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First of all, this is not about (possible) trolling, which is already being dealt with in another question.

It's not always easy to determine the necessary level of detail to be given in a question. Oftentimes, users have to ask for more information, sometimes it seems that there is too much information.

Two (three for nitpickers) questions were posted recently that dealt with sexual intercourse. Both were deleted, so I will quote or paraphrase to enable everyone to participate in the discussion. These two questions varied in the amount of details they gave, so they may be taken to represent both ends of the spectrum.


Question 1: Awkward situation with the director of our lab, due to a hookup after the holiday party

We're both male and gay, and we had consensual, anal intercourse back at his apartment, with me being the receptive partner.

This question has its own discussion on meta.


Question 2: How to say no, during the middle of sex,

This question was more explicit with the OP going more into detail about fellatio and what part of it she doesn't want to perform.

I will quote anongoodnurse's sanitized, but, according to her own admission, a bit broad, version of the problem (source: see link below):

I love my boyfriend, and I like to please him, but he has this thing that he likes and I don't. How do I tell him I don't want to do what turns him on but turns me off?

This question has its own discussion on meta.


As you can see, the problem this question is about affected my question itself.

Now, sexual relationships are certainly on topic, since they contain a lot of possible interpersonal problems. And we should give people with questions about how to handle the IPS aspects of it the opportunity to get helpful advice. After all, the anonymity of the Internet allows us to be more open about it without fearing to lose face in front of the people we know.

Furthermore, this is an international site with users from all over the world. This suggests different sensibilities.

Where do we draw the line between language that's making us uncomfortable (but maybe not others), up to being NSFW, and a level of detail to make a question not too broad? How do we deal with such (explicit) language?

  • @RobertCartaino The other question was about non-NSFW language only, this one is about where to draw the line and so includes also how to deal with NSFW language. – Anne Daunted Dec 15 '17 at 19:00
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    "Content" includes both language and concepts. Is the other post not addressing the issue? It is typically better to avoid splitting the conversation between multiple nuanced variations of essentially the same issue. – Robert Cartaino Dec 15 '17 at 19:03
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    @RobertCartaino - We were kind of advised by Shog to do so...? – anongoodnurse Dec 16 '17 at 0:06
  • @RobertCartaino My question was triggered by this question, wherein the necessity of a separate discussion about "sex talk" was voiced. I thought that it would be different enough from my earlier question. That question dealt with a fairly tame post containing a buzzword, that was edited to prevent trollery. This discussion is rather about where to draw the line regarding sexual content in questions - up to potentially NSFW content (explicitly not topic of the earlier question). – Anne Daunted Dec 16 '17 at 13:12
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Update after additional thought:

I'm thinking that in most cases it's not as much about the specific language used as it is about the intent of the language. It's like the difference between pornography and art, both might include nudity, but they do it for different reasons and the reasons (or intents) have an awful lot to do with how people are intended to react to it.

Unfortunately it's really hard to form hard black and white rules about intent. It's almost always in the eye of the beholder, and boils down to a "I know it when I see it"

Perhaps the only way forward is to use the rules we already have and a healthy dose of "common sense" if it looks gratuitous or gratuitously graphic to you, flag it and/or bring it to Meta and discuss whether it has crossed the line.

Basically the questions to ask yourself when you encounter questionable content are:

Why was this included?

What harm does it do?


Original Answer:

When a post really requires someone to talk about sex or potentially NSFW topics, I would prefer to see clinical or technical language used. Use the language that you would use if you were talking to a doctor or therapist.

There's always a grey area about how much information is really required, but leaning towards terms like "sexual intercourse" presents a more professional and less titillating tone. It also avoids ambiguity that can lead to awkward questions about what's really being discussed.

Basically if someone needs to ask a mature question I think it's reasonable to ask that they do it in a mature way, and we should be mature enough to answer in kind.

The Stack Exchange network already has standards of polite discourse:

https://interpersonal.stackexchange.com/help/be-nice

https://interpersonal.meta.stackexchange.com/a/2220/59

I think these standards are sufficient to keep things in order, and that haphazardly adding to them may end up creating more problems than we solve.

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    Doctors? No, no, no, no, no... I had a patient tell me he was going to knock my fucking lights out (he was psychotic). Another patient told me they shoved a dildo up their ass and now they can't get it out. No, I'm not trolling. My point is that doctors and therapists are private spaces and require graphic language at times. This is not such a place. – anongoodnurse Dec 16 '17 at 0:12
  • @anongoodnurse that's as far as I'm willing to go. – apaul Dec 16 '17 at 0:15
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    @anongoodnurse Also... Notice how you just used the exact sort of language you've been railing against to illustrate a point and no one reacted, or took deep offence, or even mentioned workplace filter issues? It's not as much about the particular words as the intent behind them. – apaul Dec 16 '17 at 0:20
  • This is meta. I don't expect a lot of flack for posting something. That doesn't mean no one was made uncomfortable. Railing? You have a tendency to hyperbolize, I think. – anongoodnurse Dec 16 '17 at 0:52
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    @anongoodnurse I believe the point is that the language is technical or clinical... As in, ideally what a patient would use with their doctor. "Attempted anal penetration with dildo" as opposed to "shoved a dildo up my ass." I agree with apaul that at the very least technical/clinical language should be appropriate, or else sexual topics will simply be too difficult to discuss openly at all in this site. – sudowoodo Dec 16 '17 at 4:22
  • @sudowoodo - You don't know what's ideal in a doctor's office. What patients say is not "clinical"; it's graphic. What doctors write in their charts is more appropriate to someone else reading it. Ideally? People don't talk like that. – anongoodnurse Dec 16 '17 at 15:14
  • @anongoodnurse Not sure if you got the chat ping it's been a few days, but if you're interested I'll be there. – apaul Dec 16 '17 at 15:18
  • @apaul - No, I did not! See you. – anongoodnurse Dec 16 '17 at 15:22
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    Maybe "use the language a doctor would use if talking to you." :D – PoloHoleSet Dec 27 '17 at 23:21
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Assuming for the purposes of this question that we are absolutely not concerned with such a post being a possible troll (because sexually explicit language and suspected trolling are now being treated as separate topics on IPS meta), what I wrote in my answer to your NSFW question equally applies here:

Since 'interpersonal skills' will inevitably sometimes step into that delicate region where biology, psychology and libido intersect, such matters should broadly be considered acceptable here, and there really is no need in this day and age to cloak explicit language in innuendo or euphemism simply for fear that "potentially controversial" content might offend a reader's sensibilities.

I absolutely agree with @apaul that censorship is generally undesirable on this website [...] if a post does not violate the 'be nice' policy, then irrespective of content it can stand on its own as being asked or answered "in good faith", although any member can edit what they consider unacceptable language, provided OP accepts the edit.

Question titles are understandably supposed to be sanitized but the body of the question can certainly contain all details the asker considers relevant, irrespective of whether it makes some members uncomfortable. The two recent questions related to sex caused such controversy not so much for the explicit language as for the suspicion in the minds of several members that the writers (maybe the same person?) was trolling this website.

Unless we are willing to allow sexually explicit descriptions and references wherever the question needs them to clearly communicate OP's concerns, it is possible for questions about sexual topics to get bogged down in potentially confusing euphemism. I think what The Tiny Man wrote as an answer on a related meta question is extremely relevant here:

I furthermore believe that many of society's sex-related ills stem from an unwillingness to treat the subject with the directness and candor with which we treat many subjects (...) I would argue that for every level of abstraction we add to the conversation, we potentially lose meaning.

We also need to remember @apaul's pertinent point made in a recent related meta question that what appears explicit, gratuitous and irrelevant might possibly be very crucial to the question, and not all posts are for all users:

If you feel uncomfortable seeing the specific detail (...) this detail may feel gratuitous to you, but it is relevant to the question. It's different psychologically and emotionally for the person being penetrated than it is for the person doing the penetrating. (...) If you don't have the specific life experience to answer or help with a question, sometimes it's better to just skip it. Not all questions and answers are going to be for all users and that's ok.

A notable point about language and appropriate writing style was raised by OP @Anne Daunted in comments here, and this was my response:

But what language should be used? The original 2nd question was "How can I can not consent to him coming in my mouth when I had already consented to giving him head?" - is this okay? Would something along the lines of "How can I not consent to him ejaculating into my oral cavity when I had already consented to performing fellatio on him?" not convey the same information? – Anne Daunted

I view both sentences as equally explicit @Anne Daunted. Different users have different vocabularies and if a user is prudish, the 'scientific' terms for acts they dislike can be as distasteful as slang descriptions. We can avoid confusion by thinking whether the sexually explicit description is actually necessary for OP to properly articulate their concerns. If it appears irrelevant and gratuitous then it can be edited out or flagged for moderator attention. – English Student

In short, being prudish is not particularly helpful for a website dedicated to solving delicate interpersonal problems that can legitimately include interpersonal sexual issues. We need to deal strongly with trolling, but if the post seems to be made in good faith, and the explicit sexual descriptions actually seem necessary to articulate OP's concerns, then a high degree of tolerance for explicit details might be useful to clearly exchange ideas for the benefit of present and future readers.

  • But what language should be used? The original 2nd question was "How can I can not consent to him coming in my mouth when I had already consented to giving him head?" - is this okay? Would something along the lines of "How can I not consent to him ejaculating into my oral cavity when I had already consented to performing fellatio on him?" not convey the same information? – Anne Daunted Dec 16 '17 at 18:03
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    I view both sentences as equally explicit @Anne Daunted. Different users have different vocabularies and if a user is prudish, the 'scientific' terms for acts they dislike can be as distasteful as slang descriptions. We can avoid confusion by thinking whether the sexually explicit description is actually necessary for OP to properly articulate their concerns. If it appears irrelevant and gratuitous then it can be edited out or flagged for moderator attention. – English Student Dec 16 '17 at 18:10
  • Innuendo? I never realised I am misspelling it; thanks for pointing out @Anne Daunted! – English Student Dec 16 '17 at 18:11
  • I agree wholeheartedly with this approach. This graphical language is commonplace nowadays, on websites, talk shows, TV programs (particularly cable channels like HBO), and even television news, so much so that you'd have to actively limit your exposure to certain media if you want to avoid it. My elderly mother frequently watches programs where explicit sex talk is part of the routine banter between the main characters, and she couldn't care less. If these questions offend your delicate sensibilities, just pass on answering them. – Andrew Aug 15 '18 at 17:57
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I've read both of these questions. In the first one, I don't really see how "who did what to whom" is relevant. The OP had sex with someone above them in the company. Now they say it's really troubling them. What the OP doesn't say is WHY it's really troubling them. Do they not normally do that kind of sex? Are they not out at work? Are they worried the business relationship will suffer? Are they worried the superior will try to "manage them out" in order to be able to stay closeted? Do they want a romantic relationship with this boss? If you add those things into the question, I think it becomes answerable. I am not sure more detail than "we had sex" is needed. A ton more detail is needed about what the problem is and what the OP wants from the situation.

In the second one, the details I think are needed. Lots of people don't like the last few seconds of being the receptive oral partner. Lots of people don't want to stop to ensure those last few seconds happen somewhere else. Negotiating that can be delicate, especially when a pattern of agreeing to it has been happening. It's a question that could attract good advice from a variety of people. Can you ask it without the phrase "come in my mouth"? I suppose you can, but whatever phrase you use will lead to the same image in the reader's mind. I think you might as well use the simple, natural language to make it clear what the issue is. It's not the same as "I don't like to have that kind of sex" or "I wish you wouldn't talk that way while we're having sex" because it's referring to just one small part of the overall process.

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    A common theme I'm seeing at IPS is way too much content that derails the actual questions. Most of which would or could be dupes if there wasn't so much of it to wade through in each question. No one should need your life's story to tell you how people should behave towards each other. Basically all I need to know is if you live in Asia or not. – Mazura Dec 23 '17 at 16:47

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