Last week, I was in The Bull & Bear office recounting an epic summer hookup story (it’s really good, but too long to share here) to my fellow editors when one of them pointed out that I seemed “way too proud about it.” Apparently, a woman parading her wild sexual accomplishments like a bro in the motherland of Carnival and at the headquarters of sex, drugs and party surveys is still a shocking concept worthy of a double take. While some girls would have recoiled in shame and taken a vow of chastity until they were six feet underground, I only stood a little taller. Why? Because I’m secure enough with myself and my choices to not care what others think. I’ve been called a slut before. It didn’t make me cry or flinch, much less change.
From a very young age, women are taught that there are two main categories in which we can fit: the pure, doe-eyed cutie also known as “wife material,” or the evil temptress condemned to a life of misery and a string of married unavailable lovers. The truth is that most us stand somewhere in the middle. While growing up, we are conditioned to feel awkward about sex and ashamed for wanting to experience it, terrorized into believing that it is morally wrong. We are constantly told that the first time is “special,” that you can only “give it away once,” and even that “you should wait until marriage.” We become paranoid that people can tell when we pop our cherries as if the sound of our breathing will start sounding like the melody to “I just had sex.” But after doing the deed, we quickly realize how foolish our previous fears were. No physical traits will give away our secrets, but maybe our astoundingly good mood will.
Boys, on the other hand, are often introduced to porn by their older brothers, celebrate when they finally swipe their V-cards and are encouraged to keep things casual. Sex is seen as fun, dirty and exciting: an adventure to go on multiple times with as many partners as possible. And while these men talk about their hookups like notches on a never-ending bedpost, women are supposed to bury theirs at the back of their closet like a pair of particularly ugly pumps or run the risk of being slut-shamed into social exclusion.
That’s right, our greatest critics are not males; they are our best friends, sisters and mothers. The former will feign outrage for five minutes and then try to get with us because we might have magic powers (aka the ability to do that thing we sometimes practice with a popsicle). The latter will gossip about us behind our backs, leave our names off the invite list and blackball us to infinity and beyond.
So why is it that our own gender reels us back into the pre-feminist era whenever things get a little too graphic? Well, that’s a question I still don’t have a perfect answer for. In the post-Fifty Shades of Grey world, one would expect this kind of judgment to be obsolete. Then again, half of the women who read the series did it on a Kindle so that others around them would be blissfully ignorant of their little adventure into the realm of erotica (#guiltypleasure). If the popularity of those novels taught us anything, it’s that there are millions of interested females. Why can’t we all just be honest and end the perpetual game of hide and seek? As women, we have certain basic carnal needs and our choosing to satisfy them does not prevent us from being fully functioning responsible adults.
We have to flush the ridiculous, usually hypocritical, bullying that is slut-shaming down the drain where it belongs. We need to create a safe space within society where women’s fantasies and sexual experiences are embraced and normalized. Whether we are in a relationship, casually dating or trying out the one night stand, we deserve respect not only from our partners, but from everyone.
If you happen to be a woman holding out for “the one,” I applaud your convictions and wish you the best of luck. For those of you who crave the physical and emotional connection that sex can provide, subtlety remains an important tool in retaining a pristine female reputation. But, if you are ready to dip your toes in the pool of social change, maybe you should join me in re-appropriating the word slut and turning it into a sex-positive label.
The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Bull & Bear.