C.S. Lewis once wrote, “as soon as you deal with [sex] explicitly, you have to choose between the language of the nursery, the gutter and the anatomy class.”
Of course, no matter which language you choose, if the word appears on Google’s banned word list and you mention it, regardless of the context, it will be a lot harder for potential readers to find your site if they have SafeSearch enabled.
Google has this to say about their SafeSearch options:
“Many users prefer not to have adult sites included in search results […] SafeSearch screens for sites that contain explicit sexual content and deletes them from your search results. No filter is 100 percent accurate, but SafeSearch should eliminate most inappropriate material.”
The problem with this is that it also eliminates appropriate material. Some of the words on the list make sense; however, a word like “n[u]de”* eliminates, for example, 130,000 of Wikipedia’s 16,700,000 hits – including articles on safe sex, nude models in art, and Talking Head’s album “Naked.”
There are also problems with this politically speaking. As Susie Brightpoints out, words for male genitalia do not appear on the list while words for female genitalia do. She mentions that a breast cancer support group that got pulled down by AOL; two seconds of searching reveals that prostate cancer support groups are still going strong (That being said, so are other breast cancer support groups; you just never hear about the ones about prostates getting pulled).
What does this mean?
It means that people looking for non-pornographic safe sex info will have a harder time finding it. It means that words relating to female sexuality, or indeed anything other than straight male sexuality, are pornographic while those relating to male sexuality are always acceptable. In short: it means that the Internet, an open forum where anything goes, is more self-censoring than, for example, Health Canada (compare to Google SafeSearch). And for something supposedly open and democratic, that’s a tragedy.
*See? Self-censoring is everywhere.