“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Evelyn Beatrice Hall
Last night I had a book reading for Sex that Works. It was a small gathering as it is really hard to get people out of their cozy homes on a rainy Sunday evening. But inviting people who know me through social media isn’t an option to get the word out either – Facebook’s Zero Tolerance policy about anything sexual does not allow me to even mention the title of my book on our Facebook page. We can’t promote anything about many Good Clean Love products, either. Zero tolerance means exactly that – not a word, nor a suggestion about what it means to be human and sexual can be promoted on Facebook, or for that matter on any of the other social giants that are now effectively deciding for us what conversations we are allowed to have.
I have been writing for over a decade about the vast chasm between healthy sexual dialogue and the increasing surge of pornographic material that now consumes close to 40% of internet traffic. It is a complex, multi-layered conversation – which is why it took me a whole book to help readers understand that sexual freedom is different from sexual license, and being responsible for your own sexual needs requires bringing both courage and curiosity to understanding our pleasure response.
Providing both real information and permission to think about sexual health does not happen in tweets or sound bites and bears no resemblance to pornography. We all know that pornography is fiction, but many people (especially young people) use it as a primary form of sexual education. And while there are many valid arguments for the judicious use of porn in a relationship, if we allow porn to consume our sexual conversations and eliminate all of the other meaningful dialogue, we lose our capacity to make meaning of what it is to be human and sexual.
I have worked for over ten years to evolve our sexual health conversation and find these days that it is near impossible to accomplish it. Yet it is a dialogue that absolutely needs to happen for people to get beyond the traumas of this “Me Too” movement, where we have finally begun to wake up to and take ownership of the sexual abuses and disrespect that impacts all of us.
I know how hard it is for people to have authentic sexual conversations in real life – face to face, even in their bedrooms. I witness how difficult it is even for people to come out and “like” a sexual health brand. But now that these large platforms have made real conversations about what it means to explore sexual health and pleasure off limits, we are losing ground. A spiral effect occurs – the less real conversation that is available about what it means to be human and sexual, the more we turn to pornography and in turn this alienates us even further from our own real questions and distorts our understanding of our own sexuality.
It is an ironic turn that the platforms that we have given all of the most intimate details and images of our lives are now dictating all of the conversations we have, and specifically this most intimate conversation. Applying the practice of zero tolerance that you would stamp on sexual misconduct with no discernment about relevant sexual health dialogue makes no sense.
Recently, these social media giants came under scrutiny for their lack of judgment and discernment in the political arena. What does it mean for our personal lives when the conversations we are allowed to have are dictated by algorithms and keywords, rather than on our collective freedom to engage where we see fit? Figuring out how to dis-empower these social media giants that have transformed our personal communities into cash cows for their own profits matters not only for the safety of our collective political life, but for the sanctity of our most deeply personal life as well.