Not even an hour after my article on sexist Super Bowl ads went live last week on philly.com, my inbox started filling up with emails from friends, clients, and fans writing that they were having a hard time stomaching "all those comments,” asking how I was handling them.
The next morning I was invited as a guest on CBS radio to discuss my feelings on my commenters. Apparently the comments responding to my column are vitriolic, vulgar, mean-spirited and everybody wanted to know: Was I upset? Was I angry? Was I hurt?
Here is my answer: I was none of those things because I didn’t read the comments. As a rule, I generally don’t read anonymous online comments on any sexuality-related article, especially ones I write. Here’s why:
1. Look at the sexual world we live in. We live in a country where millions of dollars are spent on abstinence only education, where a man was arrested for walking around his own house naked because a woman trespassing across his lawn saw him through the window called police, where The Diary of Anne Frank was pulled from a middle school curriculum because it has the word “vagina” In it, and where 15 year-old girls are labeled as sex offenders for texting their boyfriend a picture of their boobs.
I stopped reading comments a long time ago because I realized nasty commenters were just victims of our embarrassingly prudish culture. The above examples are their normal, their status quo, and I’m pushing them beyond their comfort zone. Discomfort plus the anonymity that the internet allows equals vitriol. I’ve come to learn of this formula so I don’t bother reading anymore.
I simply asked readers last week to intellectually examine depictions of women in the media, which is not a new or particularly controversial topic, and it sent folks into a tizzy. Anyone who would get their panties in a bunch about that deserves my empathy and patience, not anger.
2. I learned the hard way not to read comments back in 2008 after I opened my sex shop for women in West Chester and endured a backlash from the local Church that was so fierce it launched a national news story. I spent hours reading every single one of the hundreds of comments. I was called things like “vehicle of darkness”, “destroying morals”, “perversion”, “bringing cultural demise”, “the downfall of family life” and my favorite, “a degrading assault on the dignity of a human person”.
Many of my colleagues that write about sex and gender often get worse, including death and rape threats. Their articles have received comments like "Stupid, c**t”, and "I’ll go from house to house shooting women like you.”
In the face of this bullying some of my colleagues have toned down their voices or stopped writing all together. Please note: I will do neither. Why would I? I have an awesome job.
Everyday I get to talk and write about things like orgasm, vibrators, masturbation, sex positions, and people pay me to do this! Why would I do less of that? So I can spend more time reading ugly, violent things from anonymous prudes acting out their own internalized sexual shame and insecurity? No thanks. I have compassion for them. I’m not angry at them. I am happy to help them when they’re ready for it. But I don’t want to read their venom in the meantime.
Feel free to comment below. Of course I won’t read it, but feel free anyway.
Dr. Jill McDevitt is a nationally recognized sexologist, and the only person in the world with a bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degree in human sexuality, making her the most formally educated person about sex on the planet. Dr. Jill has reached a documented 8.1 million people in her relentless promotion of the idea that sex should be fun, and everyone has the right to enjoy their sexuality without fear of violence. She founded Feminique, her sex education business, at just 21 years old.