I’ve tried to write this post no less than three other times over the past year. Each time I become overwhelmed with what I’m trying to say and nervous that I’ll come off as basically a fucking idiot.
I am not good at debate or rhetoric, certainly not at all well-versed with the legalities of libel, defamation, or internet privacy. I thought I was doing all the right things until, well, I was told I most definitely was not.
Three years ago I started this particular blog. While registering, WP asked me all sorts of very personal information they said was required, but knowing I would be blogging about my sex life I fudged the WHOIS info a little and moved right along.
I also created a new email address not associated with my real identity, purchased Statcounter so I could track my visitors, and even purchased a VPN to further cloak my whereabouts. I fuzzed out any identifying details about my lovers, spoke very little about my exhusband, never disclosed the sex of my child or my profession, and hid the location of my city and state. I am even very shy about sharing my real first name with longtime blog friends. I didn’t think I could be any more private on the internet if I tried.
BUT I HAD MADE A MISTAKE.
That very first day when I was entering in that required personal info for WP, I used a 10-year-old phone number and a year-and-a-half in, someone looking for a chink in my armor found it. However, this person sat on the knowledge that I was vulnerable until a year later and only decided to share it with me once I had decided to tell The Neighbor about my secret sex blog.
Why did they wait a year, you ask?
I’m not sure they meant to tell me at all. Plainly put, they were pissed that no one was angry at me for my lack of blogging ethics and therefore wanted to “invert the power dynamic” on me. They left a comment on my blog using my real initials and then immediately after I received an email via my business website asking me how my clientele would feel about the ethics of talking about people anonymously online without telling them. They called themselves “Jiminy Cricket.”
The Jig Is Up
I shut down comments while my hands trembled. I briefly made the blog private, then un-privatized it. I didn’t know what to do. To say I freaked out is a complete understatement. It’s possible that being outted as a sex blogger could ruin my career. I’ve written many times that I understand the risk and I’m obviously willing to take it, but when faced with the actual possibility my heart stopped. It’s one thing to theorize about it, entirely another to come face to face with it.
In the end this person engaged with me through my readers. Through you all I discovered why they did what they did, that they were very knowledgeable about all sorts of litigious things, and that “they” were actually a “she” and an anonymous sex blogger herself. The big difference between me and her? She was ethical. I was not. She got the consent of everyone she wrote about.
The anger she felt towards me was due mainly because in an effort to show that it was typically a male, “bro” behavior to speak less than glowingly about sexual conquests online she Googled top sex blogs. I popped up somehow and I blew her theory to smithereens.
Here I was, an intelligent, educated woman sharing my honest opinions about lovers who had definitely not given their consent to be written about. I was no better than those fratboy asshats.
The law is pretty clear that if I were to speak my mind about a public figure I can say nearly anything I like, but when it comes to a private citizens — and they can prove some kind of harm done to them in a libelous way — then I could be in some hot water. You might be wondering what I did wrong. Being vulnerable is what I did wrong: I could be tracked via that WHOIS info and therefore my lovers could, too.
Should you disclose your secret sex blog?
So there I was, exposed, angry, and confused. I had done literally everything I could think of to protect the men and women I wrote about, yet somehow I was still some kind of giant asshole because I was discoverable and I hadn’t gotten consent.
It was pure naiveté on my part that left them vulnerable: anyone with a will might be able to discover my identity and, in theory, thereby my lovers’. Jiminey Cricket, or Sonofabitch as she was later named by The Neighbor and she seemed to like it, thought that because I put it on the internet then I was absolutely, unequivocally required to get consent first. She said that’s how she did it and thus why she was ethical and I was not.
She also made it clear to me that she had not meant to make me feel threatened — though I’m not sure why she seemed surprised since when you email a secret sex blogger through her real life business website I’m not sure you can appear anymore more threatening if you tried. Having said that, I believed her when she said she wasn’t out to hurt me or my ruin my life and set out to think about all the questions she’d brought up for me.
Should I have gotten consent from all those one-night stands? What about the 4-night ones? The two-month long fuckfests, too?? The only person I ever struggled with was The Neighbor and that wasn’t until it was clear he was sticking around. I had begun to feel dishonest with the secret. It had nothing to do with him allowing me to write about him or not.
I’ve had lots of chats and discussions with blogging friends about this. Twice I’ve asked some form of the question, “Should anonymous sex bloggers get consent from their lovers (and all their subjects) prior to publishing their personal accounts?” And each time everyone said: NO, not really.
Though some conduct their blogs openly and with consent, they do not think it is unethical to keep it secret so long as the writer is sharing his or her truth and taking careful means to protect their subjects.
It seemed for everyone that it’s one thing to be dangerously open by naming places, events, and being overly accurate in personal descriptions and another entirely to cover the tales in opacity while being transparent about one’s feelings.
If I go back and look at my archives I am proud of what I’ve written and I feel confident that no one is identifiable, even if you could figure out my identity like Sonofabitch did. And let’s be honest: dating is a giant, exhausting, interminable clusterfuck. You’re bound to get some incredible stories out of it from some pretty interesting peeps and you’re going to want to share them.
Sonofabitch claimed she knew who my central characters were without much effort on her part, but I don’t know who that’d be other than my exhusband whom I’ve gone out of my way to protect in my writing. None of my friends knew who I was fucking — hell, I barely knew these men. They came and went faster than my periods.
My real life girlfriends heard an occasional tale or two (all very vanilla versions, of course) and they learned all the real details — names, professions, backgrounds, etc. — and if anyone were sitting near me telling my bawdy tales then they would know more than if they’d read my anonymous and opaque, yet highly sexually detailed versions.
Which is worse?
What do we, as sex bloggers, do? We have decided to share the most titillating, taboo things we do with an anonymous public. Our affairs, feelings, embarrassing frailties, tits, love, anger, and quite literally everything else under the sun is for you to judge, consume, relate, and beat off to. Therefore, we rely heavily on a gentleman’s agreement that goes something like this: we are judicious about identifying facts and yet share pictures and activities with you all that would never ordinarily be shown the light in polite society and in exchange we expect to be left alone. No one deserves their lives to be ruined because they blog about sex and their lovers.
Blogging is much more than what it might seem to a non-blogger. It’s community, it’s art, sometimes it’s a persona we create outside our real life roles of mothers, fathers, clergymen, teachers, librarians, journalists, engineers, sergeants, counselors, executives, programmers, professors, midwives, and sales people. Our blogs are creative versions of the lives we’ve lived and are living.
They’re ours, not anyone else’s and if a blogger needs this forum to process, grow, and move forward through life, then so be it. Everyone they ever rub elbows with is not entitled to know about it, nor is their consent required.
When it’s not a secret anymore
I’ll be honest, it’s been a tough year for me since The Neighbor found out about the blog. Yes, I was about to tell him, but Sonofbitch forced my hand by about a week. And despite him saying he had no interest in reading what seemed to him to be my online journal, the fact that he could read it changed how and what I wrote. I’ve never disclosed too much detail about our relationship itself, all the interactions and little tweaks and struggles, and have instead always striven to describe a bigger picture that he might also find accurate.
Despite that built-in policy, knowing he could read it meant I had to think even harder about what to share. I didn’t resent the gag, but it has changed the overall tone of this space. I used to pour my broken heart out over the pages and now I am more distant. Partly it’s because I have less of a broken heart, but I am also more responsible about its effects on TN. I love the guy.
All the others were just collateral damage of my shredded heart. They didn’t give two shits about me nor I them. I liked to think that maybe I was the topic of interest in one of their secret sex blogs. I certainly wouldn’t hold it against them. And if they’d anonymously written that I was a fat cow and gave horrible head then I’d think they were entitled to their opinions and not lose a wink of sleep about it. Because, after all, it’s their space to do as they choose and I can’t possibly control everyone around me.
Which, at the bottom of all of this, is what I think requiring consent is all about: controlling the story of others.
There are ethical lines
At the time I began writing here, I didn’t feel being open about my blog was a viable option; why even have it in the first place if the people I’m writing about are reading it? I was single and ravenous, hurting, and angry. Other bloggers who do have a consent policy seem to be in a much better place than I was. They’re often linked personally to their blogs or don’t have much casual sex, or their long-term lovers are given occasional veto power over a certain post. If I’m going to share anything particular about TN specifically I run it by him first and always get his approval for his photos.
I went through a brief period where I pridefully shared some amazingly beautiful photos of him, but was quickly seized with guilt. It was too much and I knew that I had definitely crossed an ethical line and I wrote about my internal struggle and took them all down. I knew I had power as author and publisher and had to be careful to keep what I wrote contained to my story, not anyone else’s. That, to me is ethical. It has less to do with consent than it does respect.
So, to all the would-be secret bloggers out there (sex or otherwise), I encourage you to think about your own moral and ethical codes. Be honest, be diligent about protecting both yourself and your subjects, be clear about what you can objectively call your own and fuzzy on those that are not yours. And above all else, allow for a learning curve. It’s impossible to do this perfectly. Just do whatever lets you sleep at night.
[Update: I woke up 6 hours after I posted this and worried, “What if Sonofabitch reads this? What will she do? Will I have pissed her off because I mis-quoted/mis-represented her?” It’s important to me to be as fair as possible, especially now. I cannot emphasize enough the power I know I have here: I must be careful with my words.
To counter-act my worry, you can read most of all her thoughts on this topic — save for the couple she sent me through my business website (which I’ve described) — here and here. Mostly my readers publicly corresponded with her.
Secondly, I’d like to add that eventually she shared with me where my defenses were weak and I quickly moved to remedy it, hence the self-hosting. It was the only way to make my info private. I am currently as safe as I can be.]