sextips advice forum


"Dear Survivor Pod,

 

Around 2004-2013, from the ages of 18-27, I was an avid reader, then regular contributor then eventually moderator of sex education communities on LiveJournal.

 

Tacit, as I mostly know him, was also a regular in those spaces. When I first encountered his writing as a teen I was very impressed. I followed his journal, read about his sexy adventures all agog, I left him complimentary comments, etc. As the years went on and I developed my worldview further, through my own relationship experiences, reading more perspectives, and conversation with others, the shine wore off. I started pushing back on things he was saying, and eventually, he mostly stopped engaging when I would respond to his comments.

 

The majority of posters-of-questions in these communities were young women and girls, teen to young adult. Often they would describe difficulties with body image, self esteem, and with their boyfriend's behaviour, such as watching porn or pushing for threesomes or anal sex.

 

In these situations, Tacit's responses were uniform. Insecurities were to be discarded, leading to a full and healthy enjoyment of sex - including porn, kink, and group sex and/or non monogamy as standard. At the time, I generally agreed with a lot of what he was saying, but wished he would be less pushy and overbearing about it, and more compassionate to people's fears and concerns, especially when the people involved were particularly young (15, 16) and/or had described other vulnerabilities (eating disorders, childhood sexual abuse or recent sexual violence, etc). I also wished he was more alert to the possibility that sometimes the other party in the relationship was being unacceptably pushy.

 

It's very strange to go back over this. As you can see from my comments in the forum screenshots included, at the time I thought his ideas were generally fairly sound, but that he needed to make space for e.g. fellow teenage girls to give each other advice in their own way rather than assuming he always had the full and complete answer to every dilemma (and it was always 'become less insecure and then you won't feel hurt').

 

It's only reading over these exchanges again, a decade later, that I think, actually WOAH. This advice is coming from a really troubling place for anyone, not just young and vulnerable people. I am incredibly sorry to hear of his behaviour in intimate relationships and I believe every single word of what was described without hesitation and without needing to see particulars. Reading some old threads now I'm struck by how boastful he is not only about his own sexual adventures but about how amazing his relationships are, untouched by insecurity from any party. At the time, I honestly had no doubts this was a full and honest depiction.

 

It now occurs to me that his regular public declarations about his partners supercoolness with everything may have served to pressure not only the women and girls he was speaking to, but also his partners themselves, a layer of pushiness it honestly didn't occur to me to imagine back in the day.

 

I'm not sure how well my concerns translate over a decade of changing norms and platforms. I thank you again for this opportunity to be heard on this topic.

 

Solidarity with anyone affected.

 

Angela

one of the harms that I have documented is Franklin Veaux’s tendency to exploit younger, less experienced, or vulnerable women. The report above, submitted to me via the survivor pod email, shows that this dynamic is not restricted to Veaux's intimate relationships.

  1. The testimony women have shared with me traces a pattern of bullying and coercive behaviour. In this case, the story is about a man approaching middle age who takes on the role of sexual advisor to much younger women and tells them that their reluctance to perform the sexual acts their partners request indicates a flaw in their own character or thinking.
  2. Veaux's insertion of himself as sexual advisor and counsellor (without professional credentials) to vulnerable teenaged girls unsettled several community members, who were concerned about a man in his 40s giving sex advice to girls in their teens, especially because he was telling them to ignore their feelings and push their sexual boundaries.
  3. On sextips, Veaux wrote up sexual advice (often in explicit detail) and posted it where he knew young teens were going to read it. Some community members considered this to be age-inappropriate "instruction" for young women who might be injured by his words—and were also concerned about him feeding young men the idea that they could reasonably demand any sexual behaviour from their partners if they couched their demands in terms of “openness” and accused the women they were pressuring of "insecurity."

examples of advice

among the screencaps that Angela forwarded to me was a conversation thread from 2010, when Veaux was 44, from which the comment below is extracted. This conversation occured in another forum, where members of the sextips and polyamory livejournal forums discussed Veaux's behaviour, and it appears to detail a trauma trigger from Veaux's advice (tw, mention of rape):

Figure x: Apparent trauma trigger prevents commenter from calling Franklin Veaux out, 2010

LiveJournal does not allow a search through the comments according to user, and it's been too time-consuming for me to trawl through almost 600,000 comments to find the one referenced here. But I've included links to two pieces of advice I did find, redacted for identifying information.

The first is from 2007 (when Veaux was 41): advice from Veaux on pretending to be a virgin after dubiously consensual sex.

The second is also from 2007: advice from Veaux to 'just do it' in the face of phobia.

The latter also roughly coincides in time with when Veaux was involved with Paula and pushing her on her phobia around needle play, which left her traumatized.


forum user concerns

i have used livejournal entries to corroborate the survivor stories. But although in the beginning , I treated LJ as a neutral platform, the more I researched, the more I realised that LJ could also facilitate abuse due to certain facets of social media (which are now widely adopted). But especially given that in 2001, they were so new and unfamiliar for the majority.

Here’s what one reddit user had to say about livejournal back in the day:

"It was an introvert’s paradise. We could share our internal thoughts and feelings to people without the anxiety that sharing in person brought out. Suddenly, we had a platform for our pointless lives. At that time we hadn't gamified our internet existence with points, hearts, likes, reblogs or retweets that give you added visibility, so we were just there, posting for ourselves. Sharing what we thought was important.

Moreso than that, there were communities! We could find people with similar interests and instead of feeling like we were the one person in our school that liked a thing (or that we were the one person we knew, anyway) we could find someone else that liked that thing! It didn't matter what it was. It was a lot like Reddit in that way, except that what we did in communities was under a username that tied back to a blog where we'd probably also confessed our deepest fears…

[ElectricCharlie, Reddit User, “Was LiveJournal's reputation similar to that of Tumblr today?”]

Livejournal provided a space where false intimacy could be fostered between strangers because of the new 'friends' function, which had been built into the platform to restrict access to certain users. 

"Friends would write about waking up drunk in a ditch after a party, and all their friends would laugh. Then their parents would read it… So finally someone asked if there was a way to make a drunken-party post that their parents couldn't see. So that's how the friends thing came about.

[Brad Fitzpatrick, SF Gate]

Even though the platform was built by a teenager, for teenagers, users of any age could for the first time add "friends" that they might never have met in real life, and read their intimate diaries. 

This was before facebook, and before myspace. So few knew the pros and cons of the blurred lines of a parasocial relationship. But friendships weren’t the only things social media changed; the lines between public and private were also blurred in this new and exciting environment.

The same question is still pressing for many bloggers today: Is a journal post private? Or is it public? Normally, “private” speech is considered personal, honest and authentic, but since LJ allowed private entries that were actually public, they became a kind of performance, “complete with an expectation that a performance must give attention to audience desires."  1"Shout Into the Wind, and It Shouts Back” Identity and interactional tensions on LiveJournal by Lori Kendall First Monday, volume 12, number 9 (September 2007)

And Veaux was very much aware that he was speaking to an audience. He conducted polls and used his LJ platform to send folk back to his personal webpages. 

His public-facing content might thus understandably disguise some truths and hide less-charitable feelings. It might exaggerate for dramatic effect. It might frame stories in perspectives which skewed the truth. Some posts might even contain bald-faced lies. Yet in 2001, the novelty of online journaling, characterised by first-person narratives that coloured entries with an air of honesty, combined with the human tendency to suspend disbelief when reading a story and the naivety of the predominantly teenage and young-adult LJ demographic, might have made younger readers more susceptible to manipulation by more cynical writers.

Even with the hindsight that twenty years of social media has afforded us, we still fall for people who create online personae or false selves, whether or not they do it with ill intent. And ill intent is certainly what an anonymous poster from sextips suspected of Veaux:

Figure x: Accusation by anonymous, towards Franklin Veaux regarding pedophilia

This comment was left in 2001 on Veaux's personal LJ by an individual who voiced suspicions about the then-35-year-old Veaux's activity in the sextips forum.

But no one is arguing (or even hinting) that Veaux is a pedophile, and I have received no supporting testimony that Veaux sexually targeted underage women. Angela also confirmed via email that comments like this are not reliable. She says, 

"It was perfectly possible for someone absolutely impeccable to get comments like that, and not a particularly reasonable expectation for them to make you stop and take stock.”

I therefore read the comment left by anonymous only as an expression of concern that Veaux's presence on sextips was considered by some to be problematic—even in 2001 when, as Angela pointed out in her statement, internet norms were different.

Veaux's response to the concern

Veaux's response, however, offers some indication of how he thinks. In the same comment thread, Veaux acknowledged to his anonymous commenter that the average LiveJournal age was around fourteen.

Figure X: Franklin Veaux acknowledges livejournal's young demographic

This suggests that Veaux had studied the user age statistics and knew the age range of his audience. He also wrote about the anonymous comment further in the sextips forum:

Figure x: Franklin Veaux frames his call for feedback as a choice between two realities

In this post, Veaux says he analysed the age of last four days' worth of posts by people whose birthdates were listed, and he claimed the youngest poster was 16, and the oldest was 39. At first glance, perhaps this seems like a responsible piece of self-examination. However, here's what a professional has to say about it:

"Everything about [this situation] top to bottom was so tone deaf. And the ways that he tried to defend himself, where he quotes the age breakdown of the people in the forum, were pure deflection."—Samantha Manewitz, LCSW, member of the FV survivor pod

There were grounds for concern, of course, although not about pedophilia. Rather about the potential effects of advice presented as expertise by a seemingly tone-deaf man, which perpetuated abusive patterns

age distribution in the sextips forum

sextips was not a one-on-one answer system, and there were far more members who read rather than posted questions. Potentially there were thousands more who read them, especially because it was an open forum which could be read by anyone on LJ whether or not they were a member of the group.

Sextips moderators collected demographic information of their members in various posts from 2003 to 2005, and the collated results are shown below. Although the sample size is small, the results are concerning.

On average, over 60% of users were under 20, over 80% of users were female and over 20% of users considered themselves virgins.

At thirty-seven years old when the data was collected, Veaux was already in the 2.5% of users who were over the age of 35 (in 2001, he had been in the oldest 5%). Yet according to Angela and supported by my own research, he was a regular in these forums, giving sex advice. Here's a chart pulled together from the data in table below, which shows the age distribution:

Figure x: Average age of sextips forum members, 2003-2005

Figure x: Age distribution table sextips 2003-2005

I've analysed in percentages, but the absolute numbers are interesting, too. In any given month, there were only between 10 and 20 active users over 35 in the forums, out of between 500 and 900 users. It's not about the age, per se, but what that means regarding the level of experience and the uneven power dynamic. 

sidestepping the issue

which means that there is at least one other concern which arises from the anonymous comment and which could have been reasonably addressed in an honest inquiry–that is the presence  and the suitability of advice being given by experienced older members to significantly younger and inexperienced people.

"Sidestepping the issue" is one of Veaux's behaviours which has been documented in several women's testimonies. It is revealed in Veaux's comments above, and an example of it was first recorded explicitly in Elaine's story:

...he does that thing where he doesn't answer you directly. He'll smile and just kind of let it slide by, or change the subject ever so... you know? Just move it slightly away without it... it's like he wouldn't address it." Elaine's Audio testimony

Sidestepping is a common tactic in gaslighting, used to persuade others to see "plausible perceptions, beliefs or memories, as groundless." (Stark, C. A. 2019). In this case there was a plausible perception that sextips was a forum which was vulnerable to inflitration by sexual predators, but Veaux deflected the legitimate concern by focusing on making the commenter wrong on a related issue.

Furthermore, Veaux's post in the sextips forum, which requested responses from the community, proposed that there were two realities to buy into:

Either the anonymous poster was wrong, or the older members of the forum were pedophiles.

According to Samanatha Manewitz,

"This is a common phenomenon called splitting. It's not just the inability to tease out nuance but the aggressive unwillingness to tease out nuance. And when you try to introduce nuance it gets immediately quashed and shut down."

This explosive and emotive framing elicited thirty-four rebuttals in support of Veaux—and out of the two options supplied, it was unlikely that anyone would choose the latter.

Framing is also a well-known phenomenon, commonly used by the media, to select certain aspects of an issue and encourage the audience to interpret these in a particular way (Entman, 1993; Scheufele, 1999). Indeed, the extraordinary power of framing was elucidated by Veaux himself in a 2012 post:

"In any discussion, the person who controls how the issue at question is shaped controls the debate. Control the framing and you can control how people think about it." - Why we are all Idiots (Franklin Veaux, 2012)

Veaux extended the original poster's framing with such a rigid dichotomy that those who preferred not to be associated with pedophilia were highly likely to deny vehemently that there was any problem with their presence there at all. 

spiral of silence

the fact that no one disagreed publicly with Veaux is not evidence that everyone agreed. In Internet environments, it’s often the most frequent posters and the cruellest debaters who are heard, while other voices and, especially, minority opinions are silenced. This “spiral of silence” is driven by the fear of isolation (Noelle-Neumann, E. 1974), and it is common in public social environments.

spiral of silence: theory

In all societies there are integration processes that are based on the individual’s fear of rejection, public ridicule and isolation. This fear of isolation leads to a pressure to conform, and this pressure causes social integration.

Public opinion as a form of social control is defined as opinions or behaviour that can be displayed or expressed in public without risking sanctions or social isolation or, in some cases, that even have to be expressed in order to avoid isolation.

  • the ‘louder’ opinion seems to be stronger than it actually is
  • the increasing silence of one side paints a distorted picture of the real distribution of opinions.
  • thus one opinion can be pushed back until only a “hard core” and the “avant-garde” continue to voice their opinions.

“The concept of the spiral of silence reserves the possibility to change society to those who are not afraid of being isolated.” (Noelle-Neumann, E.)

Today, Veaux has answered nearly 28,000 questions on the question-and-answer forum Quora, where his bio calls him a "sexuality educator" despite his lack of credentials, professional experience, oversight or accountability. There, he continues to give occasional relationship advise to teens: earlier this month, he posted the following answer to a question by a user whose bio describes her as "I’m a 9th grader this school year and I have a crush on a 10th grade boy. I’m 15 years old."

 

Figure x: Franklin Veaux responds to a 15-year-old on Quora, August 1, 2019

But he also answers questions in a wide range of other fields, and has specifically answered a question which details his excellent skills for coping with social isolation. It indicates that he feels very little pressure to conform verbally or behaviourally.

"The child me was painfully shy and so very, very alienated, growing up in a world where nobody was like him or shared any of his interests, and utterly convinced it would be that way forever.

The adult me is still shy, but has learned some awesome coping skills to deal with it, and is completely unafraid of vulnerability or authenticity. That childhood me dealt with his alienation and isolation by learning to be resilient, to be happy without needing other people for his happiness, and to live life on his terms without giving a dingo’s left kidney what other people think about that."- Franklin Veaux, Aug 16, 2016, Quora Is your life very different from how you pictured it would be when you were a lot younger?

He writes that his happiness is absolutely independent of anyone's approval, and this may explain the general "tone deafness" of his advice as stated by Angela: "become less insecure and then you won't feel hurt." 

But this is not universally applicable, achievable or even desirable. This kind of advice can also be construed as implicit "victim blaming," and a silencing strategy where the onus is on the individual to become more secure, and thus less sensitive to hurt, while others are relieved of any responsibility to not cause harm. 

 


community concern

the polyamory leadership network email list, of which I'm a part, has recently discussed a similar concern. Facebook's age limit is thirteen, which means that children can be part of less-regulated facebook groups where inappropriate behaviours and explicit content are poorly moderated.

Of course, relationship and sex education––more than tends to be offered in schools, or even by many parents––is a good thing (in my book). But even in better-moderated spaces than the sextips forum, the presence of teens mixing with mature adults in a group which has an "anything goes" mentality is cause for close examination.

In this case, advice such as that given by Veaux as a self-appointed expert, which has been read and taken on board by thousands, has the potential to bake the abusive seeds of gaslighting, misogyny, entitlement and psychological manipulation right into the hearts of the next generation.