Bye-Bye Books: Unpacking the Shame to Censorship Pipeline - Securing Sexuality Podcast Episode 21
Securing Sexuality is the podcast and conference promoting sex positive, science based, and secure interpersonal relationships. We give people tips for safer sex in a digital age. We help sextech innovators and toy designers produce safer products. And we educate mental health and medical professionals on these topics so they can better advise their clients. Securing Sexuality provides sex therapists with continuing education (CEUs) for AASECT, SSTAR, and SASH around cyber sexuality and social media, and more.
Links from this week's episode:
Florida Censorship Laws - https://www.theguardian.com/books/2023/feb/09/ron-desantis-florida-education-censorship
Examining the Impact of Censorship on Access to Literature, Intimacy and Information Security, Florida Censorship Laws, and Low-Income Households and Books
In the digital age, relationships are increasingly taking place online, and this has led to a new set of challenges when it comes to exploring intimacy and information security. In particular, issues such as boundaries, consent, and S&M abuse have become more complex in a digital context.
This article will explore these topics in greater detail and examine how they intersect with information security. When it comes to exploring intimacy online, boundaries are an important consideration. Boundaries can be physical or emotional and they help define what is acceptable behavior between two people. It is important for both parties involved in any type of relationship to understand each other's boundaries so that everyone feels safe and respected.
This is especially true when it comes to intimate relationships that involve sharing sensitive information or engaging in activities such as sexting or cybersex. Without clear boundaries established beforehand, either party may feel uncomfortable or violated if their expectations are not met. In addition to establishing boundaries, consent is also an important factor when exploring intimacy online.
Consent means that both parties agree on the terms of their relationship before engaging in any kind of activity together; this includes activities such as sexting or cybersex but also extends to sharing personal information about each other's lives (such as addresses or phone numbers).
Without explicit consent from both parties involved, any kind of activity could be considered non-consensual and therefore abusive in nature. Finally, S&M abuse is another issue that must be addressed when discussing intimacy online.
S&M stands for sadomasochism which involves consensual power exchange between two people; however, there are instances where one person may take advantage of the other person's vulnerability by using coercion or force without their consent which can lead to psychological trauma for the victim(s).
It is important for those engaging in any kind of intimate activity online (including S&M) to ensure that all participants are aware of what they're getting into beforehand so that everyone feels safe and respected throughout the process.
The intersection between intimacy and information security can be a tricky one; however, by understanding how these topics intersect we can better protect ourselves from potential harm while still enjoying our relationships with others online safely and responsibly.
Establishing clear boundaries before engaging in any kind of intimate activity (including sexting or cybersex) is essential for ensuring everyone involved feels comfortable throughout the process; additionally obtaining explicit consent from all participants before sharing personal information about each other's lives helps ensure no one feels violated during the course of their relationship(s).
Finally understanding how S&M abuse works helps us identify potential warning signs so we can take steps towards preventing it from happening within our own relationships (or those around us).
Ultimately, by taking these steps we can create a safer environment for ourselves while still being able to explore our sexuality without fear of harm coming our way – either physically or emotionally – due to lack of knowledge about how these topics intersect with information security measures within a digital context.
Hello and welcome to Securing Sexuality, the podcast where we discuss the intersection of intimacy and information security. I'm Wolf Goerlich.
He’s a Hacker. And I'm Stefani Goerlich.
She's a sex therapist and together we're going to be discussing what safe sex looks like in a digital age.
Today we're talking about my favorite place, the library.
Oh, I love the library. Let me ask you a question.
What was your favorite library moment growing up?
That's actually really hard for me to answer. My grandmother was a librarian and I spent most of my summers with her. So I spent a lot of time between that, summers, and in school, winters and autumns. This is going to sound weird, but I think my favorite memory of the library, especially to people growing on the internet.
This is going to sound so strange, but the idea that you could have a book you liked, a nonfiction book, and you could find that book and all the books around it would be books you liked, right?
Because they're all organized by topic and I would just read through so much science, so much of those materials.
How about you?
What was your favorite memory?
So I went to a lot of schools growing up. I went to 12 schools, no, sorry, 13 schools in 12 years of education. And one of the things that was relatively consistent everywhere I went was the well-stocked library. But what comes to mind were these comic books that I found in the library, and I want to say second or third grade.
And I was trying to find them so that I could show them to you. And I think I found them. I think they're called pocket classics. But what they were were the Shakespearean plays turned into comic books. And I know today in the age of graphic novels that that doesn't sound innovative, but in the mid-80s, it really was. Nice.
So did you have a favorite?
I loved A Midsummer's Night Dream. I really liked Othello.
But what I liked most was the way that they made me feel, right?
Like you're the seven or eight year old kid in the school library and you're reading Shakespeare. And I felt so fancy and so grown up because it made it like this this high brow canonical foundation of Western literature really accessible to this, you know, eight year old kid that moved around a whole bunch.
It never really had a ton of friends because I never stayed in any school long enough to have a lot of friends. Books were my friends. And those those Shakespearean comic books really stick out in my mind as foundational for me. I love that. And books are great friends anyways.
But, you know, I have to ask because I imagine anyone's listening is asking. We have explored mailboxes as the epitome of sex tech.
Why are we talking about books today?
We're talking about books today because today is one of those times where we get to look at the news, look at each other and utter those horrifying words.
Have you seen what's happening in Florida?
You know, I couldn't sleep last night. I was up late reading the news. And when you woke up this morning, I looked at you and I said, we need to change our podcast lineup. We actually had a different episode lined up for this week.
In the middle of the night, I read this article about how because of the new laws around what is considered appropriate literature for children, school districts and schools are removing all the books from their shelves until every single one can be evaluated by a specialized person trained in what is effectively Governor DeSantis's personalized censorship list.
And those pictures of empty shelves and closed libraries just broke me in a way that I didn't think was possible. And I'm sure you're wondering, OK, that is sad. But same question.
What does any of that have to do with sexuality and technology?
I mean, the episode we had planned, we're going to talk about Section 230 and net neutrality and the importance of accessibility to information over the Internet when it comes to relationships, when it comes to really everything we talk about here and how censorship and control those areas can really have some negative impacts.
But wow, wow, those photos you showed me when I woke up, they're so sad, especially as someone who loved hanging out in the library as a kid. Yeah.
And then, you know, the sadness gets a step deeper because I wanted to understand what it was they were trying to censor. And I started looking at the actual language of these these requirements or restrictions, however you want to put it, that they've put in place. And it blew me away because, you know, I specialize in BDSM and kink practitioners. I specialize in erotic minorities.
What I don't specialize in anymore these days is working with kids. I have had exactly one client under the age of 18 since 2018. And it blew me away when I saw what the law was defining as harmful to minors and bear with me. I want to read part of it to you.
Any picture, photograph, drawing, sculpture, motion picture, film, video cassette or similar visual representation or image of a person or portion of the human body, which depicts sex nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, sexual battery, bestiality, or sadomasochistic abuse.
And I was like, wow, once again, my clients who are living their best lives in the privacy of their own homes and relationships are having their erotic identities, not weaponized against them this time but literally weaponized against their children. The language sadomasochistic abuse really hit me hard this morning as I was trying to understand those empty, sad, barren library shelves.
One of the things that concerns me too is how oftentimes think of the children, think of the children is used as either a way to roll out early stage roll out censorship and roll out, you know, anti privacy, and as well as roll back security protections.
You know, Bruce Schneier, if you guys are familiar with Bruce Schneier, very famous cryptographers written a number of books. I think his most recent is either Data and Goliath or Click Here to Kill Everybody. One of those two is one of those more of those ones. But Bruce Schneier very famous security person, one of my heroes, labeled this as the effectively the four horsemen of the information apocalypse.
He talks about it as child pornography, terrorists, drug dealers and kidnappers. And he has a quote that says that you can scare any public into allowing the government to do anything with those four, and it feels like that right oh this is for the children and yet we're completely removing access to a whole bunch of material.
And for the record, I have been working in this area for a very, very long time, including with child survivors of sexual assault. I think that there is children's literature about BDSM, or the kids are being exposed in their homes and in their school libraries to BDSM is in and of itself one of those sort of scaremongering horsemen that you're talking about.
But then for me it goes a step deeper even just in the language of the bill when they describe it as sadomasochistic abuse, they are describing it literally by definition as an abusive practice and that becomes one of those insidious words on a page that everybody is writing until the next legislature is writing the next piece of policy, and they use that language in other ways to maybe describe family court situations or divorce contest issues, framing it up in the law as abuse in a bill about children is so easily written to laws and bills and ideas about adults and I think that that is incredibly dangerous.
And obviously, taking on face value, you don't want to expose kids to things that they're not ready for. You don't want to expose kids to things that are not age appropriate. Absolutely not.
And, you know, back in the good days the pre Elon days of Twitter, I had a guide that I had written for how parents could respond to kids that were asking questions or acting in ways that might indicate that they were kink aligned or had some sensory issues that went beyond what was age appropriate.
And none of those tips involved talk to your children about BDSM and provide them with a kink education in middle school. That is not necessary in order to affirm a child's identity and to raise a sex positive child in a sex positive household.
What is necessary is not using shaming language or values language such as abuse, and one of the things that I think I've seen throughout all of these, have you seen what Florida's done next stories is the notion of shame and the ways in which people are being told that who they are is bad and who they are is wrong.
And when we take shame in an individual and start to create public policy around addressing shame or frankly reinforcing shame that inevitably leads to censorship of a whole bunch of things, including in this case, elementary school libraries.
I think that we're not talking enough right now about how to protect people from the shame they feel the shame they are made to experience around core elements of their identities, whether that's their erotic orientation their sexual orientation their gender expression. Right now we are living in a world of who you are and what you want is bad, it's wrong, it's broken.
And you should feel ashamed of yourself and in order to reinforce that we are going to forcibly remove you and remove representation of you from the public sphere and that is what is happening right now in Florida and I think it is heartbreakingly sad.
Well let's let's talk about representation I get the idea that any statement in law is going to be extrapolated and used in future law, right, I mean, how oftentimes do you listen to a court case and like as we saw in this, which was a president that I completely agree about not liking the language around sadomasochism and abuse. I would love it.
If Albert Fox Khan was on and if anyone's listening to this, those are last episode he was talking about the legalities of many of these types of concepts, which was here to help me understand and be better informed about that sort of thing but putting that aside for just a minute. Let's talk about representation.
I'm assuming that they don't have like the Marquis de Sade book, like two steps over from, so I like to be spanked right I mean, you know, frankly, we're talking about Shakespeare, and I'm meaning that very literally, obviously the first things that people bring up are the picture books that have been controversial forever. And Tango makes three, the book about the male penguins that adopted a baby chick and raised it together.
The book I am Jazz, that's the autobiographical picture book of a trans girl. These are titles that have been challenged in in schools around the country ever since they came out. But deeper than that, my comic books that I read in the 80s right like those those things that inspired my love of literature those things that made the classics accessible to a child.
A Midsummer Night's Dream includes depictions of bestiality bottom has a donkey's head when he and the queen of the fairies hook up. It has cross dressing in multiple stories. It has some pretty deeply implied homoerotic themes in many of the plays.
There are elements of kink in the spanking scenes and the taming of the shrew there are elements of critical race theory and how we read Othello, we are talking about standards that are written so broadly, that the only way to comply with the law is not just to remove beautiful necessary picture books like I am Jazz, but also the works of Shakespeare and a million other vitally important literary works that help inspire children and encourage children and motivate children and turn children into well rounded well educated functional adults.
As I'm talking to you and as the listeners listening they can't see what I see but of course I'm looking at you you're you're in your office and you've got racks and racks of books behind you you basically have a full library in and of itself in your office and I can see I'm going to say this though you want because I'll make you blush.
I can see some of the awards you've won for your books. I would not say that. I said you, I will say you don't have to. I get to brag about you. I have a serious question isn't it an exaggeration to say that you might not have become the reader and writer you are today. If you didn't have that early access to books and literature.
No I don't think that is an exaggeration. I was an only child who moved states and schools, not infrequently and books were how I learned about the world of books were what showed me lives and experiences and personalities and times and places that a middle school student or a lonely elementary school kid can't visit on their own. Books have been shown empirically to be necessary for empathy building and for emotional intelligence.
And when we're deprived of that we lose so much more than an individual story or a set of words on a page and I don't think I would be who I was now. If my comic book Shakespeare or any of the other things that I read growing up had been removed for my own protection.
Yeah I absolutely feel the same way although it wasn't Shakespeare for me it was here's how to build your first circuit and here's what a robot is and a whole bunch of geeky science stuff that was really appealing to the young boy and me. So I feel the same way but so I sort of I get the representation side.
The other thing I come back to is sadomasochism right again we're not talking like the Marquis de Sade.
Is there a child appropriate way to introduce that theme?
Is there a wholesome way to introduce that theme?
This is what I'm stuck on. I think those are two different questions. I personally do not think that the themes of power exchange or sensory exchange or power and control need to be introduced into children's lives.
I think that while it might be perhaps a little passe to say there is value in protecting the innocence of children and of letting them be kids and of answering their questions honestly, openly and without shame when they arise without necessarily creating opportunities for them to have questions.
I can't think of a single children's book fiction non health related what have you that touches on themes of BDS 7 kink and I am totally okay with that. There are lots and lots of good books that teach kids about bodily autonomy about physical development emotional health consent. Those are the lessons that kids need to get these days.
Those are all being well met by books that are currently being pulled out of libraries. And it's impossible to know right because they're removing everything these bookshelves are completely bare and that's just mind boggling to me. Another thing that's interesting to me is I get the idea of introducing themes at an age appropriate point.
I get your point about Shakespeare having these things but perhaps not explicitly having these things or maybe Shakespeare has been around so long that it gets a pass. But a lot of these same themes of course can be found in just about any of the the cultural touchstones of our lives I think of like Lord of the Flies and and all the survival tale books and those sort of things.
That is part of the problem with the way that these laws are written is that they are broad and vague, and they naturally inclined themselves towards a ruling against any particular book, particularly when we consider how punitive the laws are towards teachers and librarians who don't remove a book.
In Florida under this new law, they can be held criminally responsible if a parent finds a title in their library that they feel should have been removed and wasn't.
So they obviously have the set list of officially prohibited books, but there's also a lot of vagueness and a lot of wiggle room that leaves the door open to punishment and and censorship for people that made what they thought at the time was a well reasoned logical evaluation of a book.
In recent times, we've seen pop up stands right?
These are books are banned in your area, buy them here. But when all the books are gone.
Good Lord, you're not going to be replaced it, including the fact that, and this is a little bit tangent I do have a question when I ask you but including the fact that for low income households for a variety of different people.
People that just go out and buy 100 books is a little bit outside of the possibility there's a reason we have a library, there's a reason why libraries exist and there's a reason why they serve a common good. Incredibly frustrating. The other thing I want to ask you was the second word. S&M abuse.
Now I know that you give like workshops on this right?
You give workshops on trying to understand where things go from, from what a couple can do and should do if they're having a good time and they have acquired expectations to what crosses into abuse. When you're giving these workshops. This is a thing that people come to learn because it's not covered elsewhere which makes me think that the lay population may not be able to differentiate between those two.
That's a supposition on my point feel free to correct that. And in two, if the lay population can't differentiate it and if sex therapists and relationship therapists need the education, the jurist and the people who are reading these books and making these calls.
So, to put you on the spot, because we, we never plan these things out as well as we probably should to put you on the spot if you were to advise a jurist who's reading one of these books, or one of these people who's making one of these decisions on what constitutes abuse in that statement versus not, how would you differentiate that?
How would you give guidance so that Shakespeare stays in and Marquette Isad, you can tell reader and listener the one book I know, gets pushed out. You're right, I do do a lot of education on this topic because it is not an area that is typically covered in graduate mental health programs. It's not even typically covered in most sexual health programs for clinicians that are studying to be sex therapists.
We get a foundational hour or three about the basics of BDSM and kink, but differentiating between kink and abuse is very rarely if ever covered, and tends to feel like a gray area for a lot of people there, there's a lot of resistance to call out abuse at the fear that they might be called kink shaming.
And there's also times where things that look consensual might not feel so consensual to the people involved. Shout out to the Bueller Institute, I am actually doing this talk for them in the next month or two I'm doing a five part series and I don't remember which order this falls in.
But not only do I do this talk I am doing it soon and there's still space available so go to the Bueller Institute website if you're interested in this topic. This episode is sponsored by Stefani Goerlich. Go ahead. Perfection to her friend Stefani Bueller.
Are we seeing a process before whatever explicit or uncomfortable scene we're about to read, we encounter, are we seeing the characters the people talk about what's going to happen what they want what they don't. Are we seeing boundaries being set and being respected. In a particular story or movie or client scenario.
If somebody says no if somebody says wait if somebody says hold on if somebody says stop is the partner responding to that. Another huge one that I think we often undervalue and under appreciate is, does the scene does the story does the narrative reflect pleasure. And you easily tell that the people involved are having a good time. That doesn't necessarily mean are they having a sensation that would feel pleasurable.
But, are they described as enjoying it, are they using words that talk about pleasure and enthusiasm and responsiveness to whatever they're experiencing. We see pleasure when we see negotiation when we see boundaries being set and being respected, whether that's in literature or an everyday life.
Usually, often, we can err on the side of consensual kink abuse, whether it's happening in a BDSM dynamic or in an everyday vanilla relationship.
We don't see the person negotiating the severity or type of abuse somebody is going to experience the batterer the abuser makes those decisions and the victim simply bears the brunt and the the outcomes of those decisions boundaries are not respected and an abuser will not stop simply because their partner is crying and asking them to stop.
The person who is experiencing violence being perpetrated against them against their will does not enjoy that experience. And that is true, even if that person enjoys what could look like violent sensory play in other contexts. It is absolutely possible for kinky people to be abused. But somebody is a masochist does not mean that they want any kind of physical sensation at any moment from anyone. Abuse is possible within kink.
I don't ever want to say that it's not.
However, where we see pleasure, where we see negotiation, where we see boundary setting and boundary enforcement. We can often assume that the parties involved have consented to what's happening. And I think that those same easy criteria should be applied to literature as well. So think about those things. Think about what's age appropriate. Make sure that kids have full access to as much material that is age appropriate that does reflect healthy relationships.
So they can broaden their boundaries so they can get smarter. So they can hopefully become tomorrow's educators and writers. And be very conscientious when you hear, but it's for the children use because that's certainly one of the four ways that we're railroaded into supporting things that we shouldn't. And it's definitely a path on this link between stigma and censorship.
When we remove a book because we don't like the story it contains or the people it portrays, we are telling the children who see themselves in that book, that who they are is wrong, that who they are is unwanted and that they should be ashamed of their core sense of self. And no child deserves to go through life feeling that way. Absolutely.
So, yeah, thank you so much for tuning in to Securing Sexuality, your source of information you need to protect yourself and your relationships and your source for information about libraries. Libraries are the best. Securing Sexuality is brought to you by the Bound Together Foundation, a 501c3 nonprofit. From the bedroom to the cloud, we're here to help you navigate safe sex in a digital age.
Be sure to check out our website, securingsexuality.com for links for more information about the topics we discussed today, as well as our 2023 live conference in Detroit. And join us again for more fascinating conversations about the intersection of sexuality and technology. Have a great week.
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