Sharing: When Is It Too Much?

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Rebecca Traister wrote in her February 5, 2009 article on Salon.com (“The Great Girl Gross-out”) about the fairly new phenomenon of women sharing explicit information about their bodies. “Oversharing is in,” she wrote. As in how many days a woman left her tampon in and how disgusting it was when it came out. (Read Jezebel.com’s “Gross Things That Happen to Your Body: Ten Days in the Life of a Tampon,” by Moe Tkacik.) Or in how one woman’s vagina “ripped like old sheets” while giving birth. (Read Elle.com’s “Ring of Fire, by Miranda Purves.) And now we have My Little Red Book, an anthology of personal stories about women’s first periods. The book even has its own website where women can contribute their own stories.

Is this really necessary? Do women have to air their dirty laundry–literally–about their bodily functions? What purpose can it possibly serve?

My Little Red Book‘s website states that the book hopes “to provide support, entertainment, and a starting point for discussion for mothers and daughters everywhere.” That seems like a worthy cause. But what about articles detailing what your labia looks like after giving birth, how “bushy” you are, and your experiences with anal sex? Are there any limits as to how far it is appropriate to go when sharing about our bodies?

Obviously it partly has to do with the venue. You’re not going to find these articles in “Family Circle,” “Woman’s Day” or “Ladies Home Journal” magazines. At least not yet.

But what is so wrong about saying it like it is? Aren’t we tired of having to keep the deep, dark secrets that make us feel “skanky”? Of course, everyone has a different comfort level when it comes to talking about their physiological functions and anatomy. Even men. I have to admit that I briefly considered revealing some secret of my own, but I’m too much of a prude. That doesn’t, however, mean that I won’t read other women’s stories. And enjoy them, even if they do make my jaw drop to the floor.

Liberation means being freed from the things that bind us. But that doesn’t mean that we have to tell everyone our private business. On the other hand, it doesn’t mean that we can’t. It’s up to the individual how much she wants to reveal, to whom, and under what circumstances. Writing about her rape, as Alice Sebold did in Lucky, can be very freeing. Another woman may vehemently resist talking about her own rape. And yet reading about Sebold’s may make it easier for her to deal with her own.

There’s a place for revelation, I think. Sharing your story may be just what I need to help me deal with my own hang-ups. Just don’t push things on me that I’m not ready to and haven’t asked to hear about. I’ll let you write your explicit accounts of whatever you want to get off your chest as long as you don’t make me read them.

Then again, I probably will.

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Ellen Keim

Ellen is a freelance writer, essayist and copy editor, living with three cats and a husband in Columbus, OH.

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