The Sex Geekdom Hot Tub – Disclosure

Posted by on May 28, 2013 in Sex Geekdom, Shared Experience | 0 comments

Welcome back to our Sex Geekdom Hot Tub.

We’re talking about disclosure this month and man were these Sex Geeks on board!

Seriously, they could not stop disclosing about disclosure, I totally got prune fingers.

Kate: Disclosure comes up a lot for me. Often when people find out I’m a sex educator, I’m soon on the receiving end of a number of whispered, sex-related confessions. I wrote a bit about this experience in my post on being a ‘beacon of permission.’ Most of the time, I’m very happy to answer people’s questions – even the really personal ones. After all, I do this work because I love talking about sex with people and helping connect them to good information.

But once in a while, I’ll feel quite uncomfortable about someone’s self disclosure. My discomfort is more often tied to the context rather than the content. For example, one of my previous employers disclosed something to me about her sexual history that seemed really inappropriate to share with a subordinate. Another example is when people share things about their partner in front of their partner, and it’s apparent that said partner did not consent to that detail being shared. I’ve come to expect that I’ll be greeted with sex questions in surprising places, but my request would be to get my consent before sounding off in a non-sex ed context. It is, after all, my work and sometimes I just want to put work aside and dive deep into a conversation about the latest Doctor Who.
Caitlin: Back when I used to write a blog, one of the first posts I put up, ‘coming out as sex positive‘ dealt with this issue, because it’s one that often comes up for me. I spend a lot of my time thinking, reading and writing about sex and sexuality, as well hanging out with people who share this interest: sex educators and researchers, sexual health professionals, activists, pornographers, assorted deviants (I count myself in this category). I have unconventional ideas about sex and relationships – for example, I’m in an open relationship. All of this stuff is a big part of not just what I spend time doing, but also my identity. Unlike a lot of sex geeks, though, it’s not my profession. And even though I’m kinda freaky, I look like your garden-variety heterosexual. Nobody knows who I really am unless I tell them.

Lenny, just your friendly garden-variety heterosexual gnome.

What can be really hard is figuring out how open to be in those weird social-but-not-close contexts, like with colleagues, grandma, people in my hiking club (I am in a hiking club WTF), the very chatty young lady at the waxing salon, etc. I’m not talking about detailed descriptions of what I did Saturday night, I’m talking about stuff like:

  • My colleague asks about my weekend plans. Do I mention I’m off to a Sex Geekdom Christmas party I helped organise? That I was up late last night painting golden penises on little decorative flags?
  • I’m chatting with someone I just met on a hike and they ask me what my hobbies are, or say they work in publishing. Do I tell them I do some writing about sex stuff?
  • Granny makes an off-hand comment that rests on a presumption my relationship is monogamous. Do I let on that it isn’t?

I do end up disclosing most of the time, because I don’t like hiding who I am and usually can’t see any good ethical reason why I should. But it’s still something that gives me pause!

Karyn: For me, disclosure usually comes up for me in the context of chatty strangers asking what I do. Just the other day, on my way to teach a workshop for YEAH, I was waiting for the tram, it was late, and I must have looked annoyed because the guy standing next to me asked if I was on my way to work. I said yes, and he asked what I did. I said sex educator and PhD student, and the conversation got super creepy. Apparently a friend of his has a son who’s in need of some sex education, and would I mind giving him my phone number.

Yes. Yes, I would mind. Very much in fact.

That’s the first time I’ve ever felt unsafe, but I’ve definitely ended up in some non-consensual conversations, ones where I tell people about my research, and they feel the need to tell me their opinions about ‘the gays’. Over time I’ve developed ways to answer the what-do-you-do question in ways that ensure the conversation doesn’t go any further. I say I’m researching high school, or that I’m a social scientist interested in health.

I’ve learned, for instance, not to talk to people on airplanes, because you cannot get away. One of the worst ‘the gays’ conversations I ever had was on a flight to Queensland, and I had the window seat. I was fucking trapped, and it was an awful three hours.

We’ve all thought about it

Alex: Like most sex educators, ‘disclosure’ is an on-going theme, both in our work and personal lives. Disclosure can be especially difficult when it comes to working with young people. As a sexual health peer educator, you hear a range of interesting anecdotes; some trivial, some hilarious and others that can put you in a compromising position. Given the nature of the topic (sex), and the safe and accepting environment created in a peer-led sex ed session, it isn’t too uncommon for a young person to share their personal experiences. It is then the responsibility of the peer educator (and any sex educator) to treat the young person’s experience with confidentiality and care- they’ve placed their trust in you, do the same for them.

Wait, are we talking about disclosure or friendship bracelets?

I find the best way to deal with disclosure in this setting, is to be the listener, where possible offer help, but to also understand and articulate your boundaries to the young person. When someone has disclosed something to you, chances are they’ve decided that they can trust you and that you may be able to offer some help. Use your discretion, and remember your boundaries.

Louise: Sometimes I feel like I’m walking a fine line when disclosing what I do professionally and my professional aspirations. I work both in the ‘fun’ and ‘serious’ sides of sex and I love both sides of the sex coin very much. For example, I love working in a study of women’s experiences of contraception during the day (serious), and then going to present a workshop on sex toys in the evening (fun). But often people in each of those camps don’t have much interest in the other side.

Both sides of an actual sex coin

The ‘fun’ people seem to not want to hear about sexual and reproductive health, and the ‘serious’ health focussed people aren’t super keen on buttplugs. I have professional aspirations to work extensively in both sexual health and sexual pleasure in the future, so in a professional context I often feel myself walking on egg shells when it comes to disclosing (or not disclosing) the different strings to my bow. When I’ve worked with someone long enough and they recognise my ability and dedication it’s never a problem to discuss the other side, but if you disclose too early people can jump to conclusions, and I don’t want those conclusions to have unforeseen negative effects or minimise the options available to me. While it isn’t a major problem, it is an interesting and somewhat subtle consideration for me- I just didn’t think I’d be dealing with disclosure sensitivities within two different branches of the sex field.

Was that too much information? Did we overshare? Hit us back with how you negotiate disclosure in your Sex Geeky lives.