Kathryn Stamoulis, PhD
Therapist - Professor - Women's Issues Expert


  What is Slut bashing?

Slut Bashing, a form of bullying characterized by insults aimed at a girl's actual or perceived sexual behavior to shame, degrade and quickly dehumanize the victim, is a topic rarely discussed. In fact, many adults carelessly toss around words such as whore and slut without giving much consideration to the damaging effect they can have.

The use of a word such as "slut" polarizes girls into two categories, good girls and bad girls. It's the Madonna/Whore Complex, the Ho vs. Housewife. "Good girls" aren't sexually active (at least not outside of a committed relationship) while "bad girls" express themselves sexually. There is no in-between and thus any girl is at risk of being branded with the "bad girl" label. Victims can be anyone, including girls who develop early, turn down male attention, receive a lot of male attention, enjoy sexual activity, girls who are an outsider, a rape victim, and on and on.

It is a double standard. Teenage boys are expected to express themselves sexually. People expect them to pursue and enjoy sexual exploration. Teenage girls are not and can live in fear that similar expressions of sexuality could lead them to being called a slut. Take sexting, for example. A study from the Pew Internet & American Life Project indicates that boys and girls sext at similar rates (4% of teens report sending sexts, 15% report receiving sexts). However, it's usually the girl's photo that is spread around leaving the girl's reputation tarnished in the time it takes to press ‘SEND'.

While many parents would prefer not to think about it, a goal of adolescence is to become sexually healthy adults. Teenagers need to learn how to assert themselves sexually, talk about sex with their partner, ask for what they want, say no when they are uncomfortable and protect themselves from STDs and pregnancy. This becomes harder to do because a girl may fear taking charge of her sex life if she is perceived as bad or undesirable. These words have a lasting effect on boys as well. It can be detrimental to a boy's future adult relationships if he has a deep seeded belief that women with sexual histories, or who are sexually assertive are bad.

How can parents help?

It's important for parents to talk to their teens (girls and boys) about the word slut and its implications. The following can help a parent get started.

Discuss: If you overhear your teen using the word or you hear it together while watching TV, use it as an opportunity to have a discussion.

Probe: Ask your teen what the word means to them. They may say it's just an insult or it's not a big deal. Ask the hard questions. Do you think it's okay to judge another person's sex life? Why does slut equal bad?"

Double Standards: Explain the concept. Ask if they have any examples from TV/Movies or from school. Talk about how the word slut is used to put women down.

Status Quo: Your teen may think using the word "slut" is not misogynistic because girls use it as well. This is an opportunity to talk about how girls are often conditioned to accept double standards. Tell them it's brave to question the status quo.

Tables Turned: Your teen may argue that men can be labeled sluts too. Challenge this assumption. Does it shame and degrade a man to be called a slut? Does the insult really affect boys and girls in the same way?

Remember, even if your teen refuses to answer, they are likely listening.

I'm being called a slut. What should I do?

Realize You're Not Alone.
A new report from the AAWU found that 17% of High School girls have been the victim of unwanted, sexual rumors. Salacious rumors and slut bashing are forms of sexual harassment that have been going on throughout history. In her groundbreaking book, Slut! Growing-Up Female with a Bad Reputation, author Leora Tanenbaum interviewed dozens of women noting that this type of degradation affected women of all ages and backgrounds. Additionally, The Frisky recently profiled 9 Proud Sluts of History highlighting women with bad reputations dating all the way back to the 18th century. Unfortunately, the persecution of women due to their sexuality is not a new phenomenon.

Recognize It's Not About You
Just like calling a man a gay slur is about homophobia, the act of calling a woman a slut is about sexism. Sexual slurs are, at their essence, tools used to control female sexuality. The use of such words act to teach us that female sexuality is wrong and, in turn, women who are sexual should be viewed as ‘bad'.

Understand the Bully
Unfortunate yet true, it is oftentimes other girls or women that perpetuate the use of this bullying tactic. All girls lives in an enviornment where they can be called a slut at any moment. Often, when a girl bullies a peer in this way it is because they themselves are uncomfortable with their own sexuality. One of the easiest ways a girl can represent herself as a "good girl" is by labeling someone else's sexuality as "bad".

Beware the Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
Sometimes being labeled in an undesirable way can lead a person to start acting in accordance with that label. A self-fulfilling prophecy is when a negative idea becomes a reality. Constant accusations of promiscuous behavior can lead to a rationalization that you might as well reap some of the pleasures of the label. This can potentially lead to unpleasant sexual experiences, hurt feelings or risky situations.

Be Careful of Turning off
While bad reputations can lead some to give in to the label, it can cause others to shut down sexually. You may have become so fearful of being called a slut that you may find yourself avoiding any sexual activity. Alternatively, when faced with an intimate scenario, you may find that you are holding back sexually because you are afraid that displaying desire indicates that you are "slutty". This means the experience will be all about pleasing your partner and not about mutual enjoyment. You may also find that you aren't sexually assertive and therefore not demanding that your partner use protection. This is dangerous because people who are not sexually assertive are more likely to contract an STI or experience an unwanted pregnancy.

Figure Out What You Want Sexually
It can become very confusing to determine if you are acting authentically, or reacting to the slut label. Being a victim of sexual bullying can be highly traumatic, so it's beneficial to take some time to reflect. A school counselor or therapist can help you sort things out. A great resource to help move you through the chaos is the book What You Really Really Want: The Smart Girl's Shame-Free Guide to Sex & Safety by Jaclyn Friedman.

Go Off the Grid
If you are being harassed through social media, it's okay to log off! Shut down your phone and computer, turn-off Facebook and give yourself some breathing room. Think of it as a vacation from technology.

Seek Out a Supportive Female Community
A true friend can offer support and a welcome distraction. If the bullying is happening at school, spend time with friends from other areas of your life. Online communities can also be a great resource and outlet. Websites like jezebel.com, thech!cktionary.com and scarleteen.com are great places to start.

Talk About It
It's important that you don't suffer in silence. Isolation can worsen the anxiety, depression and poor self-esteem associated with slut bashing. Reach out to close friends and family or seek counseling. A trained professional can provide a safe environment to talk and can help alleviate the psychological effects of bullying.

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