That’s not a trick question, or at least it’s not meant to be a headscratcher. I imagine (or hope) many of you thought ‘nothing’. Perhaps you thought ‘that depends on who you’re having sex with’. As it’s on this blog, you might think i’m going to bang on about STIs. I might, a little, but it’s part of a bigger challenge.
Recently I tried to do paid promotion on a blog post about our (very successful) event with the Scarlet Ladies on Facebook’s advertising platform. The blog summarises what the Scarlet Ladies are about; getting women to talk about sex and their sexuality in a safe and open space so they feel better able to discuss what they want with partners. Our event for women under 30 explored the ways digital technology is affecting sex and relationships; what are the pros, the cons and what are practical strategies for dealing with our changing sexual landscape? Much to my surprise, Facebook rejected the ad, as it violated their advertising policy around promoting adult products and services. I absolutely understand that Facebook don’t want to fill up people’s timelines with a bunch of dildos and people in latex, but I’m at a loss as to why a blog about women’s sexuality, and a discussion event about sex and relationships would be rejected.
I can only think their logic behind this is that *someone* might get offended. Someone always gets offended. It’s what they do. But promoting and having rational discussion about sex is hugely beneficial. It helps to overcome the (wholly unnecessary) stigma many internalise around sex. Stigma deters people from getting tested for STIs or telling someone they have one. Just a few weeks ago another study confirmed abstinence-based education doesn’t work. Not only does it not work, it leads to more cases of HPV. Not talking about these things doesn’t make them go away.
Facebook is hardly an offence-free zone. A host of racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, generally intolerant and nasty bilge of stuff crosses my path organically, and on a regular basis. Whether it be racist, xenophobic comments I see on Times articles I can’t read because of the paywall, ‘jokes’ that imply all women care only about shoes, shopping and chardonnay or the latest sage fridge magnet philosophy (I'm a hater), Facebook is full of objectionable things. And objectionable things that they condone - I’ve reported comments as hate speech and they’ve been left as Facebook said they didn’t violate their ‘community standards’. This is not just my experience. A tumblr blog, Facebooklikesthis collects other posts that Facebook upholds - *content warning* it contains screengrabs of some horrible, offensive posts relating to rape, racism, sexism and violence so if you have triggers, view with caution. It seems it’s ok for people to post genuinely vile things for free, but you can’t promote an event to improve people’s sexual wellbeing? Huh.
I love telling people what I do as it’s fun to see how they react. In the most part people think SH:24 is cool, worthwhile and in some cases ‘genius’ but the odd person will wrinkle their nose in disgust or distaste. For me that’s an opportunity to gently interrogate this reaction - I often liken STIs to a symptom of human connection not unlike the common cold. I put it back to the nose wrinklers: what’s wrong with sex? Some of these people have teenage children (a product of that sex thing) and I’d hate for them to react that way in front of their child. Expressing their distaste at matters to do with sexual health might lead to their child internalising shame and guilt around sex and sexual health and be afraid to get help or ask questions.
Shockingly, we live in a country that still has no statutory requirement for comprehensive sex education. That means many young people get their information about sex, relationships, sexual health and consent from their peers, porn, mainstream tv and media and of course, social media. There is a brilliant opportunity for social media to be part of the solution in creating a more equitable and healthy society, and not just in matters relating to sexual wellbeing (but what a fun place to start!).
So what offends you more? A group of women talking about sex and sexual health issues or rising STI rates, unnecessary unwanted pregnancy terminations, a chemsex epidemic contributing to the resurgence of HIV in the gay community and people walking around with ill-formed notions about what constitutes consent? This week a campaign launched to 'Reclaim the Internet', its primary focus is on tackling online abuse so people can feel safe and speak out online. This is a brilliant first step towards addressing some of the issues we've discussed in this article so please check the campaign out and support it if you can reclaimtheinternet.com
Facebook posts from companies are unlikely to get into people’s feeds without likes or shares unless you pay to promote them. If you agree with anything in this article please give us a like or react however you want - angry faces directed at Facebook also welcome.