"Jane, you ignorant slut." Sadly, when those words were uttered back in 1979 on one of the top television shows (Saturday Night Live), it was met with massive cheers and applause. We'd like to think a line like that wouldn't fly today, but the word slut is so readily used that even its Wikipedia page says, "the term slut has a pervasive presence in popular culture."
In today's article, we discuss slutshaming, including what it is, who are the main targets of it, and the lasting effects it can have on victims of it.
What is Slutshaming?
Slutshaming is the act of criticising someone for their sexual behaviour or for being sexually active. It's a widespread form of sexism – as it's usually directed at women and girls – and it can have a major impact on a person's life. Unfortunately, in our society, similar male behaviour is seen as okay, even heroic.
Slutshaming is often used to control and silence victims, and it can be particularly damaging to young girls and women still exploring their sexuality. It can also be a way to deflect blame from men onto women - for example, if a woman is "asking for it," then it's her own fault if she gets raped or sexually assaulted.
Slutshaming is wrong, and it needs to stop. We need to create a world where women are free to express their sexuality without judgement or shame.
But, not all instances of slutshaming are so obvious. There are plenty of subtle or seemingly harmless ways people slutshame as well.
Here are a few to know:
- Laughing or mocking the number of sexual partners they have or had.
- Calling someone's sexual kinks "weird" or "not normal."
- Saying a woman is "like a man" because she has casual sex (like hookups or one-night stands).
- Sharing intimate or nude images without the person's approval or knowledge.
- Commenting or judging someone's style of clothing negatively.
- Shaming someone for masturbation.
- Saying someone (usually a woman) only dresses a certain way to attract men or sex.
- Openly discussing a person's STIs with others mockingly or because they are a "slut."
Who is Targetted by Slutshaming?
Slutshaming can happen to anyone. Women, men, transgender, and gender non-conforming people can all be victims. However, it's often directed at women – and even worse, women or girls of all ages. Slutshaming can occur in person or online, and it can be done by strangers, acquaintances, or even close friends or family members.
People who engage in sex work like OnlyFans, webcam work, or those who sell photos and videos online. It can also be directed at "booth" girls (women hired to work in booths at trade shows), cosplayers, and female nerds.
Slutshaming of teen girls is also one of the fastest-growing forms of cyberbullying. In fact, studies have shown that one in four middle school students has experienced unwanted verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature at school.
Effects of Slutshaming
Slutshaming can majorly impact its victims, leading to feelings of shame, isolation, and anxiety. In some cases, it can even lead to depression and suicidal thoughts. Additionally, slutshaming contributes to a culture of silence around sexual assault and consent issues. As a result, victims of sexual assault are often afraid to speak out because they fear they will be blamed for the attack. This creates a dangerous cycle that allows perpetrators to continue victimising others with impunity.
Victims of slutshaming may experience a lifetime of being unable to engage in sexual health discussions or services. They could be unable to talk with partners about what kinds of sex they like. They may feel as though they should lie about their sexual experience or risks associated with sex (like STIs). Fortunately, STI kits can now be purchased discretely online.
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Women may also face an increased risk of unwanted pregnancy because they feel unable to access contraceptives.
The effects of slutshaming resound far and wide in victims' lives, and they may not even be aware of them.
How to Stop Slutshaming
Slutshaming is harmful and hurtful, and it's something that needs to stop. Here are three ways you can help put an end to slut-shaming:
- Speak up when you hear it happening. If you hear someone being slutshamed, call it out. Let the person know that what they're doing is wrong and that it's not okay to speak to someone like that.
- Stand up for others. If you see someone being slutshamed, stand up for them. Defend them against unfair criticism and help them to feel supported.
- Normalise and destigmatise. Help break down the stigma around sexuality by being open and positive about your sex life. Show others that there's nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to being sexual.
- Be willing to listen. When someone expresses their pain or shares their experiences with you, listen without judgement. Have empathy and show them you care.
Ending slutshaming starts with each and every one of us. We need to call it out when we see it happening, and we need to stand up for those who are being shamed. Only then can we hope to create a world where everyone is free to express their sexuality without fear of judgement or shame.
Perhaps Ms Norbury said it best in Mean Girls:
"You all have got to stop calling each other sluts and whores. It just makes it OK for guys to call you sluts and whores."