Sex Schoolin’: How to Handle Your Junk in Public—Media Relations for Sex Writers

I want to put it right out there that this post is the direct result of a difficult interaction between myself and another sex blogger. My writing inadvertently hurt her and our ensuing conflict has been very emotionally challenging. I hope my experiences with media and as media might help others avoid similar situations.

There are very few individuals who can increase awareness of their writing all on their own. We need other media producers to take notice of us to get our words more widely distributed. If you can do it on your own, fantastic! But for those of us who have to work at it, we need to be aware and savvy when dealing with media.

If you aren’t familiar with my work, here’s a rundown. I have been writing, publishing and broadcasting content related to sex and sexuality for more than 15 years. I have interviewed and featured hundreds of people. I have managed publications and the interviews of others and I have been a sex radio host for 6 years.

On the flip side, I have also organized and participated in numerous public events and shows. Because of my work, performance and publicity assignments, I have been interviewed countless times in print, on television, for radio and for podcasts, for student paper, for theses and I’ve presented on public panels.

When I call myself a gadabout, I am actually kinda serious. I’ve been lucky to attract media attention for my projects, and that media has been essential to my growth as both an organizer/performer and a writer/broadcaster.

Because most of my work has dealt with sex and sexuality—sometimes my own, more often that of others—I have always tried to remain careful about how I handle both the subjects and the people. This is key! There are few other subjects that are as loaded with emotional potential as someone else’ sex. Personally-speaking, I rarely have issues talking about my sex and sexuality, but that is just me. Most other people have great stories to share and amazing experiences we can all learn from, but how they want those shared is more delicate. Respect is a huge part of this transaction.
  1. Decide and be clear on what you want to share.

    If you are approached to be interviewed, or if you are promoting your work, try, on your own, to set a clear list of what you do and do not want to share in your head (or even on paper!). And the first thing on that list is “Do I really want to do this at all?”

    Once you put yourself in the public sphere, it is very, very difficult to step back. Once your words are out there, it is very likely they will exist out there for ever. If you have any doubts, any fears, any concerns, you should reconsider seeking media attention and know there is nothing wrong with that at all! I’ve been turned down when I’ve asked to interview people countless times and I respect them all the more for it. You are always in charge of your image and portrayal, right from the outset.

    Except…when you’re not.

  2. If you do an interview, cross your fingers and hope for the best.

    Sadly, unfortunately, this is a truth that you really need to consider when you agree to be interviewed. Once you have been interviewed by someone in the media you have, essentially, given them permission to tell and frame your story in whatever fashion they see fit. And well, you might not like the end result.

    I don’t mean to be doom and gloom here, and I hope I’m not scaring anyone. Rest assured that in the majority of instances you will be pleased with how you are presented publicly. I really believe that! Others who have been burned by media might disagree, but most of the time people are happy with how they’ve been portrayed.

    If you are concerned going into the interview, try to negotiate seeing/hearing the interview before it goes live. I will often provide this, when asked. Make it a condition of consenting to an interview. This option, however, is not always possible and not always a guarantee that you are seeing the true and final copy. But it is worth trying.

    If you don’t like the end result, the first thing I hope you do is take a deep breath.

  3. I’m pissed off at how I’ve been presented, what do I do now?

    Well, this really depends on what forum you’ve been presented in but, chances are, there isn’t much you can do, though it never hurts to ask about options.

    If the issue is serious and you have concerns that you’ve been defamed by libel or slander, then talk to a lawyer. Simple as that.

    If the situation is that you are unhappy, uncomfortable or disagree with how you were portrayed based on content or style, then you can try an speak with the person who interviewed you.

    Because so much content is generated for online presentation, we have much more control over changing content. My actual profession is in print production and changing what has been committed to ink and paper is obviously much more of an issue. But in an online world, a few key strokes can go a long way to making interviews that much better.

    But here’s where the relations part of “media relations” comes in.

  4. “Fuck you for doing this to me!

    Sometimes writers and broadcasters make mistakes—be it out of ignorance, be it out of lack of research, be it because of time constraints, be it out of not caring. Here’s hoping their aren’t too many out there who aren’t caring, but sadly, there are. More often than not, in publishing and broadcasting as in life itself, mistakes are genuine errors that the writer or broadcaster would not choose to make. And so it follows, most writers and broadcasters will happily correct errors, when possible.

    However, remember what I said about respect? The transaction I meant is valid for both interviewer and interviewee. If you want a writer or broadcaster to respect you, you also need to respect that person. This includes responding to requests in a timely manner, fulfilling commitments you agree to and, in the case of a final product you don’t enjoy, dealing with the writer or broadcaster in a considerate manner.

    I have revised countless articles because a subject has contacted me and, respectfully, asked me to change something. These instances have included factual content as well as style and presentation. I’m not saying they’ve sent a nice and “pretty please, I’d be ever so grateful” communication. I don’t need or expect that. Instead, I have dealt with direct, clear requests in ways that have suited both my subject and my craft.

    On the flipside, when I’ve received accusations against my character, doubts about my skills, harsh and ill-considered language or demands to remove content, my back goes up and I am far less compliant. If I’ve done something and it is pointed out in disrespectful ways, I will still make that change, albeit through gritted teeth. And I think most other content producers will do just the same thing. If we’re wrong, we’re wrong and we want to be correct.

    However, sometimes (and fortunately I haven’t had too many of these instances), when I am challenged it is because the subject disagrees with my style. And here’s where we get into murky situations. This is where it isn’t about the content being incorrect, but the framing and language. These are the types of pieces that celebrities get all up in arms over…but can’t take legal action on.

    So it is important to remember that writing, of all forms, is an art. And art is entirely subjective.

    This is where I urge you to return back to the first item in this guide to consider the potential that you are exposing yourself to someone who will be presenting you in his or her or their own style, through his or her or their personal lens. And that lens may look very different than yours.

    Unless the writer has malicious intent, and yes, this does happen, then please do not go on the attack if your lens and the writer’s lens don’t align. If you strike out based on subjective matters, you’re not likely to get a happy result. Remember, at that point you’re criticising the art of the work and as much as you might be gritting your teeth at that point, remember that deep breath and take five more. Or ten. Or more.

    I’ve changed work when the argument has been compelling and well-reasoned. Logic and care win me over every time. Debasing me or my intentions never will.

    If the two of you cannot come to a resolution, take next steps very cautiously.

  5. To go public, or not…
    Sigh, I will readily admit that this is an area I do not do well in. I failed miserably in this most recent incident and I haven’t learned from past experiences.

    Rarely, so very rarely, does turning this type of disagreement into a public spectacle work out for anyone. Neither subject nor writer or broadcaster. More often than not you just get into a flame war and both of you look like fools. I’ve played myself the fool too many times and really need to rein myself in—from both sides of the fence.

    This despite that fact that the most successful rebuttals to “bad” interviews are one-off statements that are well thought out, masterfully-written and contain the correct information. Twitter battles are useless. Blog comment battles become too loaded with emotion.

    I’m not saying you shouldn’t make a public statement, just be careful that you’re speaking or writing from the head and not the heart. Seriously, I’m writing this to tell you as much as to tell myself. 

As I said off the top, this post comes from a heavy heart and I hope it helps if you are considering taking that step into the public arena. Remember, chances are you’re going to have great experiences being interviewed. You’ll make new friends and gain new fans. Here’s hoping you don’t have bad experiences! But if you do…take those deep breaths.