I confided in good friends recently about my most recent relationship break up. They have prior knowledge that these sorts of things happen to me all too frequently, and I know they’re just as tired of people breaking up with me as I am. As a good friend, I know they feel comfortable in laying down their personal opinion with me, which I usually appreciate. My friends hypothesized that a potential reason for why my relationships have been failing is because I sleep with the people I am dating too early. From a concerned friend’s point of view, I can see where they are coming from. I get emotionally attached to people that I sleep with, particularly with those that I date. Because I get attached, I get hurt. I know my friends are tired of me getting hurt all the time, as am I.
But when they further justified their claim and said to me, “Guys don’t want to be with girls long-term that give it up so quickly. Why would he want to wife the ho, when the ho keeps giving him what he wants?”
At first, I didn’t know what to say. I politely told them I strongly disagreed with their perspective, and went on to defend the people I slept with, saying that I knew that they did value me, they respected me, and that they didn’t see me as some dispensable “whore.” There was meaning to this sex, I argued. I just left it at that, feeling baffled and embarrassed. A couple hours later, I grew very frustrated. It was not until a bit later that I realized my friends were essentially calling me a slut. I couldn’t believe it. Finally, it happened to me personally. I was slut-shamed.
The concept of being a “slut” is one of the most powerful insults used against women for having too much sex. It has historically been used in instances such as the Salem Witch Trials in 1692 as a weapon against morality and good virtue, and it still permeates how people perceive women with an active sexual lifestyle. It is even used to describe women that are not sexually active at all, or only a little bit, or just “look” like they are. The rationale that my friends used to slut-shame me seemed like an easy fix to a pressing problem, under the assertion that it was okay to call me a “ho” and make me feel worse about even trying to establish a long term relationship with someone. It wasn’t comforting, especially when I already felt low about, yet again, another failed tryst at love. I grew frustrated at the guy I last had sex with, because somehow he demoted me to this new “ho” status. I wasn’t called a “ho” after sleeping with the last three guys I had been with. But somehow, maybe I finally crossed the territory of “ho-dome” at guy number four. But mostly, I grew frustrated for not defending myself. I had the opportunity to defend my choices to have sex with men “too early”—I’ve only slept with men I genuinely liked or had an interest in pursuing a relationship with! But even THIS train of thought is problematic. It suggests that sex with emotion is the only thing that saves me from being a “ho.” What if in the future I wanted to have sex just for the physical sake of having sex? Would that make me more of a “whore?”
Just recently, Emily Lindin launched the Unslut Project on Tumblr (unslutproject.tumblr.com), which chronicles the slut-shaming she received as an eleven-year-old in middle school in the ‘90s.
This project unveils the severity of how our slut-shaming culture permeates young women’s attitudes, discourages them from establishing a command of their own sexuality, and damages a young person’s self-esteem.
The first blog entry discusses how the slut shaming began: Emily makes out with Zach at a dance, and later goes to “third base” with him. They continue a sexual relationship throughout the school year, where false allegations of what they were actually doing sprouted forth. It got so severe, that many of her female friends did not want to hang out with her anymore; you know, typical middle school drama style. Later on in the year, Emily achingly writes in her journal, “ I can’t dump him now, because then people would think I am even more of a slut than they already do. How could one mistake cause my life to crumble like this?”
The eleven year old in Emily resonated so well with what I was experiencing as a college student. While Emily asserts that she regrets her choice to go to “third base,” I did not initially feel like my decision to have sex was a mistake, but my friends were now making me feel this way. I could also sense that they were tired of me talking about my love life. Because they have slut-shamed me, I feel like I have no more safe spaces to turn to talk about these things. I am afraid of disappointing them and letting them down. When these men left me, my biggest fear soon became that I would also lose my friends, all because I was “a slut.”