they’re seeing on a screen are actually attached to a person on the other end. They make it easier, in other words, for us to treat each other as less than human.

Disillusionment with endless swiping plus the growing divide between single and partnered people’s finances make the worldview offered by TikTok dating coaches even more tempting to buy into. As Kimberly McIntosh notes in the Guardian, young women, burnt out from go-nowhere jobs, wage stagnation, and the cost-of-living crisis, are hungry for alternative ways to find a partner that might make those economic and personal strains more bearable. “The thought of a wealthy man coming over the horizon to save me from overwork and a dirty flat, however regressive that thought is, was more tempting than the long-term solutions I really needed: rest, therapy and, failing that, antidepressants,” she writes.

@rikkidymond

Feminine energy is what’s missing in dating & relationships! #feminineenergy #femininewoman #femininewomen #datingadviceforwomen

♬ original sound - Rikki D

“This is why the sprinkle sprinkle woman is so popular right now,” tweeted writer Kimberly Nicole Foster on a video of singer Jidenna explaining how he’d “robbed some women of their baby-making years, dragging them along” and manipulating them. “After you hear enough stories like this, it makes perfect sense why so many women would opt for romantic relationships that are primarily transactional,” she wrote.

There is another possibility, which is that perhaps people’s views on gender roles are a bit more complicated than they tend to report. Ellen Lamont is a professor in Appalachian State University’s sociology department who studies how gender shapes the way we date. Her research suggests that even socially liberal singles who say they want equal partnerships in marriage often view their ideal dating lives as more conventionally gendered — the man pays on the first date and is generally the pursuer, for instance. “People don’t enact their values very well,” she says, “But we do have pretty strong feminist narratives out in the world, and I think people like the idea of being fair and equal.” Most women Lamont interviews, from her young college students to older conservative Baptist women in Appalachia, want to push back against the gendered roles they grew up with. “They’re saying, ‘No, we don’t want men like our dads. We want men who are caring, who help out, a husband who’s present for my kids, who’s emotionally in tune with himself.’”

The solution, though, is different depending on who you ask. What some people interpret as a fair and equal distribution of labor may or may not fall in line with gender roles. “When norms shift for how men and women are expected to behave, that creates a lot of anxiety for people,” Lamont explains. “These old norms feel safe and right, comfortable and romantic, and a lot of things like that swirl around, [of people] wanting to go back to a simpler time when they knew what was expected of them.”

The result, at least on TikTok, is a whole bunch of extremely retrograde, blackpill (nihilistic, in internet speak) advice pretending to be radical and interesting. It’s possible to argue that someone like Shera Seven, who instructs women to do everything they can to attract a wealthy man, is sending empowering messages to women about getting what they want. But her philosophy ultimately reduces women to sexual objects whose value decreases the less traditionally attractive they become. It’s depressing, in other words. It speaks to a swath of people who believe that no one will value them beyond what their gender determines they provide in a relationship. The question is: Why would anyone want to spend their life with someone who thinks this way about their partner?

Or, perhaps, the real question is: Why do I keep watching these videos even though I find this worldview extremely bleak? Probably for the same reason I watch any TikTok: as an escape from the equally bleak realities of life, where even when the content is bad or regressive or sexist, it’s at the very least extremely entertaining. “I’m not bringing nothing to the table, sprinkle sprinkle,” says Shera Seven in one of her best comebacks. “If you want a woman to bring something to the table, go to IHOP.”

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