Information Is Not An Invitation

Public domain image from an 1853 publication about the characteristics of women. I chose this image for this post because she looks like she’s forced to put up with annoying things.

There are two fantastic blog posts out there that are reminders to readers on the internet that just because someone openly blogs about their life, doesn’t mean you know them.

The first is A Friendly Reminder That You Don’t Know Me by Ella Dawson; the second is A Less Than Friendly Reminder That You Don’t Know Me by Crista Anne. And now I’m adding my own voice to the conversation, with this post, one on how yes it’s possible to sexually harass a sex educator, and one on sending dick pics of your brain.

What do all three of us have in common? We’re sex educators, we’re women, we’re highly vocal on the internet… and as a result, we all have to deal with some amount of harassment from people who assume that the amount of information we put out there is an invitation to make contact, sometimes with an implied high degree of intimacy.

As Dawson writes:

I am a woman who talks about her vagina on the Internet and that gives strange men the mistaken impression that they know me. They don’t. I sustain a steady stream of snarky observations on Twitter and that gives strange men the mistaken impression that I want to hear from them. I don’t. I post a lot of selfies and that gives strange men the impression that I am asking for their praise. I’m not. A woman doing her own thing on the Internet is like a woman doing her own thing at a bar: sometimes she wants to chat with strangers, but that “sometimes” is rarely, if ever, and probably not at all.

Granted, I talk less about my vagina on the internet, since part of my claim to academic legitimacy hinges on my ability to pretend that I’m a disembodied brain. But I do talk a bit about my relationships, about my own sex ed learning moments, and so on. But since I talk about sex and relationships in general, sometimes people assume that I want to hear about their sex and relationships. In great detail. Unsolicited.

Crista Anne adds her voice to the conversation, and I’ll quote her at length because what she writes is just so damn good:

Connecting, sharing, interacting with people across the internet is still something that I love. Something that I want to continue to do for the rest of my days. What I want everyone to understand though is that unless we get to close friends – you don’t actually know me. You may think you do, but my experience has been that the person you think I am is far more a projection of who you want me to be than my actual self.

You see snippets of who I am and those snippets are authentic. These authentic snippets are not the full picture of who I am. There are very, very few people who I can honestly say know me well. As much as I do love to connect via shared experience, very much of myself is private and not for public consumption.

Being an openly sexual person, a pleasure revolutionary, an activist passionate about a wide array of topics about sexuality does not mean I owe you anything. I do not owe you selfies. I do not owe you nudes. I do not owe you the time or mental space to deal with unwanted sexual advances. I do not owe you answers about my life beyond what I share. Allow me to repeat I do not owe you anything.

If you are friendly, respectful, and treat me like a human being in online interactions there is a very high chance that I will respond in kind. There is a very good chance that we’ll form a friendly relationship. I love people. I do not love being treated like an object that exists solely for someone’s sexual fantasy. There are people who do enjoy that, please direct your attention to them and respect my boundaries.

While I’m a bit finicky about categorizing certain interactions as more authentic than others, what she says really resonates with me: my public web personas are not the same as my private personas, just because I blog about sex doesn’t mean I am putting myself out there to be hit on, and connecting with someone on the internet doesn’t mean I want to continue that connection much further IRL. Yes, I love to chat and connect intellectually with people; I love the emotional resonance that comes with recognizing shared experiences.

But the fact that I share information about my life as part of my educational mission does not mean I am inviting people into my life in any substantial way. If I am, you’ll know, because I use my words in a clear concrete way when communicating. Until then? Please don’t assume that information is an invitation.

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