306.7: Librarian Lessons from a Sexuality Book Blogger / Mountain Plains Library Association 2019 Conference session

  1. Pre-program slide

“If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered.”

-From “On Writing” by Stephen King

2. 306.7: Librarian Lessons from a Sexuality Book Blogger

The Unlaced Librarian: theunlacedlibrarian.com/blog

3. Who I am!

4. Who is Your Sexual Role Model?

Source: Dr. David Ley (davidleyphd.com)

I really like asking people this question because it frames sexuality in such a wonderful way. For me, I always associate a role model with business and professionalism. When I first saw this question, I didn’t have an answer for myself and this question made me really reflect on a lot of aspects of sexuality. In exploring the ways I have been shown sexuality in media or in “real world” relationships I realized how few times sexuality had been treated as valued, healthy, or important to our lives.

Your answer is personal. Some answers people have told me: family (admittedly, very few had this answer… like, one person), celebrities, historical figures, or a fictional character from book, movie, or TV series. Which is yet another reason why freedom to read and intellectual freedom are so important to defend in our libraries when materials are challenged for sexual content. People are looking for sexuality role models and I hope they find them!

Also, I always advocate for treating others professionally in many aspects of life. Sewing together open conversations about sexuality with a professional attitude is important to me. In the Library world there may be things we come across that make us uncomfortable but we can still be professional. Let’s all be role models!

5. Sex Blogger Lesson #1: Search results.

I learned a lot about my readership by looking at the search results that brought people to my blog.

6. #1 result was for books!

7. People have problems and are looking for solutions

The pervasive attitude is that people who look up sexuality sites online, rummage through sex books on library shelves, or email sex bloggers to ask questions is that they aren’t *really* looking for information. They just want to… what? Be perverted or just “look at sex stuff”? But in my experience, people found my site because they were genuinely looking to solve problems. Some were exploring their sexuality, sure, but many people had a *specific* issue they were working on. Many readers of my blog were transient—they would read my work and talk with me online for a few months and then disappear. Either they found answers and resources to work through their problem/s or they became overwhelmed and returned to suppressing or ignoring their problem/s. (Our goal is to facilitate the first scenario.)

One thing that was clear to me is that people were coming from a view of toxic attitudes and shame. Being professional (replying promptly, giving a thorough and attentive response, being honest about what I did or did not know, and offering choices for resources to look into) went a very long way in helping people begin to tackle their problem/s in a genuine way. I was often told this was the first time anyone had validated their concerns or treated their research into sexuality as something valuable. The library may be the first place for a person where there are no barriers to accessing sexuality information. Once again, meeting that need professionally is important.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean that you won’t encounter people are using sex to be selfish or to harass others. For example, librarians have taken calls at their libraries where the person asks intrusive and sexually charged reference questions and you have to be firm, use a scripted line such as, “Is there anything related to your library account we can help you with? If not, we are ending this conversation.” Then end it. (Perhaps you’d be interested in reading a short history of obscene phone calls?)

But don’t allow your fears interfere with offering resources for sexuality.

8. Sex Blogger Lesson #2: “Don’t tell anyone this, but…”

Most people who messaged me to ask questions would say things like, “Don’t tell anyone this,” “I made a secret email address for this,” or “If my spouse finds out I’m talking to anyone about this they will be furious.”

9. Privacy is important/necessary to people researching sexuality.

I see this at libraries often. A couple examples: Patrons looking at sexuality books but not checking them out. Teens whose parents disagree with what they want to read so the teens keep it secret.

Some book reviewers advocate for the “Under the Gaydar” book phenomenon, where a book cover and title does not indicate the book has LGBT+ content, especially YA books. So a teen can have the book but their parents or teachers won’t know immediately from the cover that the book is LGBT+. If you google the term “Under the Gaydar books” you can find book lists and tags for these titles.

Fortunately, libraries value privacy! Emphasize this whenever possible with information, displays, signage, or explaining privacy policies verbally to patrons. Any time you can showcase privacy, do!

10. Sex Blogger Lesson #3: You never know who needs sex education (and for who)

I thought my readership would be people who were very similar to me: women in their 20’s and 30’s with body image battles and fringe/fluid sexuality. But by far the most emails I received inquiring about resources and book reviews were straight men in monogamous relationships who were 10-20 years older than me. (Now we could explore why this is the case. Some might argue that straight men ages 35-50 would just be more likely than other demographics to send an email to a sex blogger to ask a question. My hypothesis was that at the time I was reviewing a lot of books about pornography and fetishes which are issues that straight men in this age range would be more likely to struggle with when it comes to sexuality.) Regardless, I was so surprised (and rather enchanted, really) to find I had so much in common with people who had different experiences in the world than I did.

The next group that emailed me the most to ask questions were parents of pre-teens and teens who were trying to figure out all these things their kids were talking about regarding sexuality (and honestly, a lot of that came down to explaining internet culture).

When you see someone checking out sex books, they might not be looking for information for themselves. They might be looking for their kids, other family members, parents, friends, someone they are working with professionally like a mental health patient, or people they are in relationships with. And while some of us are a little more out than others, you don’t know by just looking at someone what their kinks are, who they are attracted to, or how many people they are in relationships with. So getting a variety of sex books on the shelf is important.

11. Collection development:

In my opinion, it is difficult to evaluate each book on whether or not it “sex positive.” There are many definitions of what it means to be sex positive.

World Health Organization Definition of Sexual Wellness: https://www.who.int/topics/sexual_health/en/

“What Does it Mean to Be Sex Positive?” https://www.lehmiller.com/blog/2019/10/9/what-does-it-mean-to-be-sex-positive

Non-fiction is difficult enough to evaluate. Adding fiction to the mix is just going to make life *more* difficult—characters often act in ways that are not sex positive. Sexual desires are often not PC and many times hinge on stereotypes that are considered sexist. And if they don’t practice safer sex, does it matter if one is a Centaur?

Erotica publishers such as Cleis Press, Bellesa Stories, and Sincyr Publishing actively seeking sex positive work that establishes consent and communication with on page sex, uses empowering language and scenarios, demonstrates safer sex and risk aware kink, and showcases a diverse range of sexualities and bodies. This is a great thing, and I love recommending books from these sources.

Article: How 4 Erotica Editors Establish Consent In Every Single One Of Their Stories

Even so, you can’t “catch” everything in fiction, nor should you. I’ve even read non-fiction sex books branded “progressive” or “feminist” that I personally thought had elements that were not sex positive. It doesn’t mean the whole book was bad, just that other points of view are also needed.

So, my advice for public libraries is to not necessarily look through every book to see what’s sex positive, rather focus on filling the empty spaces to cover a range of topics and needs in sexuality.

Below is a fairly extensive list of things that can be covered. I break the categories into four basic groups: Age, View, Orientation, and Relationship. A public library will likely never be able to cover every single area. But if you only have room to buy one sex book, try to locate an empty space and purchase a title to fill it rather than getting another sex book that explores much of the same area as another book on your shelf.

Age – What age is the information in the book for?

Children

Sex Positive Families offers an extensive list of books broken down into age appropriate categories: https://sexpositivefamilies.com/reading-list-1/

Pre-teen

Teen

(early teens, older teens)

Young adult/College

Adult

Over 50 (Author Joan Price is great resource for this)

View – what is the overall philosophy or angle the book is coming from? Basically, how is the book marketed. You’ll have to read through the back blurb and chapter titles to get a grasp on what view or angle the book is coming from. Some things I consider to be views are books marketed as:

Progressive

Christian

New Age

Scientific

Philosophical

Sociological

Personal narrative/ Memoir

“For” Guys/Gals

Orientation – What sexual orientations does this book focus on or include?

Straight/Heterosexual

Gay

Lesbian

(Above are also referred to as “Monosexual:” a person who is sexually and romantically attracted to one gender.)

Bisexual (Bi Resources Center) / Pansexual (Pansexuality 101)

Heteroflexible, Homoflexible, sexually fluid

Asexual (Ace) (www.asexuality.org)

Aromantic (Aro) (7 Facts You Should Know About Aromantic People)

Demisexual (Demi) (demisexuality.org)

Queer: A term people often use to express fluid identities and orientations. Often used interchangeably with “LGBTQ.”

Fetishists/Kinksters (Is Kink a Sexual Orientation?)

Other terms:

In non-fiction, especially academic writing, you might see the term MSM which means “Men who have sex with men” or WSW which means “Women who have sex with women.”

In fiction you might see “wlw” or “mlm” stands for “women loving women” and “men loving men.” Used often on LGBT+ book review sites.

Relationship – what type of relationships does this book talk about in regards to sexuality?

Parenting: advice on how to talk to your child/parent about sexuality

Couples – Dating, Marriage

Polyamory (multiple partners)

Open relationships

Relationship anarchy

Swinging

Casual partners

Friends with benefits

Other subjects to consider for diversity:

Gender identity

Kink and BDSM

Disability

POC (People of color)

Erotic media / Pornography / Masturbation / Sexual Fantasy / Solo Sex

12. Sex Blogger Lesson #4: Understanding Social Media is crucial

13. Relationships are becoming more complicated because there really is no “online vs. offline” life anymore. We are a social media culture. Driven by clicks, reactive, and acting not as individuals but as a social whole/group. (I’m not anti-internet, but we need internet literacy!)

I admit, I get most of my breaking news from Twitter. A current event in Libraryland that I personally saw break on Twitter is taking place in Toronto, Canada. Below are some news articles:

Toronto’s top librarian refuses to bar speaker critical of transgender rights

Tory ‘disappointed’ in Toronto Public Library for hosting speaker accused of transphobia

Authors warn they’ll boycott Toronto Public Library over speaker accused of being anti-transgender

Pride to hold trans rally on the night of Meghan Murphy event

Hundreds protest anti-trans writer outside Toronto library

After looking at the news articles, I encourage you to look at the social media conversation happening on Twitter. Search Toronto Public Library in Twitter or use hashtags #TorontoLibrary or #TorontoPublicLibrary

The event is set to take place on October 29th, so we will see how this story develops. I feel this is an example of how the “social media” world and the “real” world are intricately entwined.

14. Deep breath. One last thing I want to talk about….

15. Ida C. Craddock

Ida Craddock was born in Philadelphia in 1857. In 1882 she passed the entrance exams for the University of Pennsylvania but was barred entry because the education board did not allow entry to women. So Ida studied the topics she did have access to: religion and sex.

16. Picture of Ida

Ida wrote extensively about religion, mysticism, and sexuality. She defended belly dancing, wrote about sexual imagery in the Bible, and studied phallic symbolism in religions and mysticism. She was a freethinker and was elected Secretary of the Philadelphia chapter of the American Secular Union in 1889. She opened her own church for a short time, but ended up counseling young married couples on the matters of sex. Mind, she did not think masturbation was good and wrote that the clitoris should not be stimulated too much during sex. But she did believe pleasurable sex was an important part of marriage and sexuality was an important part of everyone’s spirituality. She counseled in person as well as distributing her lessons in pamphlet form.

Unfortunately, the Comstock Laws at the time banned any sort of sexual information, writing, or imagery from being sent through the United States mail. This included any information on sex, birth control, or abortion, as well as any writing including personal letters. And, of course, any obscene photographs or drawn images. The laws were enacted in the 1870’s and Comstock calculated by 1903 his vice society had made 2,712 arrests, 2,009 convictions, confiscated and destroyed thirty-eight tons of obscene books, pamphlets, and other writings, and had confiscated 1,023,655 lewd pictures and photographs. (Heaven’s Bride, Leigh Eric Schmidt, pp 2-3.)

Ida was charged with obscenity several times for her pamphlets and counseling services. At one point her office was raided and all her papers, personal writings, and books were confiscated.

In 1902 Ida was sentenced to 5 years in prison for violating obscenity laws. Rather than serve this sentence, Ida committed suicide.

But there’s more to her story.

Ida also believed she was married to an angel. Her “spirit husband” was named Soph and he was a young man who had tried to court her when they were both younger. He died and returned to her in spirit form. She wrote in her diary about their relationship that included sex… which was why she could give advice to married couples about sex!

Rather than detract from her story, this aspect of her life only makes me adore her more.

You can read about Ida’s life in…

17. Heaven’s Bride

18. Sexual Outlaw, Erotic Mystic

I relate to Ida in many ways. In my life, my visible disability has been a barrier to some professional opportunities. (Not all, but some!) I have gravitated toward topics on the fringe of polite society that I have access to, like sexuality, but are seen as not valuable or even detrimental in the professional world. Successfully having a professional life while having been honest and open about my sex writing has been difficult.

At the end of the day, I consider Ida to be one of my sexual role models. She was a fierce defender of intellectual freedom and approached love and life with a robust reverence.

I dedicate all my talks to Ida. Maybe she’s out there listening in.

19. Resources!

Click here!

20. Questions & Discussion:

Feel free to email me: theunlacedlibrarian@gmail.com

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