(I just posted this blog to Pacific San Diego Magazine's blogger series.)
Rush Limbaugh’s recent “slut-bashing” incident brought to light how we Americans perceive and experience our sexuality. If you missed this or want the full story, read about Limbaugh’s slut slandering of a female Georgetown law student, in response to her testifying before Congress about access to birth control. The incident is fraught with controversy, so for now, let’s just look at the use of the word “slut.”
Slut Walk San DiegoWhat is a “slut?” Generally, it is a derogatory word used for a woman who is considered too sexual. This begs the question, what does “too sexual” mean, and who decides how much sex is too much for an adult woman? It’s a funny world we live in, where women are highly desired for their sexuality, but criticized, by both women and men, if they want to be in control of that sexuality.
Why is there such a low threshold for acceptable sexual expression for women compared to men? I know a lot of men who like sex, and wish that women were encouraged to like it as much as them! However, there is a distinct gender difference in who is allowed to be sexual without stigma. Research shows that women often report a lower than truthful number of sexual partners. Men, on the other hand, report a higher number. Clearly, both genders have internalized what is appropriate sexual behavior.
Why does it matter if we call a girl or woman a slut? When a woman is labeled a slut, the stigma can be very real in its impact and consequences. For example, labeling a high school girl a slut has long been one of the top insults that can be hurled, and can negatively impact the girl’s reputation, enjoyment of high school, and circle of friends. This hasn’t changed in the 20 years since I was in high school, and with the recent recognition of the dangers of bullying, perhaps this is something to which we should pay more attention.
I believe there is so much controversy around “sluts” because sex is powerful and provocative. People make a lot of decisions based on their sex drive, some empowering and some pretty damn foolish (e.g., look at the fall of so many male politicians and religious leaders who can’t keep their dicks in their pants). I think sexual women have long been the scapegoats of powerful men. Our sexual decisions sometimes have big consequences, but labeling women for choosing to be sexual, when it benefits the women AND men, shouldn’t be one of those consequences.
I think a slut is a woman who seeks sexual experiences and enjoys being sexual. That doesn’t sound so bad to me. Last year, the “Slut Walk” movement in many major cities was a way to reclaim women’s sexual expression, and stop blaming sexual assault on women’s fashion choices. San Diego proudly hosted a Slut Walk in June, 2011. Perhaps a chant of “Two, Four, Six, Eight. Women are Sexual and Sluts are Great!” is something we should all take to the streets.
~Dr. Jenn Gunsaullus, San Diego, CA -- Sex Therapist, Marriage Counselor, Sexologist, College Sexual Health Speaker