… and the Slut Lived Happily Ever After

Above pic: me by Stacey Mark

Below 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.



23 Replies to “… and the Slut Lived Happily Ever After”

  1. Omg, everything yes. So well written and completely hits every point about our society’s idea of sluts and female sexuality. I wish your opinion could be everyone’s, it’s a good one.

  2. Very interesting essay but I wonder which role play singers as Miley Cyrius or Nicky Minaj in the evolution of pridetobeslutty image in the mainstream world….
    It would be great to have your opinion about it !

    Sorry for my english,

  3. Very well written and interesting. Everything you say is true. But should a woman, or a man, who has plenty of sex in a healthy relationship, be considered as “boring” ? Does your article imply that a woman cannot be sexually succesful unless she has had several partners ? I wonder what’s your opinion on this matter.

    1. You’re right–I didn’t mean to imply that, but the omission of it does kind of seem to imply it. But I of course think a woman can be sexually successful with just one partner, or a small number of partners, if that’s what makes her happy and she’s fulfilled by the sex–definitely!

  4. all the powerhouse, happy, healthy, self-aware sluts of NYC should all convene and have tea. there are tribes of tight knit women all over the city, i see them and knowingly smile. we must continue to lift the greater consciousness, stomp on the shy and submissive veils and create higher dimensions and definitions of slutting. power in numbers. x well written. much appreciative.

  5. As well as the reminder that “slutty” does not necessarily mean “single,” to do away with the madonna and the whore dichotomy (i wish my wife was this dirty! don’t you wish your girlfriend was hot like me? ball and chain…) like equating getting older with boredom, equating being in a relationship with the end of freedom, experimentation, and being a sexual person.

  6. Sorry, that’s not how it works. I get that you’re trying to be socially correct with your feminist views and justify your own ill-fated encounters, but it comes off as delusional. Good luck ever marrying a quality man with a past(and an attitude) like that, most men find that behavior indicative of future infidelity, even if it’s not always the case. In all honestly I wouldn’t want the mother of my kids to have participated in drug-fueled orgies, most men wouldn’t either.The world isn’t fair–deal with it. We judge men on so many things.. their jobs, game, dick size, everything else. Women get judged on their looks and promiscuity.. it’s not that hard to understand and obey.

    1. “obey”–LOL. Newsflash: thankfully, all men are not like you. I know many intelligent, kind, progressive men who appreciate sexually curious women who have exciting, radical lives, and pasts. I pity you–your life must be so boring.

      Also, who said my encounters have been ill-fated??

      1. I’m an active heterosexual male who appreciates this article and I’d prefer it if VR stopped suggesting that all men think and judge in the same manner he does. He’d fit right into “The Stepford Wives”.

    2. As a man myself – and I know plenty just like me – I married my slut and am more than happy that I did. I’d feel awkward if she wasn’t as sexually experienced as much as she is. I’d feel as if I was standing in her way to experience the depths of what sex can offer.
      Now we are on this journey together, slutting it up like there is only one life to be had..
      Your opinion is antiquated/outdated and luckily the general perception is slowly changing for the better. Fuck the double-standard.

  7. Sounds like a fun video project should be in the works…I imagine quite a few smart, successful, professional woman would be willing to admit/proclaim to being a “sluttist”. It often just takes a few people speaking out (especially those who are successful enough to have the luxury of being able to tell everyone to go fuck themselves and still pay rent) to shift social norms.

  8. Pingback: Slut(when)ever
  9. Karley you’re my hero!

    Do you know the Chilean singer Javiera Mena? I just saw a video that she released a year ago and it made me so fucking excited, i can’t stop watching. In my opinion, it’s a super slut-positive video for women who like women.

    I always get the impression from pop culture and the media in general and stuff that lesbian sexuality is somehow different. Like, less “primal” or something. But I love this whole video.

    I love seeing her obsess over women’s bodies form afar. I love how he smokes that pipe while watching the girl sunbathing. I love how she looks when he’s driving around in her car. I just love when the button’s pressed, definitely made me think of one of the reasons why sex with other women is better than sex with men. Love all the random sword stuff… Love how the girls in this video look.

    1. LOL. I hadn’t seen that video until just now. It’s really funny and sexy, I like it. And yes, one could argue that there’s definitely a lot of reasons why sex with other women is better than sex with men ;)

  10. Great piece! A really interesting read, you have definitely covered every point that I would have made and more. I believe that no one should be judged for their sexual preferences, if you want to be a slut then be a slut! If you don’t, then don’t! Embrace who you are, what you like and what feels good for you!

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