troll.jpg Image by ElDave.

Violet Blue (image in post NSFW) has a point. Combine online sex writing from a woman with anonymous, seemingly unmoderated comments and you’re bound to come across some of the most hateful, odious speech on the internet. I should know: I came across much of it when I was the sex columnist for the Daily Cal, UC Berkeley’s student paper.

Luckily, that was before the website installed commenting for every article. Instead, I got the vitriol and sexual harassment sent straight to my inbox. Emails ranged from queries about the state of my pubic hair (that was sent by a Berkeley staff member), remarks on my fatness or general hideousness, complaints about my vulgarity, and good old-fashioned name-calling. Once, I responded to a guy who insulted my columns and he in turn apologized. A month later, he sent the same insult again, perhaps forgetting that he had previously forgiven me for my printed obscenity.

Sometimes it makes you wonder if newspapers think it’s okay for commenters to treat women writers like that, especially ones who write about sex.I did experience the wrath of the semesterly AnonCon, the Berkeley forum that pops up during finals. I have never experienced a public flogging, but I’d imagine it would be much more enjoyable than wading through pages of defamatory comments while freaking out about an impending final paper. There was one point in one of those womens’ classes in which I just broke down and cried during a presentation that involved exhuming a few old comments from the forum. Good game, trolls.

But back to Violet Blue. What puzzles me is why a site like SFGate would allow such defamatory comments. Surely a publication that (despite declining prestige) employs copy editors like all good libel-fearing periodicals do would want to eliminate all libel on its pages, online or in print. Sometimes it makes you wonder if newspapers think it’s okay for commenters to treat women writers like that, especially ones who write about sex.

From my own experience, from discussing with other sex writers, and from a little bit of snooping in the previous Daily Cal columnist’s inbox, it seems to me that these haters more often than not hate the game, not necessarily the player. The game in which:

1. Women can derive pleasure from sex and write about it.
2. Sex doesn’t have to be shameful or bear nasty consequences.
3. It is okay to talk about sex, even sex in the butt, sex in the mouth, or sex in other creative orifices.
4. It is okay for women to talk about this kind of sex.
5. It is okay for women to have opinions, period.
6. You can print words like “penis” and “vagina” and even “fuck,” “cunt,” “pussy,” and “ass” in the right context without losing your journalistic ethics.
7. Sex is not necessarily vulgar but rather a topic that should be discussed, in print and online.
8. Dissemination of sexual information is necessary and serves the common good.
9. Women don’t have to be cute, hot, sexy, attractive, banging, bootylicious, or skinny to have, enjoy, or write about sex.

Still, dude, don’t shoot the messenger. ‘Cause we keep coming back. Sex columns provide not only a creative and delicate writing challenge but also a channel to educate and communicate with other people about public (and private) health matters. I mean, do you remember sex ed in high school? I certainly don’t, so I made it my responsibility to learn about sex on my own terms (read: the internet). And until women writers and sex writers and women sex writers stop getting harassed, I don’t think the job is done.

The Sexual Manifesto is Christine Borden’s weekly column on sex in the city, sex and culture, and, well, sex. Got a tip for Christine (and it’s not in your pants)? Email her at christine@sfappeal.com.

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  • Matt Baume

    If you think commenters are prone to frothing up at sex columns, you should see how they get with municipal infrastructure improvements.

  • antfaber

    I’d bet that any sex columnist gets some of that stuff. That’s not to say that women (or gay male) sex writers don’t get more. Some sociologist could probably get a few papers out of this.

  • LibertyHiller

    Hearst has laid off copy editors at every possible opportunity in recent years, so the handful that are left aren’t enough (in number or in skill set, take your pick) to keep simple errors of spelling and grammar out of stories. As far as I know, one can easily report abusive comments on SFGate, and the policy is that those will be removed if they don’t adhere to the TOS.

    As far as liability for the statements made by commenters is concerned, SFGate is pretty much immunized, thanks to 47 USC