How to Identify—and Defeat—Slut-Shaming for Shame-Free Sex

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Culture & Conversation Sexuality

How to Identify—and Defeat—Slut-Shaming for Shame-Free Sex

Allison Moon

Slut-shaming is everywhere in our sex-negative culture, and it's not always easy to spot. Allison Moon's new book, Getting It, teaches you how.

American culture is obsessed with purity. Which is ironic considering how impure our society actually is. (I don’t mean sex. I mean the way we treat ourselves, other people, and the planet.) Purity obsession is directly correlated to sexual shame, and part of that obsession is how many sex partners you’ve had, aka your “number.” People of all cultures, religions, and philosophies can become obsessed with their number and that of their partner.

Women are most often shamed for having a “high” number because our society is obsessed with female purity. Men, on the other hand, are more often shamed for having a “low” number because our society equates sexual conquests with success and validation.

Here’s the big takeaway: Your number doesn’t fucking matter.

Your number affects literally nothing besides your ego. Not your health, not your genitals, not your soul. Your number doesn’t make you a better lover, person, date, or dance partner.

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One of the most pernicious results of obsessing over the number is slut-shaming. Slut-shaming is the act of criticizing or devaluing a person based on their sexual reputation (either real or perceived). It’s a technique for controlling people’s sexuality using retrograde cultural norms. Rarely does it actually condemn any specific amount or act of sex. Instead, it’s a catchall way of telling a person they’re bad, immoral, or worthless. People in monogamous marriages get slut-shamed, celibate people get slut-shamed, abuse survivors get slut-shamed, and children get slut-shamed.

Slut-shaming can be explicit: “You’re such a slut!” And implicit: “You just met him!”

It can victim-blame: “Well, what were you expecting?”

It can be disguised as concern: “Aren’t you afraid you’re going to catch something?”

Or envy: “Wow, I wish I could bed-hop as much as you do.”

It can apply to desires: “Why would you let someone do that to you?”

Or presentation: “Do you really want to wear that?”

It leads to problematic and incorrect assumptions: “You have no self-respect.”

It creates standards for exclusion: “You’re bringing shame on our family.”

We live in a sex-negative culture. The messages we get are cruel, victim-blaming, and disproportionately focused on women, particularly those with other culturally marginalized identities (people who are trans, queer, fat, sex workers, disabled, of color, etc.). The more marginalized you are, the more violent and dehumanizing the slut-shaming can be. Women are supposed to be consumable, sexy objects, while at the same time preserving the illusion of being incorruptible, pure, and virginal. It is—literally—impossible to win.

The men who get slut-shamed are also often those with intersecting marginalized identities: disabled men, queer men, trans men, sex workers, and men of color. For example, one of the most pernicious and deadly effects of male slut-shaming is the villainization of Black male sexuality. America’s racist history has created a paranoid fear of Black men as more sexually voracious than other men. This stereotype is directly responsible for countless lynchings throughout American history and leads to intense bi- and homophobia against and within Black male communities.

When we hew to a narrow definition of appropriate sexual desire and behavior, we remove opportunities for everyone to be authentically sexually expressive. Anything outside of what counts as “normal” sexual interest, including kink, attraction to non-normatively attractive partners, or emotional vulnerability can lead to slut-shaming.

Slut-shaming is easy to spot it when it comes from politicians, police, and parents. It’s harder to recognize when it comes from friends. Odds are, though, you’ve been slut-shamed by someone in your community. Heck, if you’re reading this book in public, you may be getting slut-shamed right now! (Cue scary music.)

The preachers and politicians know what they’re doing when they slut-shame, but your friends might not. Even sex-positive, progressively minded people can find it easier to judge others for their sexual preferences than to accept them without bias.

In fact, you might be the one doing the shaming. Perhaps you read something in this book that made you wince. Maybe you thought, “How could anyone like that?” This, as innocuous as it may sound, is a form of slut-shaming. I’ve caught myself slut-shaming people—even my partners—wondering how someone can enjoy a certain porn or kink, or have sex with a certain number of people in one day. This stuff goes deep and is often invisible. It takes work to excise slut-shaming from your life, but it’s worth looking deeper within yourself to consider why you may be acting from a place of sexual shame.

Now that you know how to recognize it, here’s how to do your part to defeat slut-shaming:

Don’t accept slut-shaming from your community

If your friends talk shit about people (even celebrities) because of the sex they like to have, call it out and shut it down.

Don’t punch down

“It’s just a joke” rarely is. Seriously, dead hooker jokes or “Is that a man in a dress?!” jokes aren’t funny. Don’t share them and don’t humor people who tell them.

Catch yourself

If you judge someone—silently or publicly—for expressing their sexuality, notice the story you’re telling in your head. Are you envious? Or are you repeating a shaming message you’ve been told? If you hear yourself saying “I could never do that!” or “People shouldn’t …” or any “icky” responses to a friend’s sharing, you may be slut-shaming.

Eradicate shaming words from your vocabulary

If you catch yourself calling someone (including yourself!) “loose,” “desperate,” “whore,” “easy,” or “slut,” in a way that isn’t reclaimed, quit it.

Reframe

We don’t shame people for visiting too many countries, for seeing too many movies, or having too many friends. Why is it a problem to have a large number of sex partners? Having a large sexual history means you have a wealth of knowledge about other people’s bodies and desires. Experience is a virtue.

Broaden your horizons

If you’re skeeved out by a practice that people genuinely enjoy, it might behoove you to do some research. You may find a new appreciation for your friends and the wide world of sexuality.

Here’s a fun fact: Having lots of sex usually makes you better at sex. If you have intentional, thoughtful sex, you get better at learning people’s bodies and accommodating differences. This is one great benefit of sleeping with sluts! So instead of shaming them, you should be thanking them for clocking so many hours to perfect the art of sexy-times!

Reprinted with permission from Getting It: A Guide to Hot, Healthy Hookups and Shame-Free Sex by Allison Moon. Cover illustrations by Lisa Tegtmeier. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Penguin Random House.