Afternoon Inquisition 12.2

For me, the weekly Afternoon Inquistion post is something I relish and dread all at once.  It’s a terrific and interesting way to learn more about you, dear readers, and also more about my fellow Skepchick bloggers.  But kids, I’ll tell ya, the pressure.  The pressure to come up with a worthy question, that I haven’t already asked, and then be sure I’ve posted it at the right time-  geez-o-pete. 

Still, every week I start in the same place, with a question I ultimately decide is asking for information that is too private for this venue.   Today I’m ending there too:

What, if anything, is too personal to discuss in public?  What topics are off-limits even in the smallest circles?


A B Kovacs is the Director of Døøm at Empty Set Entertainment, a publishing company she co-founded with critical thinker and fiction author Scott Sigler. She considers herself a “Creative Adjacent” — helping creative people be more productive and prolific by managing the logistics of Making for the masses. She's a science nerd, a rabid movie geek, and an unrepentantly voracious reader. She doesn't like chocolate all that much.

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  1. The internet has pretty much destroyed my sense of what is or is not too personal. If you asked me a decade ago how much info I might be interested in revealing online, and I doubt I would’ve gone much further than an actual photo of myself.

  2. Confidences. I hate gossip with a passion. If someone tells me something in confidence it stays that way. I’m not perfect, of course, but a few beatings from my wife helped reinforce my natural inclinations.

    Babies. I think having a child is the most selfish act any human being is capable of. I have met very few people who are willing to discuss this point of view let alone agree with it. Before I stopped bringing it up the most common response was an attempt to claim that having a child was a great gift to this potential human being and the parents were indeed quite selfless because they were willing to bestow this gift. The attitude even extends to my atheist friends who are not naturally disposed to this sort of inverted logic. This is probably just biology wrapped in rationalization, but it’s still annoying and very hard to discuss rationally.

    Other than this I think it is merely a question of finding the right group. Isn’t this one of the reasons Skepchick exists? The topics we discuss around here I cannot bring up in most of my social circles for risk of offending someone. Dan Savage also provides this very valuable service, but along a somewhat different axis.

    (Oooh, talk about an awesome crossover: The Savage Skepchick Podcast. I think it would go well if there was drinking involved.)

  3. I’m famously TMI. Some of my most epic internet discussions have involved my flaps, asshole bleaching, and how the spunk of a vegetarian tastes nicer than an omnivore’s. I also played out an entire breast lump finding-diagnosis-operation episode on the internet, including the posting of my MRI scan.

    However, if I ever discovered I had a tapeworm, I wouldn’t tell a soul.

  4. Once upon a time before I found this place and became so comfertable with everyone here I was a very private person and just didn’t discuss anything that was personel. Outside of this forum I still don’t discuss anything personel. I would never discuss the embarassingly large size of my penis with my friends and family or how light headed I get when I’m erect. But here no problem.

  5. My infertility treatments. All X+1-too-many years of them. It’s even hard for me to discuss it with my parents – hubs and my ex-girlfriend are the only people I can talk to about it at all.

    Everything else, to my RL friend’s undying chagrin and embarrassment, is fair game.

  6. “Let me tell you about what a cokehead I used to be.”

    “So I was having sex the other day and…”

    “Let me tell you about my personal relationship with Jesus.”

    Anything I’ve ever heard starting with those phrases has felt rather inappropriate for public discussion.

  7. Bathroom stuff.

    What’s your wiping technique? Sorry, don’t want to know.

    Though I’d somehow be willing to discuss the share details of chaining my wifes colostomy bag if I though it might help someone deal with that unfortunate situation. Though the fact that she doesn’t have it any more might make that easier.

    I guess if I were a criminal that would be off topic.

    And only in the closest of circles will I bring up what I did with your mom last night. ;)

  8. Well, I don’t know where the skepchicks could go to take it much farther than the discussion of Tang & poo, or “practicing with a tooth brush”.

  9. Note that is not a complaint above. But it seems that no topics are off limits here, except maybe for feminine hygiene (which I hope I have not opened that door).

  10. @PrimevilKneivel: “details of chaining my wifes colostomy bag”

    I know it’s just a typo so forgive me, but this phrase left me with a mental image that will not easily be erased.

  11. I’d imagine discussing personal experiences with any condition which leads to gross genital issues (i.e. herpes, genital warts, or that weird desease that makes your phallus look like a head of cauliflower…) would be fairly off limits in social situations. But then, I also suppose it would all depend on the environment in question.

  12. @tkingdoll: I am embarrassed to admit that I never even knew that there was such a thing as anal bleaching, but I try to learn something new on the internet every day, so there you have it. Thanks!

  13. @tkingdoll: One shouldn’t ever share their diet plan. :)

    I really think inappropriateness should be determined by the people involved. I think most things that people avoid talking about do deserve discussion n some sense. I mean, even female hygiene needs some discussing, otherwise we wouldn’t know how to deal with the various things that goes on with our bodies. At the same time, I see few problems with people opting out of a discussion that they dislike or avoiding talking about things they are uncomfortable with unless, of course, that thing they’re avoiding is something they need for their own well being. Even so, that’s their right to avoid it.

    I think that we can also use a little critical thinking when it is time to avoid some topics as well. For example, if you’re in a room full of people who have been seriously traumatized from being in a horrific tragedy, that’s probably not a great time to bring up a religious debate or a conversation that might place blame on one of them (assuming any role in the tragedy they had was purely accidental). This mostly means that context is important – while you may not bring such topics up immediately after a tragedy in said company, the same things could easily be discussed at other times or with other company without risking causing unnecessary emotional harm to others.

    Are there barriers that I won’t personally cross, ever? Of course. That doesn’t mean that other people should necessarily have those barriers. I think that trying to avoid topics because there is some socially determined wall around it for no rational reason is kind of silly.

  14. @Rebecca: You know, there’s an easier way to do that – instead of doing the appointment where they put that abraisive stuff on your asshole, just spend a few minutes after you shower painting your asshole with hydrogen peroxide.

  15. Off-limits discussions in my closest circles include the Discovery Institute, why Jesus died for my sins, and why Jesus died for your sins.

    Seriously though, enough liquor and I’m game for any conversation…memories of college float through my brain…

  16. @Pinkbunny:

    Sometimes, there’s no need to be drunk. I’ve been at a friend’s home several times after he’s forgotten to flush a few little black curly hairs down the toilet following a shaving session.

    Hack…it makes me want to cough just thinking about it…

  17. I won’t ever talk about how when you walk up to the urinal right after the previous guy went, you can still smell his pee, especially when the cafeteria has just served asparagus.

  18. Things you fight about with your significant other. I can listen to your coke stories, how you used to cut yourself in high school, I can handle hearing about the STD you got from your co-worker at last year’s office christmas party, the year you were on welfare, details about the removal of your colon polyps. I can listen to you lament about the bump you have on your penis.

    But I can’t handle listening to you talk about that fight between you and your spouse. I don’t want to take a side. I don’t want to call your SO an asshole. I don’t want to mediate. I just want to leave the room.

  19. Honestly, I try really hard to only keep company with those who can allow me to be uncensored.

    I truly believe people take themselves too seriously. I think people are too addicted to being offended that they have no idea what’s it like to just relax and realize that words are simply that, words. They carry no result in the physical world — unless they are acted upon. And that really goes off into personal restraint.

    This is why I feel it’s completely okay to enjoy jokes that are off-color or that make fun of tragic situations.

    Making a joke about battered women, or raped children is a ACADEMIC exercise — it’s a mind game.

    Is the prevalence of domestic violence horrid and deplorable? Absolutely. Is child molestation heinous and disgusting, you bet.

    I am not of the mind that these things are involved in propagating the behavior or feeding stereotypes. And I’ll add that I don’t think my position makes me a sociopath.

    So to answer your question : Child rape, domestic violence against women, and of course racism. (It needs to be said these are purely North American)

    In sum: abstract jokes about real situations – okay.
    Humor in the face of a specific reality – unacceptable.

  20. I am somewhat lactose intolerant. I also am naturally a bit gassy. One night I made the dreadful mistake of having a bowl of chili for dinner and then later on when I wanted a snack, I ate a couple bowls of cereal. The resulting carnage was simply unspeakable and several of my neighbors considered calling 911. It was 2 or more hours of appalling noises eminating from my nether regions and smells that would gag a maggot at 50 paces.
    This was an event so monumentally stupid that I rarely discuss it in public…or in private.
    I only mention it here because you asked and because you dont know me. You cant point at me on the street and laugh at me :o)
    Actually, Im sorry I even mentioned it…

  21. Nothing should be off limits. Especially the Scared Cows. The only reason we find some topics a little embarressing is because we’ve been “taught” that talk about them is inappropriate.

    And pretty much the reason for most of those is because they remind us of the vast gap between how-we-like-to-think-of-ourselves and the reality-of-what-we-are.

    Usually anything associated with corporial nature of our bodies; Arses, genitals, saggy bits, hairy bits, too big, too small. Anything, in short, that reminds us we are not the marble stautes we aspire to be.

    However, as a human anything that can possibly happen to a human should not be that alien to you. Montaigne the french philosopher said “Les Roys et les Philosophes fientent, et les Dames aussi” [Kings and Philosophers shits and so do ladies]

    In the UK there is a huge problems with STD’s and unwanted pregnancies because a reticence to talk about all things Sexual. Ok, there’s a lot of talk about shagging but most of that is misinformed (you can’t get pregnant if you do it standing up etc) and counterproductive, and very little actuall medical based sexual health advice.

    example. A college buddy of mine is now a GP and he had a women come to see him [I wont go into details] and the upshot was that it turned out she was pregnant. He told her and she started to cry. He immediatly assumed the pregnancy was unwanted and explained her options on the NHS. It turned out her and her husband had been actively trying for a baby for some time, but it would soon become obvious to all her friends and family, especially her mother, that they’d been having sex.

    We also have a problem with Bowel Cancer, one of the main reasons is people’s embarressment at having “Arse trouble” prevents them from going to the Doctor.

    There is huge taboo around child abuse and unfit parents, which indirectly lead to the case of baby P and, even more shockingly the case that only came to light last week of a man in South Yorkshire who systematically raped his own daughters for 25 years (from the age of 13) resulting is 19 pregnancies from which there are now several children still living. Had people not taken the view of “we don’t talk about unpleasant things” (or had any faith in the police) he would have been found out much sooner and a lot of harm prevented.

    The list goes on and on.

    There should be nothing we are afraid to question or try and reason-out (especially if some subjects cause offence just by being questioned, all the more reason to question them). Freedom of speech, if it means anything, is the right to say unpleasant things

  22. In “the smallest circles”, anything can be discussed. Period.

    As far as “in public”, this may be an AI where definition needs to be made.

    Does “in public” mean:
    1) On a bus, subway, sports or other event (including classical or jazz concerts).
    2) In a bar or at a rock concert.
    3) At work.

  23. @jtradke: I have the thing of being unable to pee in public. I just can’t do it. It’s a nightmere in pubs because if it’s busy (or just if there’s another man in the bogs) I A) can’t go if I’m going to stood next to someone at the urinal and B) I “dry up” if someone comes and stands next to me.

    Even without directly looking they can see that no stream of piss is forthcoming (especially if its one of those long backsplash urinals along the length of the whole wall were you just stand up to the crease)

    The number of times I’ve stood in a busy nightclub or pub between two men with my knob in my hand, face screwed up in effort, thinking of waterfalls, desperately trying to pee. And what must they be thinking?

  24. @russellsugden: That’s way more common than you think. I have trouble peeing in public, too (how often do you hear THAT in normal conversation?), and I was pleased to hear of an actual study on the phenomenon of piss-related stage fright. Researchers found that people took much longer to start peeing when someone else walked into the bathroom, even if they were in separate stalls I believe. A link reference will take a bit of time, sorry . . .

  25. @Rebecca: I think it might have something to do with sympathetic nervous system activation. That controls the bladder sphincters. It has to be deactivated for pee to come out. Someone you can’t see coming in somewhere where you’re vulnerable might activate the SNS enough to stall pee. But I’m not 100% sure about that.

  26. Specific details of sexual activity related in public places.

    I once had an acquaintance give me a detailed description of his (anal) sex activities in a Tim Horton’s (the description took place in the coffee shop, not the sex), and it was highly off-putting.

    Other than that, the relative taboo-ness of a subject depends on the skill and character of the relator. A story which I would find funny and charming, if a bit personal, from a Skepchick, I might find highly creepy from, say, someone on 4chan.

  27. Considering half of my cell conversations take place on the el…..
    In any public forum, social or transit, I tend to not discuss dudes I’ve done, pissy family related info, and anything related to bodily fluids. Get me in a small circle and I will share several of my entertaining stories regarding that intestinal parasite I had a few years back and happily reveal that I HAD SEX THIS MONTH — WOO-HOO! Seeing as how blogs are public, but I am technically sitting alone and talking to no one, they meet those criteria :)

  28. Sometimes discussing our personal shortcomings can be very uncomfortable, even among the closest of friends and loved ones. For this reason, it is highly beneficial to have anonymous support groups to help deal with difficult problems. I feel inspired by the sharing here to finally do something to help people who suffer from the same problem I face. I have debilitating problem with perfectionism. Sometimes I can’t complete a task in a timely fashion, or even at all, because of this. I plan to found a support group, Perfectionists Anonymous, modeled after the highly-effective twelve-step programs that have helped so many people. I will outline for you the twelve steps of my program.

    1. We admitted we were powerless over perfectionism—that our lives had become unmanageable.
    1. We admit we are powerless over perfectionism—that our lives had become unmanageable.
    1. We admit we are powerless over perfectionism—that our lives have become unmanageable.
    1. We admit we are powerless over perfectionism. Our lives have become unmanageable.
    1. Because our lives have become unmanageable, we admit that we are powerless over perfectionism.
    1. Perfectionism, having made our live unmanageable, causes us to admit that we are powerless over it.
    1. We are powerless over perfectionism..
    1. Being perfectionists has made us powerless over managing our lives.
    1. We admit that we are powerless over perfectionism; that it has caused our lives to become unmanageable.

    Please watch this space for steps 2-12, which will be appearing soon.

    I am a Hedge

  29. @russellsugden:

    I’m more or less the same, actually. It’s called paruresis. For me it depends on the layout of the bathroom, my mood, how drunk I am, how distracted I am, etc. I used to have a lot of anxiety about it, but more or less got over that.

  30. I’m alarmed to say it but…nothing. Oh I won’t put anything embarrassing HERE but I’m a huge sucker for a PM.

    Hope that doesn’t open the floodgates…

  31. @Rebecca: Never mind the paper, I want to read the research grant request! Aside from all the ethical/consent issues it must have been very well written to get enough money to study bashful bladder.

    “We were going to give it Cancer Research but we thought you’d put a better grant proposal together so you can have it to go and study people peeing in pub toilets”

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