Slut Shaming: Is an Aversion to Promiscuity Useful?

More and more commonly, society has begun to recognize the use of the word “slut” as not only derogatory, but as rhetoric that functions to preserve a culture that polices women’s sexuality and gives extra power to men.

We now often see “slut” as a tool to treat women as objects at the hands of men: a “slut” is a woman who has had an inexcusable number of sexual partners, because larger society dictates that number and will enforce it with ridicule.

Often this gets taken to the point where “slut shaming,” the practice of condemning sexual promiscuity, is tantamount to homophobia or racism or any other form of absurd and irrational bigotry.

Have to say I disagree almost entirely.

Yes, the uneven distribution of the word is problematic because the way it’s used functions to uphold gender oppression.

And yes, bodily autonomy means you can do whatever the hell you want (for the most part, assuming you’re not harming anyone), so there isn’t much concrete reason to shame someone for having a large number of sexual partners.

BUT, I don’t see a reason why there can’t be an objection to (1) the objectification that takes place in one-night-stands, or (2) the meaning that’s stripped from sexuality if it’s used merely for pleasure.

Both hard arguments to drive, but are worth entertaining and trying to flesh out before we all jump aboard the “end slut shaming” train.

1. Sure, do what you want with your body, and if you and the other person are consenting adults, none of my business. But, if you’re engaging in the pursuit of a person merely to use them as a means to gain pleasure for yourself because you find them attractive? Isn’t that the very meaning of objectification/commodification? You’re treating your partner as a vibrator, and divorcing them from any humanity.

Perhaps you could reason that it’s perfectly fine to consent to being objectified, and that if you want to be each other’s vibrators, there’s no reason not to be. And that’s a good angle, solid counter, so long as we look at the two individuals taking part in the act.

But I worry that on the macro scale, it creates a society where commodification can thrive and flourish, allowed to cultivate in the stagnant water of one-night-stands like mosquitos in a dirty puddle. If we can, and frequently do, consent to being objectified and objectify each other, how much of that “you are useful to me as a body and nothing more” do we internalize? Do we start to think of ourselves ONLY as bodies? Or even just primarily as bodies? Worse yet, does this mean we’re contributing to the rhetoric that women have internalized that their bodies are the most or only valuable things about them?

Perhaps a strong women can say “No, it feels good, but I’m ME and not anyone’s vibrator.” But doesn’t the strong women also set a precedent for the more insecure? Isn’t a culture created where “the thing to do” is to go hook up? The insecure are then stuck performing the same actions the strong people are, and left to worry and be anxious and further their own body image worries.

I find this normalization of sexual promiscuity problematic for that reason.

On the side of men within the same argument, sexual promiscuity has allowed patriarchal notions of the “successful man as sexual conquerer” to thrive as well. I’m not certain that going out of the way to shame people as “sluts” is the answer, but something, some attitude within society needs to communicate to men that they’re no better for being sexually promiscuous than their peers. Because that too creates a pervasive attitude of success and failure, where men who ARENT “succeeding” sexually are demoralized.

Furthermore, removing any judgement of sexual promiscuity, (again, I’m not too keen on wielding the word “slut” as a sword of social justice, but nonetheless maybe we can actively condemn sexual promiscuity) not allows attitudes of masculinity to thrive, but it gives men the opportunity to guiltlessly commodify women in their pursuit of one-night-stands. The push against slut-shaming is the mysogynist’s golden ticket to get his cake (read: vagina, and not human being or woman/women or anything else, just vagina) and eat it too, without any flack from the feminist community for treating women as objects.

Again, maybe A woman can consent to being treated as an object if she enjoys it too, but doesn’t this fuel the wheels of a more broad commodification in the mind of the guy who was just out to “get some” (again read: vagina)? Doesn’t that male (I’ll refrain from using “man” to avoid encouraging “men get lots of sex” rhetoric) walk away from that one-night-stand thinking that it’s perfectly fine to see women as sexual objects?

What happens plays into the narrative of men as pursuers and sexual conquerors: the male walks away thinking that so long as he can convince the woman to consent to being objectified, it’s all totally fine. And anything (any objectification) that happens up until that “okay I’ll sleep with you” is perfectly fine because it’s all in the name of pursing a mutually consenting exchange.

Seems like what’s happened here is nothing more than trading slut shaming for further commodification of women.

2. Short version because I spent longer on the first than I intended:

When sex’s primary function, or the capacity that it is used in for a long period of time is exclusively pleasure as in one-night-stands, what remains after?

Long term treatment of sexual acts in this fashion strips any deeper meaning behind sex from it, either for the person doing it, their future partner that they want a romantic relationship with, or both.

And maybe that’s a price that you’re/we’re willing to pay: maybe sex doesn’t need to have a deeper meaning.

But, pushing against that idea, there is something special about a romantic sexual connection that is worth preserving. Yes, sex feels good, but doesn’t it also have the potential to be much more than that? And isn’t that worth holding on to?

Will that deeper meaning survive years of treating sex as for nothing more than feeling good? Only time will tell, I suppose.