I do not think that word means what you think it means…
Let’s talk about the word slut. For a number of reasons, it’s been rattling around in my mind. The technical definition is a woman who has many casual sexual partners; also a woman who is dirty. But that’s not exactly what we mean when we call someone a slut.
When I was growing up, about the only way we could have been more conservative is if we’d been Mennonite. The idea of middle-school oral sex was just unfathomable, both to us as middle-schoolers and to our parents. Totally a foreign concept. So when we were, as sixth-graders, throwing around the word slut… we didn’t mean either of those things. The boys meant “you make me feel like I’m not in control of my body anymore and I don’t like it.” Or “I hear you’ve kissed someone that I don’t think you should kiss.” It was about who got to control the girl’s behavior. The same when the girls used the words about other girls. “I’m uncomfortable with the attention that you’re getting. I both want some of it and it scares the shit out of me.” Or, “if I don’t have the opportunity to kiss boys then I’m going to judge you because you do.”
What did we know of it? Absolutely nothing. We were just scared of the things that were happening in our bodies and looking to blame someone else. Since we couldn’t verbalize what we meant, we fell back on a word we didn’t understand.
As a grown up, I’ve admired women who have had many casual sexual partners. I’m not cut out for it, – I get confused when I’ve got two g-chat conversations happening at the same time. But I admire the hell out of women who are firm in their right to be on the receiving end of sexual pleasure. Who know what they want and don’t feel obligated to make it something other than what it is. Who don’t limit themselves to partners with whom, even if just temporarily, they could see themselves ensconced in a house with a white picket fence. By and large I can’t claim any partners that I haven’t wanted, if only as a momentary madness, to settle down with. I don’t even have a good raunchy one night stand to my credit – my naughty stories notwithstanding.
I don’t think this gives me any advantages. Actually, I think it makes me something of an idiot who insists on romanticizing what need not be romanticized.
As an adult, I don’t hear slut much. Among friends, we’re generally pretty sex positive and more congratulatory when someone’s participated in some debauchery. Even encouraging. If it ever comes up in *ahem* other contexts, what it really means is “I’m amazed that you allow me this kind of access and it excites me that you might be unable to resist me.” Really, there’s something there, this double-back of meaning that reveals the accusers insecurities about whether or not he should be able to attract a partner at all, a kind of stupefied wonder that the answer is yes. And perhaps a Groucho Marx mistrust for a club that would have him as a member.
But let’s consider it from another angle. Look at all of those subjective terms just piled up. Casual. Many. Dirty. The only objective terms in the sentence are woman, and sexual partners. Everything else is a matter of opinion. Which either renders the whole question meaningless or leaves you with a statement that reveals our deep ambivalence about women and their sexuality: a slut is a woman with a sexual partner, past or present.
Maybe ambivalence isn’t the right word. I think it’s more like fear. Back to the sixth grade words we didn’t have… when I call someone a slut, what I really mean is that I’m scared of what I can’t control. And what is more mysterious, more idiosyncratic, more dangerous, than a woman’s sexuality?