Bad Words: The S Word

Everyone loves a good old fashioned slut.
Hey, every man wants a lady in public, and a whore in the bedroom, amiright?

Slut! Whore! Slutty slut McSluttersons. The most common denotation used for “slut” is a person (woman) who has many casual sex partners. Though it still carries quite a bit of weight for some, there are a couple problems with the term slut itself.

  • Even when a dictionary or other source says, “an individual” or “a person,” it is a KNOWN that this word is often used as an epithet against women. In fact, oftentimes when this word is used as a pejorative for men, the modifier “man” is added as a prefix. If the language is not sexist, why do we need to add a sex modifier for men?
  • One of the biggest problems with this definition is the vagueness of “many.” How many (presumably male*) partners constitute many partners? For some, ‘many’ could mean over 5 or over 10 or over 20. It could mean ‘substantially more partners than me.’ For someone growing up in a restrictive puritanical culture, many could be as little as 2 or 3. So on whose authority do we rest this question?
  • How would anyone, but the woman herself, know how many partners she has had?

*I say presumably male because in almost every context of usage, I’ve heard it in reference to a woman about heterosexual relations. This does not mean that bisexual or homosexual women are immune to the affects of this word, but for the purposes of this post, we are going to narrow the view a tad.

Personally speaking, I have not really ever been bothered by the word. Many years ago, I thought about the words slut and whore and decided that even though I don’t really care about either word, I supposed I’d rather be called a whore. I have always been of the mind that if you are going to have a job, it should be one you enjoy. Therefore, if a woman really enjoys sex and finds out she can get paid for this thing she loves? Rock on with your bad self. (This was of course before I learned about how most prostitutes are forced into the line of work by any number of factors up to and including the need to fulfill basic needs such as…say…feeding a child and having no where else to turn)

I diverge.

So why are women who sleep around sluts, but men who sleep around are just men? Only in some circumstances are they man-sluts. So they’re a slut, but a special kind of slut because they have a penis, and as we all know, Boys Will Be Boys. The sexism in the language is palpable. Sex is a natural thing; there is no cause to make a woman feel less than because of doing something so natural. Not a single one of us would be here if grandma had not bumped uglies.

Why are women taught that sex is a BAD THING? A bad thing that you should never ever do outside of marriage, lest people think you’re a tramp. You shouldn’t wear that tight shirt, or men will think you’re easy. That skirt is too short, men might get the wrong impression. If you show cleavage, men will think they can get that one and only thing they want from you. Because apparently men are incapable of thinking for themselves. How do so many people not realize how insulting that in and of itself is? Women are taught that men only care about sex, and this plays very nicely into rape culture. The idea that men cannot help themselves when they see a sufficiently attractive lady. (Newflash for those who may not know: the clothes do not cause the woman to be attacked. The raping rapist rape-guy causes the woman to be raped. But we can get more into that later.)

Women are taught that even -talking- about sex is wrong. As if by being candid about the subject multiplies your number of partners 10 fold. As if expressing any sort of desire out loud for that intimacy somehow sullies the act.
Why do we insist on women being so ‘pure’ anyway? Pure sounds so nice and…well…pure. And innocent. Naivete is also a synonym for innocence. One of the most important ways in which we gain knowledge about something is by gaining experience doing that thing. Sometimes we make mistakes. Sometimes we open our bed to bad people who do not respect us. And sometimes that experience gives us insight as to what to avoid in a future partner.

So how many partners is too many? Is it the same number for men? (No, of course not. That would be silly. Boys will be boys, after all. And if all the boys are so experienced, but all the girls are supposed to chaste and pure, who is lying? *) Does a woman even need to sleep with a single man before she is labelled a slut? (No: http://thoughtcatalog.com/2013/10-women-on-what-i-was-doing-when-i-was-called-a-slut/)
*Again, taking the narrow heteronormative view here
Some women earn the label by having the audacity to be raped. How dare they be unable to stop the man who was holding a gun to her head, guess she’s ruined now, eh? How dare she have her body violated, leaving her emotionally scarred for the rest of her life, to say nothing of the possible physical scars she may carry now as a constant reminder of the horrific trauma forced upon her person. How. Dare.

There is a stigma associated with one particular issue relating to sex. Sexually transmitted diseases and infections. For some people, the word slut conjures thoughts of breeding grounds for STD/Is. As though a magic number of partners makes a person develop a contagious infection. As if any person who has only had one partner ever is immune to the lies of another. Or immune to forced intercourse. A woman who sleeps with dozens of partners may be clean (there’s another synonym for pure again) while another woman, who has slept with only one person who claimed to love, respect, and care only for her, may contract the herpes virus. There is of course an increased risk of contracting a disease or infection by having multiple partners. The same way there is an increased risk of you dying the more you drive. Have you stopped driving yet? No, of course not. You use your safety belt, and try to make sure you’re in a safe care. You take precautions. You make sure you feel safe. You do everything to minimize risk, yet you still get behind the wheel. Practicing safe sex (and teaching more than abstinence only) has the same effect.

As mentioned previously, some think any number higher than one earns the term because, you know, you’re supposed to save that for marriage. And if you dare own your own body and explore its sexuality outside the confines of marriage? You are no longer pure and wholesome. You are less than. Who gets to choose whether or not a woman is a slut? How does the person yelling the word know about the woman’s sexual history? Again, no one save the woman could be certain of said woman’s past.

But – and here’s the crux of the issue – the word has nothing to do with what the woman may or may not have done in her or anyone else’s bedroom. It is purely to knock the woman down, to make her feel smaller, to make the person who uses the word feel bigger.

Sex is fun. Sex is a wonderful, beautiful thing. And it is nobody’s business but your own. And your partner(s)’. Sex with yourself helps you to learn your body, and sex with another person…you get an entire other person’s body as a playground! You get to learn together what you like to do. You have the chance to learn what they like; they have the chance you learn what you like, and it is an amazing thing, learning another person’s body. And you get to do this no matter the past either of you have had, because (and this is important) everyone is different. What you like to do with one partner might not be so great with another. You get to have this beautiful, astonishing bond with each other, whether it is in a long, committed relationship, a quick fling, or a one-nighter.

Of course, there are plenty of men and women who do fully want to wait until marriage and want to explore each other’s sexuality with that one person, til death do they part. This is not to say that people who feel that way are wrong. To the contrary. The point is simply that women should not be shamed for their sexuality. Not a single part of it. Whether it be orientation, a fetish or paraphilia, a longing to share the first time within a sanctified relationship, or a lack of desire for sex altogether.

Some people want to make the word ‘slut’ a taboo. Others want to reclaim it. I don’t yet know which way I am leaning in that debate.

All I know is that the only times sex is wrong and should be shamed are when there are minors or animals involved, or when there is an unwilling (or incapable of being willing) participant. And that unwilling participant is absolutely NOT the one on whom the shame and blame should rest, but on the molester, the predator, the rapist.

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4 responses to “Bad Words: The S Word

  1. That women should be made to feel bad about their sexuality is perpetuated no only by men, but by women who themselves have been indoctrinated in that belief. I think it primarily comes from religion, but that can be another discussion. So what’s the first step in remedying this? And at what point, if any, SHOULD a person feel bad about their sexuality? There’s obviously different beliefs about this matter, even taking out a religious influence, so saying, “As long as the person’s not hurting anyone” can’t always apply — A person that does not want to have a lot of sex may be hurt when their partner does. So if people are always going to be different and from that always going to get hurt by someone, how can we get everyone to think that sex is ok regardless of quantity? (Stated exceptions apply.)

    • I think the first step is making sex itself less taboo. This of course means starting with education. Many do not realize that abstinence-only education is a crock. If they did, it wouldn’t be taught, at least not to the extent to which it is. I think that there should be a more candid discussion with teenagers (and preteens because it’s not like they don’t have urges) about sex – safe sex – consensual sex.
      In conjunction with making sex less taboo, I think we should make bodies less taboo, however, I do not really know where to start with that. Though I suppose driving the point home that yes, these are natural feelings, but yes, you should wait, but again, if you don’t wait – these are the precautions you should absolutely take to keep yourself safe. Perhaps more of a discussion on how the media affects people’s perception of beauty, including their own. On just how photo shopped a person in a magazine is, even a conventional beauty.
      I’m not sure in what instances a person should feel bad for their sexuality (excepting when it involves harm to another), so if you have a specific example, I might be missing what you mean here.
      As far as hurting another because of things like frequency of sex and whatnot, that’s just hurt feelings. Sometimes very hurt feelings, I’m sure, but ultimately, that comes down to a bruised ego. I wouldn’t even discuss it in the same sort of ‘hurt’ that is caused by rape.

      • Making sex less taboo — To what degree? Sex with anyone willing at any time at any place? I’m not seriously arguing for that, but the problem with something being taboo is it’s always subjective. There are no universal evils, really, and sex is no different. But it’s no more helpful to tell one person they should be more restrained while telling another person they should be more lax to fit MY idea of what sexuality should be. Yes, there are some people that are (in part) very “slut-shamey” because of their very conservative views, but there are quite a few people that take the live and let live approach, but still have varying levels of what they consider ok. And that’s fine — We can learn to get along like that. I do agree, that the body itself should be less taboo. But that is tricky, because telling someone that their bodies don’t need to be hidden with shame seems to go against telling someone that they should guard themselves closely. I know how I feel about my body now, after nearly 32 years of living inside it, and I’m quite content with it, but I don’t know if I would have been when we probably should be talking about this stuff with our children. In any case, there will never be universal agreement on this matter, and from that alone there’s always going to be people upset with the level of sexuality someone else is displaying if it goes beyond what THEY think is morally acceptable. As for my remark about when a person should feel bad — Let’s say two people are in an otherwise loving relationship, except arbitrary person A wants sex once a month, and arbitrary person B wants it twice a day. Should A feel bad for being unfulfilling to their partner, or should person B feel bad for expecting too much? Yes, if one person gets tired and leaves the other then it will lead to just a bruised ego, but it doesn’t take much more than that to start slut-shaming or prude-shaming (is that a thing?) another person. What I was asking was, given that people DO get hurt feelings, how do we create the kind of society where hurt feelings don’t turn into loathing.

        • I was in no way saying that we should encourage kids to have sex with anyone willing anywhere possible, and I did not say that bodies do not need to be hidden (nor am I saying that they do). Owning one’s body and having the ability to make the decision to do with it what you, yourself, and no one else, pleases is powerful. I’m saying that young women (and men, of course) should be taught that their body is -theirs-. They get to choose what they do with it.
          “…telling someone that their bodies don’t need to be hidden with shame seems to go against telling someone that they should guard themselves closely.”
          I do not really see the problem, sorry. In all aspects of life, one must decide how (or if) to protect oneself. You feel like showing off your fancy new car/outfit? Ok, well, if you’re going to take it out for a ride, you might want to wear a seat belt (or condom). Just because someone likes to go streaking or is comfortable enough with their body to live in a nudist colony doesn’t mean that when they have sexual relations that they shouldn’t at least be aware of all possible side effects involved, and what can be done to prevent them. They are not mutually exclusive.
          As far as your hypothetical A and B: Simple answer is communication. Longer answer is…neither of them should feel bad about wanting what they want. If it creates friction, they should discuss what the problems are and come to some sort of agreement (maybe they decide once a week). In a healthy relationship, communication is key. So perhaps we should also teach kids how to use their words, and express how and why they are feeling something.

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