If there’s one thing our sexist society loves to do, it’s piling onto women who dare to have an enjoyable sex life.
Life can be difficult for ladies who are sexual connoisseurs, and that’s no accident. Women with sexual agency are very threatening to the status quo because they not only flip gendered scripts, but they also represent the unraveling of patriarchal values (well, allegedly).
From this anxiety comes one of the more popular and overused misogynistic insults: slut.
The popular belief seems to be that “sluts” are all freewheeling nymphomaniacs, but in reality, society uses “slut” as a blanket term to refer to any woman whose sexual practices we don’t agree with.
(It should be noted that while some women actively embrace the term “slut” as part of their identity, others insist that it can never be reclaimed because it’s a misogynistic slur regardless. For the purposes of this article, we will be using the term in quotations to express that it is a construct that holds weight.)
“Sluts” are typically associated with promiscuity. Since women are progressively devalued more promiscuous they become, it’s hard to feel a sense of pride around your sexuality or even discuss it at all.
Assumptions about your sex life or your character from family, friends, and coworkers can be downright painful, not to mention wildly inaccurate.
Identifying these messages can help you recognize them as toxic and empower you to take full ownership of your sexuality.
Let’s debunk a few myths, shall we?
1. Promiscuous Women Are ‘Dirty’ and More Likely to Have STIs
A woman can sleep with the same person 100 times and nobody cares, but the second that multiple people are added to the equation, suddenly she’s a vector of disease.
First and foremost, getting regularly tested for STIs is important, no matter how many partners you have. Secondly, contracting an STI doesn’t make you less of a person. But let’s focus on one stigma at a time.
This belief stems from the idea that number of sexual partners directly correlates to a woman’s purity. That’s why so many girls grow up learning that you should only have sex in a monogamous relationship (preferably after marriage) and even then, you have to make sure you’re deeply in love with him first.
You might be saying, “Hey! Just because I like sex doesn’t mean that I don’t believe in monogamy and love.” And that’s fine! My point is not to shame more traditional views on love and sex, it’s to emphasize that shaming anyone for how they conduct themselves sexually is rude and antiquated.
A woman who’s been married for 30 years can get an STI if her partner has an affair and doesn’t tell her. A woman who has slept with 30 people can get an STD if she forgets to use protection – or even if she does.
Anyone can get an STI because of lack of protection or communication. Healthy sexual conduct has nothing to do with limiting your number of partners. The key is openness, honesty, and maintaining a dialogue.
And as for the whole “dirtiness” connotation, that’s just straight up misogyny. Your hygiene is not impacted by how little or how much sex you have.
If anyone ever calls you dirty, reply that that’s impossible because you just showered this morning.
2. Promiscuous Women Sleep with Everyone
There seems to be a persistent belief that “sluts” will sleep with anything that moves.
Part of this stems from the male-gaze-ridden fantasy of universal sexual availability. That is, if you love sex, then anyone should be able to take you anytime they want.
Ew. Keep dreaming, guys.
No woman should be treated as everyone’s personal ATM for sexual gratification.
Plus, sex isn’t just about getting off. A myriad of factors go into sexual attraction – looks, chemistry, compatibility, and so on. That means we’re all at least a little picky.
Sure, you enjoy sex, but you probably don’t bed everyone you meet for the sake of your next orgasm.
Just because you’re a “slut” doesn’t mean you don’t have standards!
3. Promiscuous Women Have No Morals
Our society has a really weird complex around sexuality and morality.
Apparently, if a woman sleeps with too many people, she’s a failure in every aspect of social life, and her character is ruined forever.
“Sluts” are dangerous because their lack of morals indicates their unwillingness to follow rules, which in turn means that they are less likely to be governed by patriarchal standards of proper conduct for women.
This isn’t the 1930s.
Women don’t marry their high school sweethearts at 16 and only have sex for the sake of pleasing their husbands and having kids (hey—this is patriarchal utopia, okay? Of course she’s straight!). We live in a world that grants us with enough independence and access to information to take the time to explore our bodies.
The idea that sexual activity or wanting to pursue sexual pleasure is inherently linked to immorality is just another attempt to guilt trip girls and women over something they shouldn’t feel bad about to begin with!
Judge the strength of someone’s morals and character based on how they treat people, not on the number of people they’ve slept with.
4. Promiscuous Women Are Disappointments to Their Families
Oh geez. Talk about a touchy subject.
See, when you become a “slut,” it supersedes every other aspect of your identity. You could be a high-powered lawyer, but if your family knows you sleep around, your aunt will still give you the same scolding lecture every Thanksgiving.
Yes, we still live in a culture where people believe that a woman’s sexual conduct brings shame to her family. If you have a lot of sex, your parents supposedly raised you wrong or something.
Except that train of logic makes no sense because your sexual choices have little to no bearing on your ability to succeed or fail in any other aspect of life.
You never hear anyone say, “Megan could have been a doctor! If only dick (or whatever other genitalia/device) hadn’t addled her brain!”
Your sex life is independent from the rest of your life, including your family life.
Plenty of people from all kinds of backgrounds like sex. The only reason you’re getting flack for it is because you’re a lady, and everyone else needs to start realizing just how shitty that is.
Even if they’re well intentioned, your family has no right to interrogate you about your sex life, especially if you’re an adult. It’s inappropriate and just plain embarrassing. If they’re willing to disown you or constantly judge you, that’s a sign of a bigger discussion that needs to be had.
Your family shouldn’t be disappointed in you for being promiscuous because that’s your private life, and you still have just as much potential in life being “slutty” as being celibate. Your sexual conduct is not a reflection of your ability to achieve things.
5. Promiscuous Women Are Addicted to Sex
Ah yes, the nymphomania theory.
“Sluts” are always painted as insatiable seductresses who will use and exploit pretty much anyone if it means they’re getting laid. You see, supposedly women can’t enjoy sex unless it absolutely consumes their every thought and action.
People (men in particular) have to imagine a sexually liberated woman as having an addiction because a woman being driven by a force she can’t control is much less threatening than a woman who – shudder – enjoys occasional casual sex.
Fight back against this theory.
You can take pleasure in sex without being addicted to it.
Insisting that you’re consumed by some kind of uncontrollable lust is another, rather uncreative way to strip you of your agency. Make it clear that you decide who you have sex with and when.
And let’s think about that: Someone who acts impulsively according to their libido and manipulates to get what they want? That sounds like a description of men, not “sluts.”
6. Promiscuous Women Only Care About Themselves
Any time a woman prioritizes her own needs and wants, we cry narcissism.
“Sluts” only care about getting lots of attention! God forbid you have—I don’t know— emotional depth and are able to devote your thoughts and time to anything else.
Don’t fall for this trap.
Having an active sex life isn’t a sign of self-absorption. You know what you want and you have no problem getting it. People shouldn’t bully you for that.
If anything, they should be envious because you’re the one who is comfortable enough with your body and your sexuality to actually enjoy it.
You should never feel greedy or selfish for liking sex. Liking sex doesn’t negate any of your other hobbies or passions in life. Your sex life doesn’t diminish your capacity to love or be emotionally available.
And who has the right to say that you only care about yourself?
People who make such a sweeping and deeply personal assumption about your life based on something as superficial as sex probably don’t deserve to be in your life.
7. Promiscuous Women Aren’t Worthy of Respect
This is the most damaging assumption by far.
Given all the toxic rhetoric around “sluts” and promiscuity, it’s easy to internalize slut-shaming. You project the stereotypes onto yourself and start thinking that maybe there’s something wrong with you or that maybe you are less than.
Never, ever think that. Don’t allow patriarchal garbage to dictate how you perceive yourself or how you live your life.
I can’t underscore this enough: The amount of sex someone has does not determine their self-worth. No exceptions.
You walk with your head held high and you shut down those petty arguments with one well-aimed stare. No one should be allowed to police your sex life. The only people who have a say about your sex life are people who are having sex with you – and even them, only to an extent. If they aren’t, tell them to get the hell out of your business.
Be promiscuous. Or don’t.
You’re in charge of your choices, and every woman deserves respect, regardless of sexual conduct.
Promiscuity does not reduce someone’s humanity.
Erin Tatum is a Contributing Writer at Everyday Feminism. She’s a feminist, queer theory lover, and television enthusiast living in Pennsylvania. She is particularly interested in examining the representation of marginalized identities in media. In addition to Everyday Feminism, she’s also a weekly contributor to B*tch Flicks. Follow her on Twitter @ErinTatum91.