Surviving a Bad Reputation

Originally published on Psychology Today and cross-posted here with permission.

Credit: Lip Mag

Did the racy pictures you sent to your crush get sent around the school? Did you hook-up with someone’s boyfriend and now the whole school hates you? Are you the victim of slut bashing and don’t even know why?

The pain and embarrassment of being labeled a “slut’ or ‘ho” can be unbearable. The following may ease the pain and help you better navigate a bad reputation:

Realize You’re Not Alone.

A new report from the AAWU found that 17% of High School girls have been the victim of unwanted, sexual rumors. Salacious rumors and slut bashing are forms of sexual harassment that have been going on throughout history. In her groundbreaking book, Slut! Growing-Up Female with a Bad Reputation, author Leora Tanenbaum interviewed dozens of women noting that this type of degradation affected women of all ages and backgrounds. Additionally, The Frisky recently profiled 9 Proud Sluts of History highlighting women with bad reputations dating all the way back to the 18th century. Unfortunately, the persecution of women due to their sexuality is not a new phenomenon.

Recognize It’s Not About You

Just like calling a man a gay slur is about homophobia, the act of calling a woman a slut is about sexism. Sexual slurs are, at their essence, tools used to control female sexuality. The use of such words act to teach us that female sexuality is wrong and, in turn, women who are sexual should be viewed as ‘bad’.

Understand the Bully

Unfortunate yet true, it is oftentimes other girls or women that perpetuate the use of this bullying tactic. All girls lives in an environment where they can be called a slut at any moment. Often, when a girl bullies a peer in this way it is because they themselves are uncomfortable with their own sexuality. One of the easiest ways a girl can represent herself as a “good girl” is by labeling someone else’s sexuality as “bad”.

Beware the Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Sometimes being labeled in an undesirable way can lead a person to start acting in accordance with that label. A self-fulfilling prophecy is when a negative idea becomes a reality. Constant accusations of promiscuous behavior can lead to a rationalization that you might as well reap some of the pleasures of the label. This can potentially lead to unpleasant sexual experiences, hurt feelings or risky situations.

Be Careful of Turning Off

While bad reputations can lead some to give in to the label, it can cause others to shut down sexually. You may have become so fearful of being called a slut that you may find yourself avoiding any sexual activity. Alternatively, when faced with an intimate scenario, you may find that you are holding back sexually because you are afraid that displaying desire indicates that you are “slutty”. This means the experience will be all about pleasing your partner and not about mutual enjoyment. You may also find that you aren’t sexually assertive and therefore not demanding that your partner use protection. This is dangerous because people who are not sexually assertive are more likely to contract an STI or experience an unwanted pregnancy.

Figure Out What You Want Sexually

It can become very confusing to determine if you are acting authentically, or reacting to the slut label. Being a victim of sexual bullying can be highly traumatic, so it’s beneficial to take some time to reflect. A school counselor or therapist can help you sort things out. A great resource to help move you through the chaos is the book What You Really Really Want: The Smart Girl’s Shame-Free Guide to Sex & Safety by Jaclyn Friedman.

Go Off the Grid

If you are being harassed through social media, it’s okay to log off! Shut down your phone and computer, turn-off Facebook and give yourself some breathing room. Think of it as a vacation from technology.

Seek Out a Supportive Female Community

A true friend can offer support and a welcome distraction. If the bullying is happening at school, spend time with friends from other areas of your life. Online communities can also be a great resource and outlet. Websites like, thech! and are great places to start.

Talk About It

It’s important that you don’t suffer in silence. Isolation can worsen the anxiety, depression and poor self-esteem associated with slut bashing. Reach out to close friends and family or seek counseling. A trained professional can provide a safe environment to talk and can help alleviate the psychological effects of bullying.

Dr. Kathryn Stamoulis is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Educational Psychologist, living in New York City. Her work, which covers topics related to adolescents and young adults, has appeared in numerous academic journals and media outlets. Kathryn has lectured widely and is especially passionate about promoting an honest and positive approach to sexual education and development.