Above pic: me by Stacey MarkBelow is an essay I wrote for the current issue of Purple magazine: Slut (noun): a sexually successful female
That, of course, is not the definition of “slut” we often hear. However, it’s my personal definition, and I think if it caught on, a lot more people would be open to the idea of “slutty” and “role model” existing in the same breath.
I’m not here to talk at length about the sexual double-standard. We all already know the deal: for men, promiscuity is encouraged and praised, while women are punished and shamed for the same behaviour. Duh, old news. However, that is slowly beginning to change, and–at least in my experience of liberal, educated circles–the playing fields of dating and casual sex are leveling. However, sluttiness–hedonistic sexual adventure and promiscuity, for the sake of one’s own pleasure and thrill–is still a taboo, especially for women. And in my opinion, a big reason for the lingering stigma is that we don’t have enough slutty female role models–intelligent, sex-positive, responsibly promiscuous women, acting as living proof that having a high sexual appetite, and satisfying it, does not mean you’re an awful person, or doomed.
Of course, we are all influenced by the people and stories that make up the culture around us; everything from film and TV, to fashion ads, to images of the celebrities we idolize help to shape the way we think about ourselves, and what we can become in thr world. It’s difficult to cite an example, either real or fictional, of a happy, healthy, promiscuous person–let alone, a woman. There’s yet to be a character in a movie that says, “I have sex with five different guys a month and feels great about it,” because that makes people uneasy. Usually, instead, the story goes that the slut gets punished—whether she dies in the end, or ends up miserable and alone—because that’s the narrative our society is comfortable with. The promiscuous woman is painted as evil, inconsequential, or disposable. The “slut” doesn’t get to become a lawyer and live happily ever after.
There are countless examples of this. Lars Von Trier’s sex-epic Nymphomaniac was a powerful film, but we can’t ignore that by the end, the protagonist Joe was physically and emotionally destroyed by her high sex drive. There are classic examples from literature like Bell Du Jour, Anna Karenina and the Scarlet Letter, all which feature a woman whose sexual curiosity and subsequent infidelity leads to her entire life falling apart. Then, there’s the fact that in basically every horror movie ever made, as soon as a girl has sex, she dies. In the real world, there’s the recent scandal of the Duke Pornstar, who, after being exposed for performing in porn to help pay her high tuition, was the target of such intense slut-shaming, and so many violent threats, that she couldn’t go back on campus. Growing up up, I was obsessed with the famous Sweet Valley High book series, about a pair of beautiful blond twin sisters–not surprisingly, Jessica was the “bad” twin because she was boy-crazy and Elizabeth was the “good” twin because she wasn’t. And then, perhaps the most clear-cut example of the lot, is the 1977 film Looking for Mr. Goodbar, in which Diane Keaton plays a woman with an increasing appetite for extreme sexual experimentation–in the end, she’s beaten, raped and killed. These are just a few examples of many, but the lesson in all of these stories is resoundingly clear: your promiscuous behaviour will not go unpunished. Writer Tina Fey really hit the nail on the head in Mean Girls, when the high school sex-ed teacher tells his young female students: “Do not have sex. If you have sex, you will get pregnant… and die.” Funny, yet eerily poignant.
So why are the images we see of promiscuous women in the media always so grim? Yes, it’s certainly possible to have sex in an unhealthy or obsessive way that’s harmful to one’s life and relationships–for both men and women. But there’s also plenty of women out there having plenty of sexy, who are plenty happy about it. Through my job writing about sexuality, I have lots of friends who engage in open or poly relationships, who do sexy work, or who are just proud, self-appointed sluts (like me, yay!), which means I see first-hand what a progressive, happy sexual lifestyle can be like. However, these stories are rarely told–they’re brushed under the rug in favor of another slut-shaming tragedy.
The sad fact is, we live in a sex-negative society that conflates having a lot of sex with being a bad person. Not only that, but it can even be considered an illness–as seen in Hollywood’s recent obsession with sex addiction–which means that people who have a lot of sex automatically experience issues of shame, doubt and guilt, and often their friends and partners inflate those feelings by worrying about them, or treating them as though they have a problem. But it’s important to remember that it’s conduct, not quantity, that makes sex unhealthy. It’s possible to have a small amount of sex in an unhealthy way, just like it’s possible to have lot of sex in a healthy, fun way. Having a lot of sex, in and of itself, is not a bad thing, no matter what your gender.
But it can be hard to embrace that, especially when everything around you seems to be saying otherwise–and it gets even harder as we get older. We associate promiscuity with youth and bad decisions, and are expected to calm down with age. Some begin to regret their promiscuous pasts. I can already feel it myself–at 28, between friends, there’s certainly less talk around the dinner table about our sexual exploits than there was just a few years ago. People are becoming more “polite,” and it’s kind of a bummer. People often ask me how I “deal” with the thought of getting older, and my potential future kids being able to see the trail of my sexual history online–everything from nude photos to my old blog posts about the drug-fueled orgies of my early 20s. But I’m kind of insulted by the idea that just because I get older, I should automatically reject the less inhibited behavior of my past, and things that were once important to me, like creating an open dialogue around sexuality. Surely, the past incarnations of ourselves are valid parts of who we are.
Thankfully, there are a few beacons of light in the otherwise puritanical media: Samantha on Sex and the City, with her unapologetic, self-aware sluttiness, is still one of the most empowering figures around for women with a high appetite for sex and adventure. Then there’s pornstars like Sasha Grey and Stoya–intelligent, sex-positive women who promote extreme sexual exploration, while also speaking out about sexual health. In the 40s there was Anaïs Nin–one of the first women to write erotica, she wrote about her sexual exploits with Henry Miller and other lovers, and was a pioneer rebel of slut pride. Madonna held down the fort in the 80s, and today, I personally love Chelsea Handler’s brazen, more-is-better attitude about sex. These women are great, but we need more like them, especially in the mainstream.
Which is why I think if you happen to be a happy, healthy, slutty woman, it’s important to not be ashamed, in order to set an example. You should “come out,” so to speak. I realize that sometimes, writing or talking about sex and one’s sexual behavior can get very cringy very fast–it can feel egotistical, preachy, or like you’re showing off. But I think it’s important to find a way to talk about female sexuality in an open, honest way, that communicates that just like some men, some women like to have a lot of sex, too, and that doesn’t make us evil monsters worthy of death. We cannot be what we cannot see, and until we see more happy, intelligent, responsible, empowered sluts in positions of influence, it will be a difficult to aspire toward such an image.