My Life As A Slut: Why Slut-Shaming is Bad For Women

My Life As A Slut: Why Slut-Shaming is Bad For Women
I love sex. I’ve loved it for a long time. I’ve loved it with one person at a time and with more than one. I’ve loved it with long-time partners, with friends, with strangers. I’ve loved it in beds and cars, on floors and in showers. I’ll always let a partner tell me what they want. I know how to say yes and how to say no. I know how to ask for pleasure and how to give it.
 
When I was in Catholic girls school and the nuns told us not to wear patent-leather shoes because they reflected your underwear, I filed that information away for later. In my 20s, I spent half my paycheck on expensive lingerie. I also had a lot of patent-leather high heels. 
 
I worked as a nude model and a stripper in college. I’ve taught sex workshops. I teach an erotic writing course in addition to my "serious" college courses. I’ve published erotica. I don’t think Blue Is the Warmest Color is porn. 
 
When I took the SheWired sex survey recently, however, as I began answering questions, I started to feel a little queasy. All my answers were at the extreme end of every scale. 
 
I was starting to feel like a slut. I was starting to feel shame creeping in.
 
I didn’t like it.
 
Slut shame has become increasingly present in our culture, but it is anti-sex and anti-woman.(Men don’t get slut-shamed. They get slut-high–fived. When NBA Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlain wrote that he had slept with over 20,000 women, everyone thought that was incredibly cool. Or maybe just incredible.
 
Slut shame is bad for women because it keeps them from having sex or asking for the kind of sex they want. Yet sex is natural and important for your well-being. Sex has been proven to be good for you psychologically and physically. Just hugging another person lowers blood pressure and heart rate. Orgasms flood the body with endorphins, which lowers stress and diminishes pain. Sex burns calories (85 calories even if you just lie there; have sex 42 times and you burn off a pound!). Sex boosts your immune system. Sex makes you sleep better and think better and also helps you live longer. 
 
Sex also boosts self-esteem.
 
Women should have sex. Lots of sex.
 
Slut-shaming turns women off from sex and makes them feel bad about themselves–the opposite of that self-esteem boost women are supposed to get from sex. 
 
Slut-shaming tells women who want sex they are sleazy, dirty and bad. It presumes that if a woman has a one-night stand (or ten or 20), she’s "used" and "damaged." She’s a ho/whore. Or she "must be working out bad stuff from her childhood."
 
Anne Paulk, an ex-gay crusader (she used to be a lesbian and liked it, but got shamed into pretending to be straight), was on a talk show last week talking about lesbians. Paulk asserted that two-thirds of lesbians were sexually abused in their childhoods and that’s why they turned to other women for "comfort." (Paulk herself was sexually abused as a child and writes about it in Help for Homosexuals. Please don’t read it.)
 
This is a different form of shaming, but it’s tied in to what women experience about sex because sex and sexual abuse/rape have been inextricably linked for women by the culture in which we live. There is an undercurrent of "bad" that all women have to deal with regarding sex.
 
One in four girls is sexually abused before she’s 12. One in five women will be raped at least once in her lifetime. These are FBI stats. The CDC says that rape is a more dangerous epidemic than smoking.
 
Because these facts are real -- girls get sexually abused and women get raped -- they are always in the periphery when women think about and talk about sex. The fact of having been a victim or potentially becoming a victim of a sex crime is always there. 
 
Reinforcing the negative aspects of sex for women is how the media presents sex crimes. Several recent and highly publicized gang rapes of young women have linked sex and sex crimes together in the media. When rape victims are shamed and made to feel like they have brought rape on themselves, then all sex gets tainted for all women–we all become the potential victim who wanted sex and then got raped after getting drunk at a party. 
 
Except being drunk doesn’t mean someone gets to rape you. 
 
There are also the lingering pre-feminist proscriptions for women. Women are pressured to be "good"–which means not sexual. Emphasis is put on virginity, while sex with other women is treated as if it’s not "real" sex. As far as the larger society is concerned, a young woman can only lose her virginity to a man. Young women having sex with other women is often referred to as "youthful experimentation" -- as if something else will happen later that will be "real" sex.
(writer Victoria A. Brownworth) 
 
All these conflicting ideas about sex that are inculcated as girls grow into women. The conflict makes it more difficult for women to surrender themselves to the pleasure, abandon and intimacy of sex. A 2009 study of orgasm in women found that more than half of women under 30 had never had an orgasm. In 2012, Psychology Today explained that most women cannot have an orgasm without clitoral stimulation and that penetration was not enough to bring on orgasm. Sex therapist Dr. Laura Berman notes that many women have to teach themselves to have orgasms and that there is no wrong way --manual stimulation, vibrator -- whatever works.
 
But teaching yourself to have an orgasm means masturbating. And while men do it all the time, in and out of relationships, women have also been made to feel uncomfortable and "bad" about self-pleasuring. Only "slutty" girls masturbate. Because women are supposed to "control themselves," which means not giving in to sexual desire.
 
Sex shouldn’t be restricted or restrictive for women. We should be able to ask for what we want when we want it from willing, consensual partners. We should be able to open ourselves to the range of sexual play and the breadth of sexual intimacy. But all around us -- even as our female bodies are used to sell myriad products -- our sexuality is limited and denatured by a society that wants us to look sexy, but not be sexual. Because "good girls" don’t have sex.
 
I want to stop seeing "so-and-so is a slut" written in every public restroom. I want the media to stop implying that when a woman is raped at a party, it’s really just sex gone wrong; sex and rape have nothing to do with each other. I want young women to know sex is fun and good for them and part of their journey. I want older women to know that there’s no cut-off age -- we can have it till we’re 100 and enjoy it. I want women to be playful with their sexuality and serious about intimacy, but practice safe sex. I want all of us to be able to fill out a sex survey and write that we had one partner or a gazillion and have either number feel okay, because that’s the number we wanted. I don’t want any woman to feel deprived of the kind of sex she wants to have.
 
Coming out as lesbian or bisexual is never easy, but coming out as sex-positive may be the most difficult thing a woman will ever have to do. Slut-shaming is on the rise and we need to shut that trend down. That message is bad for us, regardless of age or sexual orientation. I am not a slut. Neither are you. We own our sexuality–it’s time we stopped society from trying to steal it from us.
 
VICTORIA A. BROWNWORTH is a Pulitzer Prize-nominated journalist and winner of several NLGJA and SPJ awards for her investigative series on LGBT issues. She is the author/editor of more than 30 books including the award-winning Too Queer: Essays from a Radical Life, Coming Out of Cancer: Writings from the Lesbian Cancer Epidemic as well as Bed: New Lesbian Erotica and The Golden Age of Lesbian Erotica: 1920-1940. Follow her on Twitter @VABVOX
Tags: #Women
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