Huge swathes of publicity and my sex life dissected on live national TV following the release of my memoir ‘The Husband Swap‘, has prompted me to think about privacy. Where do I draw the line?
“So where do you have your boundaries around privacy?” asked my boyfriend.
“I don’t,” I answered. “You have your boundaries and I will respect those.”
“So if I didn’t have any need for privacy, you wouldn’t either?”
I don’t. Or if I do, then I haven’t found it yet.
Personal boundaries are the limits we create to identify “what are reasonable, safe and permissible ways for other people to behave around us and how we will respond when someone steps outside those limits.” Privacy is “freedom from unauthorised intrusion.” You can see, at first glance, how these two may be confused.
But as my life has gone public I’ve discovered that strong boundaries do not necessarily equate to a high level of privacy; on the contrary I’ve needed to set stronger boundaries the more public my life becomes because when my private life was private, I felt little need to set boundaries at all (even if I might have benefitted from them).
Strong boundaries ensure that we take care of our own emotional needs and are responsible for our own actions, whilst simultaneously NOT taking care of or being responsible for others’ emotional needs, and actions. Strong boundaries make good relationships. They delineate your integrity. They are a marker of good self esteem.
Many people – especially women – have poor boundaries; social etiquette including common definitions of what ‘should’ be private, the obligation to be ‘the good girl’, and trying to conform to others’ expectations actively discourages from standing up and saying, ‘hey, this is not okay for me.’ Conventions of privacy often facilitate abuse and oppression; they shame people – especially women – into silence.
To my mind then, the purpose of boundaries is vastly different to the purpose of privacy. Boundaries are essential for a healthy interaction with others whilst privacy allows some space for emotional processing, and protects our vulnerability against shame and judgement. Privacy might make us feel safe and that’s fine. But privacy too often shields us from having to actively define our boundaries – since we are rarely allowed to speak about what we feel is inappropriate and have no need to practice setting them – until it’s too late.
If we can’t vocalise our boundaries, it is unlikely that we will be able to define or exercise them. I’ve only be able to set mine by speaking about private matters, publicly. And that makes me feel far safer than abiding by a poorly defined, often disregarded, generalised standard of privacy. My lack of privacy means I am not safe from slut-shaming and judgement, far from it. But having to face it, means I rely more on my own strong boundaries than I do on hoping that others will act according to common decency (whatever that means).
I write ‘inappropriately’. About things which ‘should’ be private. Once I was even told that simply by speaking about sex and multiple partner relationships, I was ‘asking for it.’
That seems very wrong to me.
Still Not Asking For It
Whatever I wear, whatever I write about, whatever my sexual activities or choice of relationship configuration, does not give anyone the right to have sex with me. Being public with my relationships and/or sex life does not cancel out my right to consent. Period.
I’ve concluded that boundaries do not equate to privacy but the notion of privacy is used by many to assume a safe level of interaction so that do not have to state their personal boundaries. Once you contravene the notion of privacy especially if you challenge social norms as I have done, people might assume you also have no boundaries. When people read what I’ve written they often feel they can talk to me on an intimate level because being public about private things creates an illusion of intimacy. But it is an assumption. Just because I have written about aspects of my life in a public forum, does not give them (or me) the right to assume or expect an intimate relationship.
Our assumptions are our responsibility. Our actions due to our assumptions are also our responsibility.
Some people assume that if I have no hesitation in broadcasting intimate details of my so-called private life, my behaviour will support that assumed intimacy through further action. So if I talk openly about sex, some men assume I am ‘up for it.’ Depending on their boundaries, they may be more or less aggressive about pursuing it and do not understand that my speaking about sex or being in an open relationship, does not indicate a ‘come on’ from me. Part of having strong boundaries is that I do not assume responsibility for their assumptions, emotions or actions.
When lack of privacy is assumed to be a measure of indecency, immorality, or mistaken for lack of boundaries – as is so often the case – it’s an example of our rape culture at work. Women are taught to cover up, to be the good girl and to be private. If they do not, men may understandably assume they are ‘inviting’ intimacy simply by showing too much skin or speaking about sex. This mistake is costly for all of us. Because it neatly avoids teaching both parties the important lessons of responsibility, active communication and consent; it prevents all of us from learning healthy boundaries.