There’s No Such Thing As A Slut

There’s No Such Thing as a Slut, or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love Having As Much Sex as I Want
by Joanna Horton

“I felt that if I wrote “slut” or “whore” or “incest victim” on my stomach, then I wouldn’t just be silent … a lot of guys might be thinking this anyway when they look at my picture, so this would be like holding up a mirror to what they were thinking.” – Kathleen Hanna

(Riot Grrrl legend Kathleen Hanna, of the band Bikini Kill)

We can all agree that the word ‘slut’ is thrown around a lot these days, even sometimes used as a casual term of endearment between friends. Some feminists have even used it as a ‘reclaimed’ term, much like the non-straight community has adopted the term ‘queer’ and re-constituted its meaning into a positive one.

And yes, I am the first to argue that a fundamental part of feminism is the recognition of female sexuality in all its forms. Some women like to have sex a lot, some not so much. Some like sex with other women. Some like bondage, some like anal, and so on. You get the idea. The important point is to debunk the various myths surrounding feminine sexuality; to understand that all women do not fit into one of the two categories prescribed for our sexuality – virtuous virgin or nymphomaniac whore. (In recent decades a new category has been introduced – that of the frigid bitch.) Of course, all of these myths have been conceptualised and circulated by men, not women. And of course, they’re not truly representative of the diversity of female sexuality.

These ongoing efforts have made some progress in portraying women’s sex lives as nothing groundbreaking or terrifying, but just a normal part of life. However, the fight continues. One of the most contentious myths remains that of the Slut. This woman has many sexual partners, sometimes recurring and sometimes one-night-stands. She doesn’t establish a romantic connection with any of them, and she doesn’t want a monogamous relationship. Her partners presumably are of the same mindset as her, and if they want anything more serious, she kindly but firmly sets them straight.

In other words, she exhibits exactly the kind of behaviour that is considered normal and healthy (if observed with a wry grin and a ‘boys will be boys’ truism) if it ever occurs in young men.

Perhaps her behaviour is not ‘emotionally fulfilling’. Perhaps she is ‘acting out’ against some unhappiness in her life. Perhaps sleeping around does not, in fact, make her happy. These may all be true, but they’re not the point and they’re none of our business anyway. Society seems unable to accept the phenomenon of a woman sleeping with multiple men without labelling her a slut. And that wouldn’t even be so bad, if not for all the connotations accompanying that label.

Here are a few assumptions that come with the word Slut:

–       She is desperate
–       She’s a ‘nympho’ or has some other kind of disorder
–       Men don’t respect her
–       She can’t form close friendships with women due to jealousy
–       She can’t possess maternal instincts or want children
–       If she does have children, she can’t be a good mother to them
–       She has no morals
–       She seduces men (who are positioned as basically good people lured in by her feminine wiles, rather than equal partners in an exchange)
–       She has no other characteristics or features other than her promiscuity
–       She wants to get into the pants of every man she encounters
–       She is largely heterosexual, unless she fits the idea of a ‘lesbian nympho’ (a fantasy conceived almost overwhelmingly for a hetero male audience)

I know many women who enjoy casual sex with multiple partners. I don’t know anyone who fits the above descriptions. Of course it’s ridiculous to suggest that sex – such an integral and formative part of the human experience – can be decoupled from the rest of a person’s life. But it’s not ridiculous to suggest that a woman can practise a certain kind of sexual behaviour without subscribing to everything that apparently ‘goes along’ with that kind of behaviour. To return to my original point, nobody fits a sexual stereotype. Sexual stereotypes do not exist. They were constructed to sustain and perpetuate a certain kind of power structure called patriarchy. It’s no secret that this structure – rigid in its very nature – makes no room for diverse realities. So yes, I can be a ‘slut’ and a good friend. I can be a ‘slut’ and a good mother. I can be a ‘slut’ who makes a valuable contribution to society, or I can be a ‘slut’ who doesn’t.

Why?

Because there’s no such thing as a slut.

~ Joanna Horton

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11 thoughts on “There’s No Such Thing As A Slut

  1. Sophie says:

    Great piece.

    I know it wasn’t the point of the article but you mention that “Of course, all of these myths have been conceptualised and circulated by men, not women”. I would somewhat disagree and say that a lot of women perpetuate these myths regarding their own, encouraging these stereotypes and judging other girls/women based on them. It’s sad, and undermining for the feminist movement. Maybe a future article topic?

  2. Paul Greener Fields says:

    Similarly, there is no such thing as a ‘Jerk’ or ‘dickhead’, yet we still hear these being used more frequently than the word ‘slut’. The connotations with the former terms don’t tend to be seen as defamatory as ‘slut’, but perhaps this should be a point for a gender-reversal debate.

    Nice article, but I feel there were a number of leaps in logic and assumptions that not everyone would agree with.

    • Em says:

      I think you’re right about how there are defamatory words that are male-orientated, and they *do* need to be addressed because misrepresentation against any gender is so fundamentally wrong; but I think before fighting against lesser prevalent discrimination against men, everyone as a society needs to first finish discrimination against women. One battle at a time.

    • joannacat says:

      I would disagree that ‘slut’ and ‘jerk/dickhead’ are necessarily comparable. ‘Slut’ is a cultural construct (i.e. the construct of what is ‘too much sex’ and what is ‘too many sexual partners’ for a woman) with a whole bunch of frankly inaccurate connotations attached. ‘Dickhead’ or ‘jerk’ are words used to describe when someone is behaving offensively or in an unfriendly way. THAT is not a cultural construct and there are no connotations attached except to say that the person referred to is probably not very nice. Even a word like ‘cunt’ is not the same as calling someone a slut – again, the insult just does not go beyond expressing animosity and negativity towards an individual. I’d argue that yes, there are other insults that are gender-oriented but they are (for the reasons outlined above) not the same as something like ‘slut’.

  3. rosi5 says:

    Great article Jo. Just an extra comment in relation to why women circulate these myths as well as men, see http://finallyfeminism101.wordpress.com/2010/04/04/what-is-slut-shaming/ — The fifth heading contains a handy explanation about “Why Women Slut Shame”. In other words, why women circulate these myths as well as men.

    Put simply (and without the necessary nuanced explanation that the topic requires), women circulate these myths as well as men because women are encouraged, through internalised sexism, to distrust each other and to fight for male approval.

    Slut shaming is a classic example of this fight for male approval, because the name-caller feels that by slut-shaming another woman, the name-caller will appear more credible and superior. It essentially involves differentiation and it may be done consciously or unawarely.

    • joannacat says:

      Of course you are right, and upon further reflection I should have clarified in the article that women do slut-shame. I guess if I were to redo the argument I’d say that the construction of ‘slut’ would never have existed outside of the patriarchy. I still find it doubtful that The Slut was invented by women, but the fact that they circulate the myth demonstrates nothing but internalised sexism, as you say. In fact this is the very concept of a hegemonic system (in this case patriarchy) – it can get even those it oppresses to buy into the system and perpetuate it without realizing. Hmmm … maybe a future topic!

  4. Jo says:

    Thanks for a very good overall article, Joanna! I enjoyed reading it a lot.

    There is one thing that I would like to point out though, an assumption that the article makes (and quite plainly states) that isn’t necessarily true. You say that Of course it’s ridiculous to suggest that sex – such an integral and formative part of the human experience – can be decoupled from the rest of a person’s life.

    I would suggest that no, sex isn’t an integral and formative part of human experience. It can be a very important part of life for many people – even the majority of people. However, just like there are different preferences for sexual experiences by sexual people, there are also non-sexual or asexual people, who don’t experience sexual desire. As a result, many of them don’t have sex, which doesn’t make their experience of life any less human. Most people in the asexual community would argue that yes, sex can be decoupled from the rest of someone’s life. Personally, sex plays no role in my life – and yet I don’t see myself as lacking in humanity.

    I’m not taking this personally or anything – I did not even know that asexuality existed until six months ago when I discovered the label and began to think about its relevance to my own life. However I am pointing out that the underlying assumption in a lot of sex-positive work is still that sexuality is a given, something everyone experiences. It’s a given in society to – people who do not desire sex (as opposed to those who choose not to have it for other reasons) are seen as something that does not exist. Just as sexual orientation is a spectrum with immeasurable positions, so is sexual desire/attraction – ranging from zero to a lot.

  5. jake dominguez says:

    I know this dude who can be kind of a misogynist, he doesn’t know any better, and recently we talked about Marilyn Monroe, of whom he had to say “She slept with Marlon Brando, the Kennedy brothers, and a whole bunch of other dudes. She’s a total slut,” which sounded wrong to me. I didn’t see the sense in a double standard against women where sexual promiscuity makes men “studs” and women “sluts,” so it didn’t sit right with me when he said that, I just didn’t say anything at the time because I didn’t have to right words with which to articulate a convincing opinion. Now I do, and I have this article to thank for that. Excellent piece. Very well written.

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