In the final installation of my post series beginning with thoughts on how information is not an invitation and how it’s possible to sexually harass sex educators, I’ll talk about why it’s not just graphic sexual materials that are problematic.
We all know, as denizens of the internet, that it’s impolite to send dick pics. Nobody should receive unsolicited graphic sexual imagery. Yes, many of us are sex-positive, and we don’t see a reason to shame these practices or the people doing them… but it’s still not something one should engage in, outside a specific audience (e.g., people asking to see said dick pics, or vulva pics, or whatever).
My point in this post, though, is that sending something containing erotically explicit verbal content is also invasive and impolite, potentially to the point of being considered harassment. Further, sharing sexual materials in words rather than pictures is like taking a dick pic of your brain, since it’s highly personal and often more about the sender’s agency than that of the receiver.
This could be include erotica, or someone’s detailed sexual fantasy, or anything along those lines, if it’s posted online or sent to you without a framing text to be like “hey, this is explicit, do you want to read this?” I take special issue with material like this being conveyed intentionally from person to person, because in my mind, being able to consent to see/hear this stuff is really important. Like, occasionally I’ll be on a pre-coaching call (a 20-min free “get to know you before working together” chat) and someone wants to go into explicit detail about a fantasy they want me to help them to fulfill. It’s inappropriate, and since I’m not actually being paid to work with this person yet, it’s presumptive and icky. Or someone will send me erotica they’ve written, without checking first to see if I consent to see that kind of material. The good news is, if it’s someone I know, I can point out why it’s inappropriate and we can repair the friendship/acquaintanceship/whatever. If it’s someone I don’t know very well, it’s not always worth the effort.
I think the verbal materials are in some ways worse than just the visual materials, because of how recounting a specific fantasy (sometimes involving me) is a strategy to incorporate me into someone’s fantasy life, and then further make sure I know about it. I see it as a way of colonizing someone’s brain space. And again, I don’t want to respond with shame, since that’s no good as an educational tool… but I do want to remind people, that the whole basis of sex positivity and consent is that we all have the right to choose how much we engage with sexual material, once we’re above a certain threshold of an educated society knowing how babies are made, how STIs are transmitted, and so on. Since I work with sexuality, I often don’t want to have to encounter it in my off times, which is another reason why it can be unpleasant for someone to insert verbal sexually explicit materials in what is otherwise just a conversation between acquaintances, internet friends, and so on.
Incidentally, this is why I strive to keep my sex educator persona online pretty tame. My blog post titles don’t always have the names of genitals or sex acts in them, even when they’re about those topics, so that if someone shares a link or clicks “like” on Facebook, you’re not immediately confronted with that stuff if you don’t want to be. Yes, I blog and tweet a lot about sex… but that can stay general knowledge in your mind. I’m not trying to specifically colonize people’s brains with specific sexual knowledge, unless I’m on an activist kick about, say, greater acceptance of LGBTQ folks or the importance of access to contraception and abortion as public health and medical concerns. But little of that has to do with particular sexual acts or explicit imagery (and if you’re offended by the mere thought of a gender-non-conforming person or sexual minority, you’re exactly the kind of person I need to reach with my educational and activist outreach!).
So. While I’m sure there are people out there who would be delighted to see the erotic materials springing forth from your skull, like Athena from Zeus’s head, the only way to make sure is to ask. Don’t just assume we’re cool with it, because that’s the equivalent of sending a dick pic of your brain, and that is impolite if not outright harassment, even (especially) if you know we work with sexuality materials.