slut, n. Slovenly woman, slattern
slovenly, a. Personally untidy or dirty, careless and lazy, or unmethodical
slattern, n. Sluttish woman
Not what my mother meant when she called me a slut. For whatever else I am, I am tidy, clean, careful, industrious, and methodical. Quite methodical. So just what did she mean? I don’t know. I really don’t. I asked her, but of course she refused to discuss it.
1. Maybe people call you a slut if you have sex before you’re married. This poses a bit of a problem if you don’t intend to get married. Did my mother expect me to remain a virgin all of my life? Surely not. Besides, that would reduce marriage to a license for sex, and I’m sure she (and many others) would object to that interpretation.
However, even if I did intend to get married, what’s wrong with having sex before I sign on the dotted line? A little knowledge and experience might make for more realistic attitudes – less disappointment, frustration, and anger. Not to mention regret. Call it informed consent.
And actually, if Jane did have a little sex with Dick before she married him, I don’t think my mother would call her a slut. She might be pissed off that Jane didn’t follow the rules and wait, like everyone else – like she – did. And if she could get beyond herself, she might be angry with Jane for exposing the lie that marriage – i.e., religious and civil law – has a monopoly on love and/or that love must be recognized by law before it can be expressed physically. (Though we do seem to allow its psychological expression before marriage. Interesting implication then about which is considered to be more important.) But she wouldn’t call Jane a slut for having a little sex with Dick – hm –
2. Maybe people call you a slut if you have a lot of sex. Well certainly after marriage, that’s okay. Though my mother may tsk tsk a bit, she wouldn’t call Jane a slut.
What about a lot of sex with Dick before their marriage? Well, I think my mother would tsk tsk a little more loudly, but still she wouldn’t cry ‘Slut!’
Okay, what if Jane had sex with not only Dick, but also with Tom and Harry? Aha. I think we’ve got it.
3. People call you a slut if you have sex with a lot of different people. Before marriage or after marriage. Now why is this such a problem? Multiple partners increase the risk of disease, yes, but my mother’s tone for ‘Slut!’ wasn’t quite the same one she used for ‘Take your umbrella!’ (Not that umbrellas prevent disease.)
a. Insofar as one has sex in order to reproduce, multiple partners may make paternity harder to establish. Or it may not: if Tom is Black, and Dick is White, and Harry is Asian – or if Tom had a vasectomy, and Dick used a condom –
Nevertheless, why is uncertain paternity a problem? Why does it introduce an element of immorality? Given that the amount of quality time a man spends with offspring known to be his is only negligibly more than that which he spends with offspring not known to be his, the not knowing wouldn’t seem to result in much of a deprivation.
However, given that financial support and inheritance is determined by genetic lineage, uncertain paternity opens the door to – what? Not exactly fraud, but misappropriation of funds? So I’m a slut because my behaviour may put some guy’s money into the wrong kid’s hands? Is that what it’s all about? There’s got to be a less ridiculous explanation.
(And if sex for reproductive reasons is considered the only ‘legitimate’ sex, then not only must one call lesbians sluts, but one must call all married people who have sex more than once every nine months sluts.) (And if consistency in thought matters at all, then women who use multiple samples from a sperm bank are also sluts. Though a few minutes with a turkey baster might not qualify as ‘having sex’. Despite the similarities.)
b. Insofar as one has sex for pleasure, multiple partners is immoral because because – it’s a sin to have too much pleasure?
Actually, this may not be that far off the mark. My mother also disapproves of my being semi-retired at twenty-two. Apparently I’m supposed to work 40 hours/week for 40 years before having the leisure time to read and go for long walks every day.
In fact, I suspect the force of the insult reflects the perceived injustice, the underlying envy: ‘Slut!’ means ‘That’s not fair – you’re breaking the rules – I had to limit myself to one man!’
But I think there’s an even better explanation.
c. Insofar as having sex is making love, someone who has sex with many people shatters the romantic myth of Mr. Right. It either says there’s more than one Mr. Right or sex isn’t just making love (see 3.b above). And of course both proclamations are to my mind more realistic and more rational, indeed more mature, than the alternative.
First, isn’t it rather weird to consider that, sexual intercourse, the ultimate expression of love? I mean it seems as arbitrary as touching one’s big toe to another one’s nostril (except that there is, presumably, a little more physical pleasure involved). It seems to me that a lot of other things – continued support in one’s chosen field, for example – are far greater expressions of love than the mere giving of a few minutes of physical pleasure.
Second, if the objection is that I’m having sex, making love, with someone I don’t love, well then half the married women in the world are sluts. How many people stay married even though they don’t love each other any more? And how many of those people still make love, still have sex?
Third, though one may well want to give pleasure to the person one loves, why stop there? Why should we be ungenerous? Should we not want to give pleasure to other people as well, people we like? And why not also to people we don’t know – what’s wrong with giving pleasure to people we don’t know? And all this applies equally to getting pleasure.
Fourth, even if one does restrict sexual pleasure to the beloved, do you really believe you will or can or should love only one person, consecutively or simultaneously, in your entire lifetime? However, loving two or three may not make one a slut – so how many is too many? In fact, it may not be only the quantity that upsets my mother –
4. Maybe people call you a slut if you have sex with someone you just met. I suppose the argument could be that Mr. Right is less of a risk than Mr. Goodbar. Well, in two-thirds of all marriages, Mr. Right will beat his wife at least once. That sort of takes care of that argument. Furthermore, my mother didn’t seem concerned about my safety so much as my morality. (And, actually, now that I think of it, she seemed concerned not so much about my morality as about her own).
Of course, if it’s sex for reproduction, then it seems to make sense to know something about the biological father. But who can judge how long it takes to find out all the important things?
But if it’s sex for pleasure, does it matter whether you’ve just met? I can have lots of fun with a motorcycle I just met.
And if it’s sex as love, well I guess if it’s with someone you just met, the definition of love is stretched a bit. But then again, aren’t those who believe in Mr. Right the same people who believe in love at first sight?
My guess is, however, that ‘someone you just met’ is taken to mean ‘with anyone’. Which is, in turn, taken to mean ‘with everyone’ –
5. People call you a slut if you have sex with anyone and everyone. This is interesting because I think that under this definition, there are very few sluts indeed. It is rare, very rare, for someone to have sex with anyone, to have no criteria for choice, to be totally indiscriminate. One, almost every one discriminates on the basis of sex – that is to say, almost everyone is either heterosexual or homosexual. Two, most women discriminate on the basis of attraction; those women who don’t, that is those, such as prostitutes, who have sex with men who are not sexually appealing to them, discriminate on another basis: ability to pay. Three, I don’t think I’m alone in not having sex with a person I suspect of being diseased. Four, I don’t have sex with someone if I think they might be physically violent. And five, I don’t have sex with a person who wants to impregnate me. So far from being indiscriminate, my behaviour is very discriminate.
It is important to note that my discussion so far has not included men. There are some very good reasons for this. One, the word ‘slut’ applies to women only. There is no equivalent for men. ‘Stud’ is perhaps the closest in denotation, but it is exactly opposite in connotation: positive rather than negative, complimentary rather than insulting. This of course is very interesting because it reveals a double standard. And I could dismiss the entire question of what’s wrong with being a slut by merely drawing attention to that duplicity. But one, I wanted to examine the standard that justifies the insult by itself, independent of any other standard. And two, there is no doubt that the standard by which men are judged is equally deficient and therefore of dubious value in proving a point.
Nevertheless, a comparison at this point might be rather interesting. My behaviour, I’ll argue, is not only as discriminate as that of most men, it’s far more discriminate. One, men do not seem to restrict themselves to women they find sexually attractive: sex for men is not just a sexual thing, it’s a power thing; so they’ll have sex in order to display dominance, in order to conquer – and sexual attractiveness, therefore, becomes irrelevant. Two, I don’t think men are very concerned about having sex with women who are diseased: not one that I have been with has ever insisted on a condom; indeed, most did not want to use one, even when supplied by me. Three, they are no more discriminate concerning the next criterion: men do not seem to consider possible physical violence (yet how easy it would be to reach over for a knife in the back when he’s about to come, to give a quick twisting wrench instead of a caress). Lastly, the possibility of pregnancy does not seem to matter either: apart from the sad absence of condoms, no man has ever asked if I’m using contraception, indicating either a confusion or an indifference as to purpose. So it appears that men are far less discriminate. Indeed, of all the men I’ve ever asked, only one said ‘no’. Does that make them sluts?
[Hell Yeah, I’m a Feminist is a feminist blog, often radical feminist (radfem), always anti-gender and anti-sexism.]