Sex and Censorship: What Recent Attacks on Online Sex Discussions Have to Do With Your Blog
In the end the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it. It was inevitable that they should make that claim sooner or later: the logic of their position demanded it. Not merely the validity of experience, but the very existence of external reality was tacitly denied by their philosophy.
That's a quote from George Orwell's 1984. I quote it because I want you to imagine a world where there exists no freedom to think for yourself or question what you are told. It's difficult to do given that we live in a country that allows us to think for ourselves and speak freely. But humor me.
Got it? Perfect. Now I'm going to tell you three little stories.
THE ATTACK ON THE DISCUSSION OF PORNOGRAPHY IN A SOCIAL CONTEXT
Violet Blue is sex writer, activist and educator who, in response to a recent anti-pornography conference, created the website Our Porn, Ourselves, a resource destination founded on the belief that all women should have the right to choose whether they consume pornography or not and no single group should control what consenting adults can or cannot see. This site and its tenets, more than espouse pornography, espouse freedom.
Nevertheless, last month, Facebook decided to pull the plug on the 3,000-members strong Facebook page created for Our Porn, Ourselves, and sent Blue an e-mail citing the group's violation of its terms of service, which forbid pages that are “hateful, threatening, or obscene” and those that “attack an individual or group.”
On a post detailing the event, Blue indicates how vigilantly she curated the content of the page to prevent violations of Facebook terms:
I was very careful to police the page nearly hourly to keep the content strictly within Facebook's terms, as I knew the page was under scrutiny from anti-porn zealots (and I had been witnessing their underhanded tactics on the page to harass users since its inception). I immediately blocked anyone who tried to post pornographic content. I believe the page was an example of exemplary conduct in order to have a safe place in which women (and men) could talk about pornography in a socio-cultural context. I purposely wanted a work-safe, non-offensive destination for these discussions and to build women's community.
Blue went on to send Facebook a letter asking for an explanation behind the company's decision to remove the page, which pointed out that while this page did not violate the terms of Facebook, other pages by anti-pornography groups do threaten and and incite attacks on the members of this group.
At around the same time that this was happening, anti-pornography pages on Facebook exploded with praise to the social network for removing the offending page.
I am not a porn consumer, though some of my accounts detailing my encounters may be viewed as such. Regardless, I believe that we each should have the freedom to decide whether we wish to consume pornographic content or not. What anti-pornography activists see as the triumph of decency, I see as a corrosion of this freedom. Pornography is just a hop, skip and a jump away from erotica, from books and stories that dare to tell of people's sexual experiences, and anyone who doesn't fit their vision of what “decency” entails.
THE ATTACK ON THE DISCUSSION OF RESEARCH PERTAINING TO THE EFFECTS OF PORNOGRAPHY
At around the time that anti-porn activists were gearing up for the above-mentioned conference, I told a good friend of mine, Jason Goldman, a scientist at USC about some of their arguments. Being a man of inquiry, he decided to check out the literature on pornography and see whether these had any backing.
His post, created as a means to inform the world about the research that had been done on pornography, exploded within days with so many comments and attacks from various anti-porn activists that Goldman was forced to close the comments and eventually, unpublish the post. He's been on the web for some time, but blogging about animal cognition or science among peers leads to a different brand of discussion. Flame wars the likes of which we sex bloggers see are not part of the everyday for him.
After much thought, he republished the piece, stripped to the bare bones of the science it initially offered. He chose to maintain the comments section closed.
Once again, anti-pornography groups had succeeded in taking away an individuals right to opine by the use of attacks, and completely closed whatever conversation could have emerged by bombarding the comments section with so much unintelligible hatred as to make it impossible to truly engage like a civilized community.
THE ATTACK ON ALTERNATIVE, COMMUNITY-ORGANIZED SEXUAL EDUCATION
Even earlier this year, a conference project seeking to get community members across the nation involved in an open dialogue about sexuality (including alternative sexuality such as BDSM) called KinkForAll came under attack by members of an organization called Citizens Against Trafficking, whose target is not so much addressing human trafficking as it is eradicating any sort of sexual dialogue.
The organization, led by women studies professor Donna M. Hughes, wrote members of its organization a six-page message that so focused on MayMay*, one of the co-founders of the conference, as to border on character assassination. Among the list of baseless allegations pertaining to MayMay, were a few concerns leveled against the conference:
The open and unstructured format of a KinkforAll event is dangerous because it encourages outsiders to attend, mingle, and speak anonymously with young people about unhealthy sex and violent sexual practices. These conditions offer an open invitation for sex offenders to attend, potentially placing both participants and the entire local community, especially children, at risk.
MayMay addressed these concerns in a post and asked the opposition to engage in a civilized dialogue about the conference and any other issues they may have.
To date, there has been no response. In this instance, the opposition sought only to spread panic by discrediting the conference and its co-founder.
The above are only three examples. I have more. But I don't need more. This isn't so much about individual grievances as it is about the attempts to actively deny the freedoms of speech and assembly by groups and individuals who do not agree with what another group has to say.
That is what is at stake here. This isn't an issue of us versus them, morality versus indecency, conservatives versus liberals, believers versus atheists. This is a matter of freedom to speak, freedom to congregate, freedom to learn about ourselves and to share that knowledge. That's what this country stands for and it's essential that those of us who believe in these tenets take a stance against those seeking to oppress them.
I mentioned 1984 at the beginning of the post not to take an alarmist stance, but to point out that we do not live in a world like that one. In this country, we can think for ourselves and opine freely. I mentioned it because I want to remind you to use this right as often as possible.
I'm not saying we all need to run to the frontlines of the sexuality debate, though I applaud all those who fearlessly stand their ground there. That may not be for you, and I respect that. What is for you is this right that those of us living in democracy do have: the right to think for ourselves and to express our thoughts. What I ask you, therefore, is that you question.
Question the attacks leveled against others. Question the reports in the media. Question those who question, too. Don't take everything you see or hear as truth. Dig deeper. Make your own conclusions. Form your own opinions. Educate where you can – but above all, respect the opinions of others.
And, yes, think of the children -- that is, think about what you do when a child disagrees with someone. Do we tell them to make their points by attacking the dissenting opinion or by crafting an argument that is valid and useful?
Fostering dialogue is the greatest tribute we can pay to the First Amendment. Attacking with the intent to silence is the greatest disservice to it.
OF POSSIBLE INTEREST
The sex-negative strategy is composed of two major stages, each with its own primary tactic. First, scare; second, confuse. Both tactics are wielded against institutions (a political party, universities, medical associations, etc.) and individuals (activists, celebrities, researchers, journalists, etc.). Through simple ignorance, over-eager sensationalizing, or intentional misreporting in the worst cases, journalists distributed fear-based messages that had parents scared about the well-being of their children, children unwittingly cast in the horrific role of untrustworthy miscreants, and sex-positive adults as ... child exploiters.
Dissecting Decontextualization by MayMay:
Having examined how the sex-negative “scare” tactic is perpetuated, let’s look at the pernicious “confuse” tactic. This tactic relies on an audience not to fact-check, as it includes outright lying, omitting important facts (“de-contextualizing”), and even creating false contexts. In this way, the tactic is identical to Andrew Breitbart’s famous example: take the facts, strip them of context, and present them in as emotionally charged a way as possible.
On Being Anti Anti-Porn by Elizabeth Wood:
It is important to counter the moral panic and situate porn among the widely accepted rights to privacy and to personal autonomy, and the somewhat less widely accepted right to freedom of sexual expression. Statements like those made above need to be challenged not as a debate with the speakers, but instead so that the public gets real information.
Citizens Against Pleasure and Health by ninjanurse:
There’s no contradiction between sexuality and health. There’s nothing wrong with sex education. I’m not advising Dr. Hughes to march on over to that big video store on Allens Avenue, but it seems she opposed a woman-owned business that is dedicated to education and empowerment. Why? What’s the threat? Strange Bedfellows– one of the arguments against arrest as rescue is that putting people outside the law leaves them more vulnerable and invites corruption.
The SexEd Warrior Queen by Tracey Minkin:
After signing a lease for her fledgling nonprofit in May, Andelloux, a proponent of sex workers’ rights, decided to testify at a June State Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on eliminating Rhode Island’s statewide law allowing indoor prostitution. “I was terrified to testify,” she says. “But I felt some advocates were confusing trafficking with sex work, so I went.” Andelloux signed up to speak, lost her nerve and scratched off her name. “Then this woman stood up and said, ‘We need to stop sex…no…we need to stop sex trafficking.’ I thought this is a complete fear of sexuality. So I put my name back on. I thought, even if my voice shakes, I can go up.”
* MayMay has asked that I use his username instead of his full name for this article, though this is readily available on his own website maymay.net.
AV Flox is the editor of Sex and the 405 -- what your newspaper would look like if it had a sex section.