Just type ‘slut shaming’ or ‘revenge porn’ into any search engine and you will be inundated with articles reporting on the tragic suicides of women from all corners of the globe. Women of all ages, physical and mental abilities, religions, social and economic statuses, colours, and nationalities. This is an epidemic that knows no prejudice.
Every article I read on this subject is screaming out for the same thing: to make the unauthorised distribution of private images and films of sexual acts illegal, and to make sure those laws are enforced ruthlessly, without exception. I think we may be missing the point.
Yes, absolutely, this should not be acceptable, but we have got to stop expecting the powers that be to take responsibility for making it unacceptable. That responsibility lies with us. Totally. Without exception. We cannot, once again, wait for there to be legal repercussions for this behaviour. It has got to become not only socially unacceptable, but socially irrelevant.
Why is it so harmful to have this sort of material distributed? It’s because it is still the social norm to shame women who openly enjoy, and dare to share that enjoyment of, sex. Why is it only women that are affected by revenge porn? It’s because men would not be made to feel substandard, dirty, ashamed, impure. Is it not painfully obvious when the vast majority of these images and videos have a male co-star who is totally unaffected by the event?
It may be crossing your mind to question how this subject is relevant to me or to The Buck Stops Here project. Well, one of the things I often get asked while on this journey is ‘what made you suddenly decide to do this?’. My answer to that is simple, it was not sudden. The decision to give up all my worldly possessions and embark on a personal mission to find the good in humanity was 41 years in the making, but it was made incredibly easy for me to take the final step when the career I loved was taken away from me in May of this year. It was taken from me because I am a slut who ought to be ashamed.
I use the word slut in the modern sense. It no longer refers to a woman who fails to keep her net curtains white, or her kids perfectly dressed, or her kitchen full of the smells of fresh baking, but it has similar connotations.
I learned very early on in life that as a woman who wants to be treated with respect I should keep any interest I may have in sex (outside the confines of a loving relationship) to myself. I went through puberty at 9, this is when sexual desires start to manifest themselves, so I am quite proud that I waited a full two years before losing my virginity at 11. This happened long before any of the adults responsible for my development admitted to themselves that I was clearly becoming interested in sex and could probably do with a chat about it…so I didn’t even know that that was what I had done. I am not ashamed of what I did and neither should the adults in my life be – they missed the signs, this was typical of the time and I totally understand why I wasn’t give the benefit of a frank discussion. Since then I have been fighting for my right to openly enjoy sex as much as my male peers without the burden of shame.
I discovered rather late in life that I have ADHD, which I usually consider to be of little consequence, but it did offer some explanation for why I so often chose to fly in the face of public opinion by continuing to fuck as many people as I could squeeze in between the tiresome tasks of eating, sleeping, socialising and general life stuff. ADHD often manifests itself in a healthy questioning of authority with very little consideration, or fear, of consequences. In many children this leads to aggressive and anti-social behaviour. In me it only resulted in the heinous outcome of me perfecting my blow job technique long before I was legally allowed to have functioning genitalia. Don’t worry, I had a wonderful time and certainly did not feel like I was being abused in any way. I was, after all, no longer a child in my own eyes. I look at pictures of myself at that age now and know full well that I was definitely a child and not equipped with all the information I needed to make the decisions that I was making. I have no doubt that I put myself in some very dangerous situations and was lucky to escape unscathed.
Despite this distastefully healthy appetite for sex, it seems I had some other attributes of note, which resulted in me eventually finding my calling as a Probation Officer, a position I took on in 2006 and one that I excelled at. I was never entirely happy with the organisation, but always immensely satisfied with the job itself. That was until a couple of years ago when I had no choice but to resign from my position. Six years ago I became involved in the Brighton burlesque scene, which had been instrumental in me rediscovering my own confidence after coming out of a long and unhealthy relationship. I was passionate about supporting women who wanted to enjoy sexual liberation and freedom from unnecessary concerns about their body image and had been promoting sex positivity in my own time in Brighton, several miles away from my office in London.
I openly shared my views and details of what was happening in my life on Facebook. The images and comments that I shared were not public and only accessible to my Facebook friends, however, my Head Office had somehow gained access to them. I was called into my senior’s office and without warning asked to look through a pile of these posts that had been printed off. I must admit that while there was an ice cold chill coursing through my veins at the implications of what was happening here, I couldn’t help but have to stifle some giggles at some of my funnier posts, and at the thought that my senior probation officer had been spending some time sifting through pictures of my nipple twirling skills before calling me in. A reaction that didn’t go down very well at all.
I went through weeks of hell waiting to hear what the HR team in charge of the disciplinary action were going to do. Even when I was told that I was going to be facing a disciplinary they refused to tell me where they had got the images from. They initially claimed that they’d got them online but refused to even admit they had lied when I was able to prove that they weren’t accessible to anyone I wasn’t friends with. As an incredibly competent officer with several years of exemplary service behind me, I was insulted by them taking this action against me and resented every minute I spent on the job after I successfully won the appeal against the disciplinary. This was my first personal experience of just how huge the potential impact of slut shaming can be, and it didn’t get much better.
Shortly after this happened I had my very first experience of being sexually assaulted. It happened after I had been to a fetish party during which I had consensually, safely and very happily, engaged in sexual acts with a number of people. I had declined the advances of the person who assaulted me several times, what can I say, they didn’t seem to be my type…my instincts turned out to be quite right in this case. For anyone aware of the statistics regarding sexual assault it won’t be surprising to know that this was a friend of mine. Unfortunately, I had to go back to their place to pick up some things I had left there and I decided to get some sleep before getting the train home. The assault took place while I was sleeping. This was a very distressing and incredibly shocking end to an otherwise enjoyable weekend. It certainly wasn’t the worst of assaults and they stopped what they were doing as soon as I became conscious and started shouting at them…but the impact of that violation was greater than I would ever have imagined it could be before I experienced it personally.
I have to say that my professional training and personal life experience really helped me to deal with most of the emotional aspect of this incident remarkably quickly.
Unsurprisingly any concerns I had had about my private life being made public were unnecessary as the Crown Prosecution Service did not feel a jury would convict when presented with all the details of the incident. I had to be satisfied that at least this person had been arrested and questioned by the police and that they might think twice before doing the same thing again. I tried to continue working, but knowing that the Probation Service would probably have tried to fire me again if the case had got to trial, and the reality of working directly with sex offenders and finally the privatisation of the service I loved all got too much and I finally resigned a few months later.
I spent a year enjoying freedom from work for the first time in my life, and getting involved in a number of personal projects without fear of judgement or persecution. During that time off I accepted an invitation to get involved in a Channel 4 TV show called Sex Box. For those that don’t know, the premise of the show is that there’s a large box on the set, the inside of the box is made up to look like a standard hotel bedroom, but you couldn’t see into the box from outside. People would be interviewed on stage, go into the box, have sex, then come out and talk about the experience. I chose to do this as part of my ongoing personal campaign to get people talking openly about their natural desires and to remove the myth that women who openly enjoy sex are not to be respected or trusted. This is an important message for me because I knew that one of the factors that resulted in me being sexually assaulted (and the reason why many people are sexually assaulted) was because the person who did it assumed that I would be too ashamed, or worried about how I’d be perceived to consider going to the police.
So, fast forward to a couple of months after filming the show and after a year after my resignation from the service. Money was tight and I had realised that I wasn’t going to be able to change the world if I couldn’t even afford my rent. I decided to sell my soul to the devil and return to Probation as a contractor. The idea was to work for a couple of months then pop off to save the world for a month and repeat until world peace had been achieved. It went really well…for the first nine days. I actually enjoyed being back in the job that I loved. I was in a different role, so the dynamics of the newly privatised service didn’t directly affect me. A week in and my new senior was very happy with how quickly I had found my feet. So imagine my surprise when I was called into the office on a drizzly Wednesday to be told that my contract was being terminated. ‘Someone’ had seen me on Sex Box and informed ‘someone’ at Head Office and they were ‘of course’ going to have to let me go. I had been on the screen for about 3 minutes and it had been aired about a month previously, I was almost unrecognisable, didn’t give my second name and certainly didn’t mention that I had been a probation officer. I am still unsure of how they found out, but I knew that as a contractor, I didn’t have a leg to stand on. No employment rights for me this time. The real tragedy was that, on that chilly Wednesday, without so much as a cup of tea and a biscuit, I didn’t just have my contract terminated, I was told that I would never be able to work for the National Probation Service again. Never. My career, the only career that I had ever had any passion for, was declared over and the news was delivered by someone who seemed to think I should have expected it and that I only had myself to blame.
My fight for a better world started a long time ago, with my personal indignation at being unable to express myself sexually and seeing the damage it was causing society. It has now expanded to encourage improvement in attitude regarding the way we treat each other on every level, but this starting point is still an important one for me. This is a prejudice that is still totally acceptable in society, and it most definitely IS a prejudice when employment contracts can include dismissal for gross misconduct for actions that would ‘bring the service into disrepute’ without any question as to what the service may consider to be ‘reputable’. I fought and won the original disciplinary when I pointed out that one of the London Probation teams had gone to a burlesque show for their Christmas party…so it’s reputable for us to watch them, but being one is, what? Dirty? This prejudice extends beyond women to anyone who has sexual preferences that are outside the socially accepted norm too. It has to stop. People’s lives are being affected in the worst ways.
Imagine being represented by a lawyer who had been tied up the night before…you probably don’t need to. Imagine being examined by a doctor who enjoys foursomes when he is off duty…you probably don’t need to. Imagine being pulled over for speeding by an officer who was whipped in the middle of a club a couple of days before…you probably don’t need to. There are sex positive people everywhere and they are perfectly good at their jobs; your children are quite safe with them, they don’t carry diseases, and satanic rituals are practically unheard of. Oh, and it’s only contagious if you’re very, very lucky. Yet we must hide. The fear of discovery is deep rooted because it nearly always marks the end to a promising career.
To me this is no different to the fight for gay rights. It is within living memory that the very idea of being publicly gay was abhorrent. There were no second thoughts about mocking or recoiling from a gay person. Phrases such as ‘as long as it’s behind closed doors’ or ‘it’s just not natural’ were bandied around without hesitation. I wonder how many gay people heard these things and nodded or laughed along to avoid being detected. Exactly the same thing is happening on the sex scene. We have private underground clubs, we have secret groups on Facebook, we have members only parties and we get dressed at venues to avoid being spotted by ‘normal people’. We hide in the shadows bombarded with shocking reports of politicians and celebrities doing exactly what we were doing at the weekend, but we stay quiet. What message does that send? It tells people that we are ashamed of ourselves. I know that’s not true, but that is definitely the message we send. It also tells people who would LOVE to join us (and damn we need some new faces on the scene) that it is dirty and wrong and that they should be ashamed of thinking that way too.
If you’re reading this thinking that this doesn’t apply to you, let me ask you this: got something you wank over that you wouldn’t tell anyone? Yeah y’do. Do you know where it came from? Maybe, maybe not. It doesn’t matter. It’s human. It’s natural. Sexual preferences grow and develop in a very complex way. If it causes no harm you should be able to express it. On that note, if your sexual preference could cause harm you should be free to get help, because you’re not sick or evil, you’re human. Most perpetrators of sexual offences who feel little or no remorse had to work damn hard to develop their lack of empathy in order to get sexual release. Sexual desire is a most basic human condition, like food or water. Our complex social structure has taken sex far beyond its biological function, but the desire for it is no less resistible just because it doesn’t result in procreation.
When I began my training to be a Probation Officer I was only nervous about one aspect of it and it is the question I got asked most often during my career: ’how can you work with people who sexually offend?’ It took surprisingly little time for me to move from the ‘castrate the bastards and throw away the key’ brigade to wanting to work with these tragic outcasts from society. The reason why I could do that was because it was part of my training to understand the multitude of motivations for committing that type of offence. It was understanding that often their offending behaviour developed in exactly the same way anyone’s sexual preferences develop. By mistake. Unpredictably. Uncontrollably. There are a multitude of routes to sexual offending but the underlying issue that I kept seeing was a repeated pattern of repression and shame. I saw time and time again offences that could have been avoided if the offender had been able to discuss their desires without recrimination.
When we march for gay rights or get dressed up to join the Pride parade, we’re not consumed by thinking about the one thing that actually makes them different from heterosexuals: the way they fuck. The same should be true for the sexually adventurous. Think about when you see articles about homosexuality, it’s not about their sex life, it’s about their basic human rights, or a cute story about gay marriage, or parenting. That was NOT considered cute 50 years ago.
I long for a world where I can share a cute story about a bride or groom leading their betrothed down the aisle on a lead followed by human puppies enjoying their role as ring bearers. It wouldn’t be a comment on their sex life, it would be a celebration of their joy and happiness at finding someone they want to share their life with.
Fetishists, swingers, adventurers, players – whatever label you want to use – aren’t abusers or subhuman. It is THEY who need to stop behaving like they are: lurking in the shadows and banning all reference to their kink lives. No, we don’t all want all the details of their sex acts, but that’s not what being unashamed would look like. If we do want details, we sign up for the relevant porn sites, because that’s okay too!! Just like gay porn is a thing. Jeez! This is obvious. No?
At this moment in time, I censor some parts of my life because I want to ensure I get listened to about other totally unrelated topics.
There you have it folks. If sex positive individuals are going to stop being considered morally bereft, disreputable employees or unsafe around children, and if we are going to continue to be shamed to the point of suicide and berated to the point of not reporting sexual assaults then I believe we have no choice but to follow the example of the brave gay rights activists of fifty years ago and come out of the sex positive closet. They went through hell in order for the LGBT community to enjoy the freedoms that they have today and they still have a long way to go. We have to be prepared to do the same, we have to be prepared to be judged, to lose friends, to risk careers. This social change won’t come with bloody legislation, but with education and that will only come from us, not the authorities.
Get the latex shiner ready people, the most diverse army in history are getting ready to march…and I have a feeling that it’s going to be glorious. Well…they can’t sack us all…can they?
Seanna Rock – AKA Dirty Sugar
*If any of the issues raised in this article personally affect you, please feel free to contact me directly. There are sections that I have only touched on that I intend to expand on when it becomes relevant to do so, but I am happy to answer personal messages on any subject.
I am genuinely interested in hearing both positive and negative reactions to this post. To me this seems to be common sense, yet I am aware that I am in the minority. I am open minded and need to know if I need to change my views, change my approach or change my behaviour. I look forward to hearing from you.”
Read more from Seanna Rock here.