Feb 222011
 

There are a lot of ways that bloggers can be unethical. Mind you, ethics don’t always equal human kindness/respect for others. You can be a snarky, grumpy shit-stirrer but still be ethical. You can be sweet as pie on the outside and be unethical.

Ethics in Sex Toy Reviewing

One aspect pertaining to sex bloggers, particularly those who review sex toys, has been taken care of for us by the Feds. I’m quite certain that we were not their target “audience” but it is good to know when someone has been given something in exchange for a review. Notice I just said “a review”. The fine print always claims “an honest review” but I have known bloggers who admitted to giving sugar-coated reviews just because they somehow felt obligated one way or another to not say something unkind about the product. I’ve also heard of the occasional supplier of sex toys to reviewers who specifically asks that, if you don’t like the toy, you don’t post a negative review of it.

Luckily I’ve never worked with that company, or any company that might ask that. My prompt and concise answer would be “Um, no. Would you like your item back?” I feel strongly that as a sex toy reviewer, it’s my duty to consumers (which I once was) to provide a very honest review. If I didn’t like it, I’m going to say so. Notice I don’t say that I feel it’s my duty to rip to shreds a company or a toy. I only do that if something is particularly awful on 9 levels and is my last straw with a manufacturer. I’m sure to get some argument here, saying that our “duty” is to help out the company that provided us with the toy. To which I say “If I was told to give an honest review, then I owe nothing but my honest opinion. The company is still getting it’s SEO links and that’s probably what they care more about.”

Ethics and Begging

Often times the sex blogger community can feel like family. We have our mushy moments, our bickering, the black sheeps, the golden child, the elders, the babies and basically all the nuances of a big family. So when one of our own is in trouble, sometimes we can feel compelled to help. Or, more accurately, occasionally the bloggers feel compelled to ask. And that’s something I can’t get behind. At one time I did. I’ve both flat-out donated a little to a blogger in need and donated to another’s fundraiser for themselves. Both times I’ve regretted it eventually, after learning things about the person (and the money) that made me feel like a fool for thinking the best of people.

Call me jaded but  – your life problems are not my concern. I might genuinely feel for someone and wish them the best, hope that they find a way to get the money and get out of the trouble they’re in but I can’t help but think that it’s a little bit egotistical to ask for big sums of money from your peers and readers to aid in a situation that you ultimately created. Disagree? Tell me why. Go for it.

An unobtrusive Paypal donate button? Go for it. Reminding readers that buying their sex toys from your links gives you a commission? Fine. They’re buying something for themselves and not paying you money directly or paying more for an item just to give you money. If those methods fail then surely there is a more ethical (or less slimy) way to get the money you need. No?

Ethics and Spam

There’s two sides of this and two guilty sites that I want to call out as examples. It’s few and far between, but it’s still unethical and just plain wrong.

Long ago and far away, Bondage Radio had a really funny article on their site. In order to comment, you were forced to register. So I registered and since they were forum-based at the time, it was a forum registration. At first, my emails from them were unobtrusive. Scant. And then something changed. I was getting slammed with new post digests and updates if they sneezed. THEN they added a sex toy store front. And suddenly, the email spam was beyond slammed and into true spam territory. Worse? They came from a “no-reply” email account and there is NEVER an unsubscribe link. Not on one single email. I somehow got through to the sex toy store owners (not BR) and they fixed the spam for that. But it still hasn’t stopped BR from emailing me. I’ve tried their admin email. I’ve tried the site. I’ve gone into the settings for my account in the forum and unchecked everything but that’s all related to forum posts and messages, not their blog posts. I’ve emailed quite literally every. single. person. that I can find and have begged and threatened to be removed. I mark it as Spam in Gmail and yet it still gets through half the time because it’s sent directly to me! I can’t even begin to fully convey how pissed off and frustrated I am by BR.

Another, much more mild, occurrence came from a blogger who’s site is something called Edith’s Diary or whatnot. All of a sudden I started to get these emails to my blog address that are basically a newsletter from her about her newest post. Every time she posted. I figured at first that it was because of e[lust]. She’d submitted one time and was included but then played dumb and stopped responding to my emails when I tried explaining that she was obligated to re-post the digest. When I continued to get her emails, I wrote her back and told her to stop and that I never signed up to get these and it was unethical of her. No surprise, I never heard back but at least the emails stopped.

There’s lots of ways to get readers. So many ways. Ethical ways. These above blogs are not going about it in an ethical way.

Ethics and Information

Freedom of speech. There’s no law out there saying that you have to write true shit. The internet is full of bullshit artists, trumped up claims, and outright lies. How many times has Adam Sandler died now? But I’m not talking about the rest of the internet, I’m talking about blogging and sex blogging. For the first time ever I had to turn to my jury and confirm my gut feeling that a “site” (I feel dirty even calling it something official) that submitted articles to e[lust] just didn’t belong. I’ve turned places down before for being blatant commercial sites, but this wasn’t blatant. On the surface it appears like many other multi-other blogs, or blogs that fashion their theme to look like a magazine style. But underneath the skin, when you read the articles, you see the grime. These couple of sites were refused because of their content and that’s something I’ve never done before.

I don’t dare call myself a sex educator because I don’t have a degree or formal training. But I’d like to think I contribute to sex positive education occasionally, as do a number of other bloggers who participate in e[lust]. And this site, and their articles filled with tips, tricks and “education” felt….hinky. Poor grammar, disjointed paragraphs, a little Cosmo Flair and some info touted as “the right way” that I knew flat-out wasn’t.Is it unethical for them to write and post these articles? What do you think?

Was I unethical in not including them? I don’t judge based on content as a general rule. If you have a piece of erotica I find shitty or an Op-Ed piece I find revolting, or a boring PR-ish post that I find stupid I’m not going to leave it out of e[lust]. That’s not how it works. But I guess there always can be special circumstances and I’d like to strive for e[lust] being a little bit higher class than Sugasm sometimes was in later months.


Speak your mind! Have you encountered unethical blogging/bloggers? Do you disagree with my opinions above?

 Posted by at 8:18 pm
  • http://DirtySexyThoughts.wordpress.com Angel deSanguine

    “I’m sure to get some argument here, saying that our “duty” is to help out the company that provided us with the toy.”

    Yeah, we do. We have a duty to tell them that their shitty product is shitty if that’s the case. We have the duty to let them know what flaws it has so they have a chance to explain/ correct those flaws. I consider myself doing them a favor by doing so and don’t do it in a nasty fashion, just a rather blunt one- I don’t believe in skirting the issue. If they want to get their panties in a twist, fine… it’s their ass that’s gonna chafe, not mine! They just demonstrate further reasons to not purchase said product if they act like an ass.

    ~ Your thoughts were my point. I’m saying that some I’ve spoken to think that it’s rude or something to give a negative review on a toy they were given, that it maybe makes the company who gave it to them look bad.

    The rest of it, I agree with as well. Can we add in there that calling yourself sex positive and then bitching constantly because every single iota of your existence isn’t all inclusive is pretty shitty too? I’m queer. Yes, I like queer events- they warm my bitchy old heart. But there are cisfolks too and they need their events and should be able to have them in peace so get.the.fuck.over.it. If you’re constantly bitching you’re not only not being sex positive, you’re not being positive. Period.

    ~ I agree, but it’s more of a personal gripe and not ethical ;)

  • http://DirtySexyThoughts.wordpress.com Angel deSanguine

    The first part, I was just agreeing with you, I think. Just in a much more wordy and blabbering way that just saying ‘Lilly, I agree with everything you said.’ That would be too short and I just can’t have that. :D

    The second part, that’s the ‘buy one agreement, get one mini-rant, off topic tangent for free’ deal that I have going right now. ;)

  • http://www.momentumcon.com Diva

    ‘Often times the sex blogger community can feel like family. We have our mushy moments, our bickering, the black sheeps, the golden child, the elders, the babies and basically all the nuances of a big family.’

    I love that line.

    I got emails from that Edith person and tweeted the other day asking if anyone else did. It baffles me the amount of time she must spend gathering emails to add to her spam list. What I really found funny was her remarks in the email. One of which was stating not to send her links for porn. I guess it is okay to send me whatever links she feels like.

    ~Hypocrite sez “don’t spam me but i can spam u!”

  • http://ofsexandlove.com Adriana

    Hmm. While I agree with some of your points, I’m not sure that “ethics” is the word I’d be using. Most of these aren’t cases of right versus wrong so much as lacking tact. For example, I’d say it’s pretty heinous to sign someone up for a newsletter without their knowledge. I’ve actually had that happen with the Good Vibes newsletter on multiple accounts and I’ve only been able to unsubscribe from one of them. Ugh.

    But asking or even begging for money? That, in itself, is more tacky than unethical. Unless the stated reasons are complete lies. I kind of figure that, if I donate to someone online, there’s always the chance that they are lying or whatever but that’s the chance you take and it’s my responsibility to realize that.
    ~ I think it’s both tacky and unethical. I’m sorry you lost your job due to sex blogging, I’m sorry you’re in a custody battle because of your sex blogging choices but in the end….it’s no one’s fault but their own. You made your bed, you lie in it. Cold? Maybe a little, but think of all those out there in this country alone that have even LESS and don’t have a social media platform on which to stand and beg.

    In terms of information, I’d say there’s a lot of poor information out there and lot of it may stem from what sells (ie, the Cosmo type stuff), especially when it’s short, and simply ignorance. Is it unethical to post it? Hell no.
    ~ I think my point was that I felt it to be a little unethical for me to post it in a digest that should be a place for people to go to look for information, as we have a number of sex positive educators of all kinds who submit. To include something that may even contain false or harmful info (which I’ve seen on the sites I refused entry to) feels like me being unethical. Maybe I’m too sensitive but I feel that posting something that looks like you’ve done research and is advice, without any research or sources to back up what you’ve said, feels unethical as a sex blogger.

    I do agree about writing honest reviews, though. I wouldn’t work with anyone who wouldn’t accept it and my pitches usually include the phrase “honest review” because the companies I work with should realize that I won’t lie or sugarcoat things.

  • http://100waystobeperverse.wordpress.com Janie

    It’s hard to say whether asking for money is ethical or not. If you genuinely have a problem then there is no harm in asking, just as you would ask your real life friends or family, for example. People don’t have to say yes. However, it’s a massively iffy area because there is no way of knowing if someone is for real and if the money is being used for the things that it’s supposed to be. Like Adriana says, it’s a little tacky, but I’m not sure it’s completely unethical if you do have a genuine reason for doing so, especially if that reason is not of your own creation, which I have witnessed on the blogosphere before.
    ~ I think it’s arguable on the “not of your own creation”. A few of those in the past who’ve asked for large sums of money did not have a job at the time. You want us to give you money but you won’t go work at Burger King? You ask us to make a sacrifice but you won’t? They made errors in judgements or flat-out mistakes. Or maybe they are claiming the troubles are due to one woe-is-me-it’s-not-my-fault situation when in reality it’s something else entirely that they could have prevented. People who do for themselves and their fame first before thinking of the impact on their family, their kids and their house do not, IMO, have a genuine reason.

    I love the idea of the sex blog world as a family like that. I’m gonna have fun trying to fit people into that later when I should be doing essays!

    I think that people pick up on bullshit and unethical stuff pretty fast. I don’t think any of the blogs I now read and comment on do any of those things, and eventually I think people get tired of it.

    Great post Lilly, really thought provoking! I was a bit worried I’d read it and realise that I was guilty of all of the things but I think I’m in the clear!

    xoxox

  • http://www.kinkylibrarian.net Nadia West

    I liked this post. I think another thing that should be put in was bloggers who don’t actually use a toy before reviewing it. How can you review something you’ve never used?!? I was shocked when I first heard about that being done as it’s not something I would have ever thought up on my own. They give me a toy to review, I try it out, and give my honest review. I try to acknowledge when a toy isn’t bad so much as not for me (and possibly not for others) but also call out the crap. I’m thrilled that my search hits regularly show people searching for the info on the RoboSuck II. That was the biggest piece of crap I think I’ve ever reviewed. (As it’s a cock toy I reviewed it with the help of the men in my life.) I was pleased that the retailer who sent it to me was perfectly fine with my negative review.
    ~ I know, I feel the same when people come to mine for reviews on things I told the truth about. I hate that when I was looking for sex toys to buy before I reviewed, I felt like I was never able to get a truly honest real-person-opinion.

    I’ve been disturbed by the disingenuousness of some money begging campaigns. I have contributed to one once since it sounded legit and I figured I could spare the $10 or so even if it was a hoax. But when the guy who sexually assaulted me, a well-known alcoholic, begged for money for his custody case, I nearly blew a gasket. It was portrayed as something he had no control over, but really the douchebag did it to himself. And I feel bad for the decent people of the community who were reeled in and donated to this piece of shit.
    ~ I cannot agree with you more on this situation and a similar one. they did it to themselves, in the end. Oppression of sex bloggers? Sure, maybe in some cases. But brass tacks….its brought upon ones self and asking others to clean up your mess reeks of childishness.

    I can’t see asking complete strangers for money (for nothing). Yes they enjoy my blog, but since when does reading a blog constitute responsibility for that person’s financial state? I do remind them about my commissions from my affiliate sites – as you say, then they also get something out of it. I would go to my real life friends and family before I’d consider begging strangers on the internet, but then perhaps some of these people have alienated the people around them in “real life”?
    ~ I’ve had many times where, in comparison to others who’ve asked, I could have asked everybody for money as well. But that’s not me. I hate taking from others, I prefer giving and doing. I like to be self-sufficient and when I can’t I go to family. Or the bank. Or I sell stuff. Or I cut back on frivolous expenses like pricey booze and sex toys you don’t actually need and etc.
    TIP: Don’t beg for money or complain about your woes and destitution and then link on Twitter what all you just bought yourself.

  • http://www.pinksexgeek.com Crista.Anne

    I really love this post, your points are all valid and a lot of them are things that one would think went unsaid, but people constantly surprise and appall me.

    Right now I am waiting for the delivery person to bless me with my first rounds of review items, but for many years I offered reviews and opinions while running shops. Then and now I will always give my completely honest review because what I want most is a more educated sex toy buying public. In person I had a stellar rep for honesty and that is something I take an absurd amount of pride in. I made commission off my sales then as now, but if you tell someone this toy will rock your world when it’s really a POS, they aren’t coming back. Honesty makes you more money in the long run, it’s as simple as that.
    ~ I’d have to say my affiliate sales are proof of that. It’s really not the majority of the time that I can give an item even my 90% recommendation. And I’ve given bad or “meh” reviews to items that I’ve read nothing but praise on from others.

    To your comments on asking for donations. Yeah, it’s tacky, and yeah, I’ve done it. Not on my public websites (that I can remember) but friends in tighter social circles have helped me out of a few scrapes here and there. I’ve always been honest with what is going on and doing so makes me feel like a loser so it’s a last ditch kinda thing. I really wanna go to momentum but I really didn’t see the money being there, so I threw something up on my FB that if my friends wanted to get me an early birthday present – here’s how. I’m okay with that, but if others aren’t I can see that point of view clearly.
    ~ It’s not a black and white thing. There are so many grey areas. I have, and I’m sure most or all will agree, no problem with you asking. It’s what you didn’t do. You didn’t ask over and over. You’re not making it the center of your blogging. You didn’t ask for thousands of dollars without flinching. And you don’t do it often. I’ve also seen some who very frequently ask for help in personal bills and travel bills but then regale us on Twitter with their night out or their new dress.

    I do have some formal training but I do not have a degree so I am also iffy on calling myself a Sex Educator and mostly stick with the Sex Geek title. That being said, I strongly believe that what most of us are doing here is sex education. We’re inspiring honest conversations about sexuality in a way that hasn’t often been done before. What we do is important, what we put out there is important (as long as it is medically accurate) and who we align ourselves with is important. Excluding a site like you mentioned is doing the community and those who read our words a service. There is enough horrifically incorrect information out there, they don’t need to be amplified.

  • http://blue-eyedvixen.com/ Vixen

    Yeah. Kuddos to you hon for just *saying* it….

    About giving money to other bloggers. BTDT…been burnt badly. My bad. I did bc I wanted to, not bc I felt I had to. My bad….

    Great thoughts and ideas here.

    xo

  • http://miaontop.com Mia

    Lily – Thanks for writing this post. I agree with all your points which btw are made in a concise manner. Thanks for putting your viewpoint out there. You rock. xxMia

  • http://www.neamhspleachas.com Molls

    I know this is an older post but I caught it in the e[Lust] digest. I feel like NPR walks the acceptable line in asking for money. Twice a year, you deal with their annoying fundraising and the rest of the time, you don’t. And, while irritating, I still donate because I believe it’s a good cause. Most blogs I read, I don’t ever contribute to. I don’t feel bad about this because my life wouldn’t be impacted if those blogs stopped existing.

  • http://catqs.blogspot.com/ Cat Q

    If I find myself on a mailing list without an unsubscribe link, I tend to send a curt email along the lines of, “If you do not unsubscribe me from your email list, I will report you to your ISP as a spammer.” I’ve had good luck with it. Spamming is illegal, and against the ToS of just about every US-based registrar and host.

    I don’t dare call myself a sex educator because I don’t have a degree or formal training. But I’d like to think I contribute to sex positive education occasionally, as do a number of other bloggers who participate in e[lust]. And this site, and their articles filled with tips, tricks and “education” felt….hinky. Poor grammar, disjointed paragraphs, a little Cosmo Flair and some info touted as “the right way” that I knew flat-out wasn’t. Is it unethical for them to write and post these articles?

    It would violate my personal code of ethics. I certainly wouldn’t want to link to something like that, particularly if the blog in question is full of affiliate links. I don’t feel that I owe posts like that SEO.

    I’m not a sex educator either, but I think that talking about real sex that really happens is as important as the work that sex educators do. “It’s normal” and “this works for me” and “you aren’t alone” are hugely important messages, and you don’t need higher education to be a kindred spirit to a shy, scared reader.

    I don’t judge based on content as a general rule. If you have a piece of erotica I find shitty or an Op-Ed piece I find revolting, or a boring PR-ish post that I find stupid I’m not going to leave it out of e[lust]. That’s not how it works.

    Why not? Yes, if you only included erotica that hit your particular buttons or Op-Eds that you agreed with, that might defeat the purpose of e[lust], but you do have a right to make basic requirements. Bluntly commercial posts, aggressively racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic pieces, and obvious sex-negativity may not have a place there. If you wanted to add a rule saying that bloggers should make an effort to make sure that sex education info is accurate, I don’t think that many people would disagree with you.

    You make a point to be fair, and I don’t think that you’re going to stifle debate in e[lust]. However, the structure of e[lust] makes it a great SEO tool, and you have a right to deny that to people who are ripping off Cosmo rather than writing quality posts.

    ~ You make some really good points here, thank you for commenting! I do have *a few* rules about elust inclusions, like heavy commercial posts, no sex toy reviews, etc. If I see something that looks like it’s merely advertising something that the blogger is selling, I’ll label it as commercial and not allow it. It’s not easy being the one to call the shots, I tend to be disliked when I make a decision not to include someone =/

  • http://iveylane.blogspot.com Ivey Lane

    Hi Lily,

    I agree regarding the honest review of toys. A positive review as quid pro quo for a free toy for oneself defeats the purpose, at least the consumer’s purpose. I’d add though that, that when reporting on something negative, I think there’s a distinction to be made between the quality and effectiveness of the product, which is the manufacturer’s responsibility, and the costumer service or price, which is the provider’s responsibility. If a toy’s quality is bad, then it is likely that other products by that same manufacturer should be suspect as well. Further, if a reviewer recieves poor service from a toy provider, then regardless of who actually made the item, the customer service probably won’t change.

    Regarding the ethics of who does and doesn’t get to present in e[lust] I believe that by creating the formum, there is an implied journalistic standard owed to the reader, at least by ethical ones. As you mentioned, there’s a significant difference between not including something because you don’t care for it personally and not including it because it is demonstrably false; between the writing not being up to your standard and the writing being purposefully misleading. Like many people, I started reading e[lust] in search of information, to redefine my views of sexuality and normalcy, and to expand my horizons into points of view I didn’t even know existed. I was and am grateful that I was able to find so much solid, varied, creative, honest, and provacative information consistently in one place. When one sets themselves up to be a clearinghouse of information, much like the toy providers being clearing houses of products, the ethical thing to do is to provide a good quality, safe, and enjoyable product.

  • http://iveylane.blogspot.com Ivey Lane

    (Dear me. I just prematurely submitted. Oops.)

    The conclusion of my previous comment is:

    …. and enjoyable product. I don’t know if it is truly and “obligation” or simply a result of how you choose to run e[lust] but either way, I appreciate it. I love reading your blog posts and often find them elightening and challenging, but like a good book of short stories or essays, e[lust] feels like it’s run by a talented, ETHICAL editorial board. And it appears, that’s you. Thanks!