Let me start off by stating that I am an avid dark romance reader with very few triggers — I like to use trigger warnings as a shopping list when choosing a book to read. 

I enjoy exploring dark and distressing themes in literature because it can be incredibly cathartic, which means that I’m not going to shy away from them in my writing.

And this is where content considerations come in.

The war about trigger warnings rages on, BookTok the latest to join the online bookish community with intense arguments that seem to devolve into petty arguing rather than constructive discussion.

For some, the widespread use of trigger warnings is a wonderful, compassionate thing, while for others, it amounts to an infringement on free speech and signals the end of modern civilization as we know it.

It’s feral, I know.

A brief history of trigger warnings.

I looked into the research on trigger warnings to see if there was any data on the effectiveness of trigger warnings, but the results are very inconclusive. Trigger warnings can make you both more and less anxious, but the lack of trigger warnings doesn’t show wildly different results either.

The use of trigger warnings originated in online communities. If you’ve ever read any kind of fanfiction, you’ll know that trigger warnings are a good thing, because that shit gets WILD and the triggers help you navigate to the kind of content you want to read. They were originally for the benefit of people with post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic anxiety.

The big argument around trigger warnings seems to come from the college campuses, where some college professors are incorporating trigger warnings into their syllabi. Some universities have instituted policies requiring trigger warnings, while others refuse to support trigger warnings.

Authors Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt describe trigger warnings as part of a movement, “undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offence.”

They feel that trigger warnings are a form of overprotection which prevents students from learning to cope effectively with uncomfortable emotions, thus decreasing their resilience. They write:

“…today’s college students were raised by teachers who may have had children’s best interests at heart but who often did not give them the freedom to develop their antifragility.”

There’s generally a lot of pushback around trigger warnings: professors who have adopted the practice of alerting their students to potentially disturbing content in a text or class are being accused of coddling millennials. And the students who request them are being called “infantile,” or worse.

Being comfortable with being uncomfortable.

In the college world, the thing that seems to upset people the most is that, rather than use trigger warnings as a way to prepare themselves to deal with uncomfortable topics, students are using them to opt out of consuming the material at all.

As a Scandinavian, the realities of war are something that have always been very present in my life, my family, my legacy and my immediate history. Even today, with Putin’s war in Ukraine, history is repeating itself — my grandmother was a refugee fleeing the annexation of Karelia by Russia decades before the annexation of Crimea.

Stories of hardship and strife are a part of my personal heritage.

My family survived two world wars, an independence war, and two Russian invasions for me to be here today.

And as a European, I fervently believe that the atrocities of war aren’t something to be forgotten. We are where we are today because the past unfolded exactly as it did. We learn to cope with the uncomfortable emotions of trauma so that we can find a way better way forward.

While I see the problem with avoiding materials simply because you “don’t feel like it” in an educational setting, when it comes to reading books for enjoyment, trigger warnings exist to help readers navigate an increasingly saturated market with more content than one person can hope to read in a single lifetime.

So, how do I use trigger warnings with my stories?

First and foremost, let me make it abundantly clear that I will never use content warnings for things like LGBTQ+ content. My baseline assumption is never heteronormative or binary, so if this is something that you’re uncomfortable with, my writing is not for you.

Love is love is love 🏳️‍🌈 and bodily autonomy is a fundamental right 🏳️‍⚧️⚧️

All of my stories can also turn NSFW at the drop of a hat, so treat it all as sexually explicit. All content also includes strong language, which, if you’re still here, probably doesn’t bother you.

All my stories are for a mature audience only, which means being 18+.

Now, I personally find the term trigger warning to be, well… triggering. As a communications specialist, I love language in all its nuances and get my yayas from finding effective ways to communicate.

The term trigger warning is made up of two words that fundamentally make an assumption that I’m going to be triggered and aim to fend me off — and since expectations are a big part of how triggered people become (according to research) I personally feel like it’s already setting you up to be triggered before you even get to the actual triggers themselves.

So, in the Story Intros you’ll see a notice at the bottom called Content Considerations. There, I’ll list anything I think you might wish to consider before diving into the story.

The content considerations apply to the story as a whole and we will not be singling out the chapters concerned.

As I’ve stated before, I’m all about writing erotic adventures that smash the patriarchy (and are fun to read too). I’m here for shits and giggles. But I’m also on a mission, and that mission is based on one fundamental concept: consent.

If you’re easily triggered, this may not be for you. If you’re not comfortable with experiencing uncomfortable emotions, this may not be for you.

My content consideration principles.

With the considerations I’ve already provided above, I use basic umbrella categories for content considerations.

Content consideration categories I may use:

  • Dark content (things like abuse, suffering, persecution, torture, kidnapping, death, and similar themes)
  • Non-consensual and dubious consent – noncon and dubcon
  • Violence and gore

These will be found at the bottom of the story intro.

Why at the bottom? Because some readers (like me) prefer to go in completely blind, so by putting the content considerations at the bottom of the post you can click away to the first chapter before getting to them.

Why is it important to use trigger warnings?

Not everyone wants to read everything. And since we’re all here to read for pleasure, we should spend our precious time reading the things we all find genuinely pleasurable.

Using trigger warnings and content considerations is the respectful thing to do. And it’s important when you want to create compassionate online spaces.

Content considerations don’t exist to spell everything out and ruin the reading experience.

They exist to help you make an informed decision. Because the responsibility to heed trigger warnings and curate your own reading experience is still firmly on every reader’s shoulders, but you can’t do that unless you have enough information to make that call.

I don’t read or watch horror. I’ve learned through experience that it’s just not for me.

And those few exceptions that I make for a slasher movie here and there, I go into them with my eyes open and know that I’m going to be pushing my own boundaries (and mute the volume or skip ahead when it gets too much).

The bottom line is that it’s easy to go after people on social media. It’s also really easy to outsource the responsibility of your own emotional processing to other people when you can hide behind that digital wall.

I’ve seen authors who use general trigger warnings be torn down in online spaces for not using highly specific trigger warnings, and it’s just so sad when attempts at creating a compassionate space turns into a veritable witch hunt.

We can only claim full bodily autonomy if we genuinely take responsibility for it.

Experiencing different levels of discomfort in order to be able to learn from them, push your own boundaries is a healthy thing. It’s also a healthy thing to draw a line and say, “No thank you. Not for me.”

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