The Soapbox: Stop Humiliating People For Their Sex Practices Online
For as long as we’re aware of other people’s dirty bits and sexual desires, we’re aware of how funny it can be to talk about them. My niece, for instance, thinks that “butt” is the funniest word in the English language. But she’s six. The grown-up version of “Ha ha, butt!” are those conversations — either whispered sotto voce or way-too-loud after a few too many cocktails — about other people’s personal lives, particularly the parts we’re not supposed to know. She did what? He wanted to put his thingy where? Oh my God. EW.
I’m not above finding the TMI details of other people’s private lives fascinating. Or sharing my own. Hey, the dude who wanted to lock me inside a dog cage and pee on me makes for an interesting story. (Hopefully he has found someone less claustrophobic to fulfill that pecadillo.) It satisfies the same morbid curiosity that wants to see celebrity nude pics. We want to know what other people are packing, I suppose so we can compare it against ourselves.
But there’s a point where a line needs to be drawn. It needs to be drawn hard. We need to stop posting people’s real-life personal, private, sexual information on the Internet for the purpose of mocking or shaming them.
I’m referring specifically to a post that ran on the gamer blog Kotaku right after Christmas called “Welcome To The Best Of Craigslist Crazies. You’ll Need Your D&D Books And Adult Diapers.” The post by blogger Patricia Hernandez pulls “eyebrow-raising” Craigslist postings, presumably from the personals section, that “sound too awesome or too crazy to be true.” The examples Hernandez pulls are all related to gaming, given Kotaku’s focus, and came from “a Craigslist reader-nominated compilation of the best ads on Craigslist.”
There’s some tame ones, like a woman who wants to get fucked while playing World Of Warcraft. There’s also more extreme stuff, like the guy who is an adult baby who wants to act like a bratty little kid in public, get yelled at by his mommy, and then have his diaper changed.
Who the hell knows whether this stuff is fake. It might be, it might not be. (I learned a long time ago that real life is crazier than fiction.) But that’s not the point: the point is that if it is real, it makes me extremely uncomfortable that these people are genuinely looking to fulfill their admittedly-strange sexual desires and are getting laughed at on the Internet.
Last week, I wrote about the Tumblr blog Nice Guys Of OK Cupid and how wrong I think it is that men’s photos are being pulled off the online dating site and juxtaposed online with lines from their profiles. Admittedly, some of the men sound like assholes. They bitch and moan about how all women are sluts but then say that they’re really a “nice guy.” Or they say that kindness and compassion is the most important thing in a partner and then they say they’re against same-sex marriage. The intention of the blog — which I’m assuming its authors think is noble — is to expose hypocrites and jerks.
But it’s really fucking mean-spirited: reposting these men’s photographs without their permission goes way too far in shaming people. I’m not sure that I believe shaming people will change behavior rather than drive it further underground, i.e. teach people how to hide it better. My particular concern is about how Nice Guys Of OK Cupid will impact what dudes reveal about themselves online, especially their sexual pecadillos that aren’t up to snuff according to whomever is doing the shaming. Particularly, in my case, I care about what kinky dudes reveal about themselves online. The Nice Guys blog posts quotes and questionnaire answers from men’s profiles that make them sound like assholes, but they’re all answered out of context. There are some questionnaire answers that could land a dude a position of public mockery on the Nice Guys blog — like, say, “Do you believe men should be head of households?” — which don’t seem fair to me. Maybe this guy is a patriarchal douchebag. Maybe this guy is a dominant whose into taking his dominance outside the bedroom by leading his family. We don’t really know. There’s another question about whether “No means no” and whether it might be “a yes in disguise.” Some kinksters wouldn’t interpret “no” as actually meaning “no” because there’s a safeword. Maybe the guys who answer these questions are rapists. Maybe they’re guys who like to play around with dominance. Again, we don’t really know what these men are thinking when they post these answers online because they’re hand-selected and presented out of context without any explanation.
I think that sucks for all of us who could have our online dating profiles posted elsewhere for public mockery and shame. These men reasonably expected to have personal, sexual stuff that they posted online kept private; at least a similar Tumblr called OK Cupid Enemies blurred everyone’s faces to preserve anonymity. You think getting totally exposed couldn’t happen to you? Why couldn’t it? What if someone decides to make a blog called Bitches Of OK Cupid? Or Sluts Of OK Cupid? Or Psychos Of OK Cupid? There’s stuff in my profile that could probably land me on all of these blogs, if presented a certain way. I understand that I control what information and photos that I post about myself online. If I wouldn’t be comfortable seeing it plastered on the front page of The New York Times, maybe I shouldn’t put it online at all. Yet that’s what online dating websites and sites like Craigslist are for: finding some other weirdo who thinks you’re the cat’s pajamas. We shouldn’t have to self-edit out of fear of not being exposed — and if a guy really is a misogynist bag of dicks, don’t you want him to clearly state that in his profile so you can avoid him?
I can’t imagine how I would feel if someone posted my online dating profile, or my FetLife profile (FetLife is a social network for kinksters to meet each other, have discussions and plan events), onto their blog. Amelia once told me that I’m one of the most self-accepting people she knows. I’m probably less ashamed about my sexual desires than a lot of people and still I’d feel terrified that I’d be misunderstood and labeled a freak or a pervert. And I’m one of the lucky ones: because I’m a sex writer, my bosses and co-workers know about (most) of my weirdo pecadillos. So does most of my family. But if I wasn’t “out” about my fetishes or so self-accepting of the ways I’m not like other folks in bed?
Internet culture will never do away with laughing at other people’s quirks. Sex will always sell. People who go to bed with writers (ahem) will expect to wake up with shit written about them. But the ethical thing to do is draw a line at how we expose other people’s private, sexual stuff on the Internet that they clearly, intentionally want to keep private.
If it was wrong for Rutgers student Dharun Ravi to spy on his roommate Tyler Clementi with a man and broadcast that information over his social networks — leading Clementi to commit suicide — I don’t see why it’s acceptable for the rest of us, either.
[Image: Think Stock]