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.
Because there’s no such thing as a slut.
~ Joanna Horton