Sex Blogging and the Golden Rule
I recently encountered a situation I’d never run into before; I was dating someone, and blogging for Good Vibrations, and I wondered what the ethics were about disclosure with my partner. The conundrum was this; if I knew he were reading every word I wrote, I might feel inhibited from saying everything I felt like saying, yet I wanted to be honest and forthcoming so I could feel like I was respecting his boundaries and behaving with integrity.
A few close friends know I do this kind of writing, but none know (or have asked) exactly which website I’m writing for. Mostly I keep it quiet because I like to feel free to speak my mind. In the past I’ve been single or only very casually dating, so I didn’t feel like my writing was breaching anyone’s privacy. But if I had a partner, our relationship would inevitably provide grist for the writing mill, new ideas to explore and subjects to write about.
I thought about some of the pros and cons of the various options. Regardless of what I chose, I would be sure to refer to my partner only generally and not give away identifying details about him.
1) Full Transparency: Partner reads everything I write, and/or knows what website it is being published on so he can read it there himself.
I like this idea because it seems to take the gray zone element out of the question. If both partners know exactly what’s being said, it could minimize the chance of hurt feelings and the potential for feeling sneaky or uncertain. Building trust in an intimate relationship is key to its health, and if one partner is afraid their privacy is going to be breached, or the writer feels ethically dubious about posting something and is constantly fretting about it, it could undermine an otherwise beautiful thing. In some ways, the idea of being so open with each other is attractive to me. Also, the writing could start conversations which could deepen the couple’s intimacy.
On the other hand, a very real effect might be that the writer would end up feeling inhibited and holding back. The feeling (you could say illusion) of privacy allows bloggers to share thoughts that they might not be ready or willing to share with an in-person partner with whom they interact on a day-to-day basis. If I felt self-conscious, I might avoid certain topics altogether, topics I would have felt free to explore when single.
Also, while the printed word may have a feeling of permanence or seriousness to the reader, for me, blogging often serves as slightly more formal, thought-out version of journaling. Blogging on topics I’m curious about helps me work out my feelings on the subject, figure out what I really think, and find holes in my own logic.
The average reader probably wouldn’t mind that a given blog entry isn’t necessarily some bullet-proof, pristine mathematical proof, and it wouldn’t come as a surprise that the author might change her mind about what she wrote in a matter of months or years. However, if you’re the writer’s partner and you’re deeply invested in what they’re saying, it would be easy to read into things or to imagine that the ideas they’re working out are a fixed and permanent part of their beliefs.
2) Full Opacity: Partner doesn’t know about the blogging. Although it affords the most privacy, this option didn’t suit me because I don’t like the feeling of duplicity, of hiding something that might affect my partner; it didn’t pass the golden rule test. The golden rule dictates that I must tell my partner at least the bare bones of what I’m doing, because if the shoe were on the other foot, I’d like to know it if I were being written about. If I only wrote about sex through a macro lense, discussing cultural trends, philosophy, or science as they relate to sex, and never brought up personal experience, I could argue that it would be fine to proceed without mentioning it. But that wasn’t the case for me, so this option seemed undesirable.
3) Partial Disclosure: Partner knows that I blog about sex, and that I might discuss dynamics in our relationship in broad strokes, but doesn’t know who I write for, and doesn’t read what I write. This way there’s consent, but I still get my privacy. Not everyone’s partner would be comfortable with this; I’m not even sure I would be if the shoe were on the other foot. Alternately, the partner could be given the option of previewing blog entries that mentioned them and be given veto or editing power (or even just encouragement to start a discussion) if it made them uncomfortable. This might have some inhibitory effects on the writer, and/or make the partner self-conscious, but it seems like it could minimize the chances of unexpected hurt feelings or worries that what one is writing might not be OK with one’s partner if they knew what was being posted.
Ultimately, I wrote to my editor Charlie Glickman here at the magazine and asked for some advice. He encouraged me to open up a dialogue with my partner about what I was thinking, with the goal of finding out what his comfort level might be with me having a degree of privacy in my blogging.
My guy was quite wonderful about it, and said that as long as I didn’t post negative rants about him (which I don’t imagine GV would publish anyway, if I were given to writing such things…) he didn’t feel the need to preview the posts or know where they were being published, because he wanted me to feel free to say whatever was on my mind. Pretty great, right? Although we ultimately decided to be friends instead of lovers, rendering the subject largely moot, I’ll remain grateful and impressed at the supportiveness and generousity of spirit that led to such a thoughtful response.
I know if I keep dating and blogging in the future (which seems likely) this issue will continue to come up, and it probably comes up for other writers as well. I guess this is a case where “living the question itself” (to paraphrase Rilke), despite the possible discomfort and feelings of vulnerability, is the most honest way to approach the situation. For better or worse, there doesn’t seem to be a one-size-fits-all, pat solution that would fit everyone or even one person in multiple situations; it needs to be approached on a case-by-case basis. But I feel like the struggle to find a balance between the desire for free expression and the desire to nurture the trust and intimacy in a cherished relationship is a worthwhile thing to grapple with.