Capella has a few things to say about the word “slut” and its meaning.

Specifically, she attacks the usage as a method to attack women with which the speaker has some other disagreement. It doesn’t really matter whether the speaker is male or female, it’s a mode of attack.

However, she asks the question:

A slut is someone, generally female, who has sex with a large number of people. It is supposed to mean she has sex freely or indiscriminately, although accusations of sluttishness are often made simply on the basis of the number of partners. A woman can also be called a slut on the basis of clothing or behavior that might correspond to sexually free behavior.

But what does a slut do that is bad? She engages in sex – an enjoyable activity – with consenting adult males. (Yes, I know it is possible for women to commit rape, especially statutory rape, but there is nothing in the word “slut” that implies the woman in question does that.) In other words, she does something that makes other people happy. Why is that bad?

Depending on your perspective, this alone can be perceived as bad (and yes, the behavior of the men ought to be condemned as bad as well). The implied behavior – that of seeking sex without consequences – is a short-circuiting of the societal idea that sex is something for committed relationships and that should be, well, special and with someone you care about. A “slut” is a woman who acts or by behavior is deemed uninterested in finding a permanent or semipermanent partner, which in the past would be a “bad thing.” Personally, I’d still consider that a bad thing today, but the “hook-up” culture seems to disagree.

What are the effects of this behavior? Possibly, a child (or multiple children) outside of wedlock or even put up for adoption. Is having kids bad? Depends on your point of view – I’m increasingly of the mind that there ought to be a required training class and certification before people are allowed to breed. Hey, we require that before we give people licenses to drive a car or to have a gun, and you can do a lot more damage to society with a poorly brought-up child (or worse, a gaggle thereof) than you can with either of those two mechanical devices. “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” is a lousy way to go about procreative behavior.

Possibly, the woman is being put on the spot for encouraging men to seek out like-minded women, rather than themselves seeking out relationships. The theory there goes that (somewhat like prostitution), the availability of “guilt-free” sex to men lessens the chance that the men will need to settle down into more permanent relationships. Whatever stock you put in the theory, there it is.

Possibly, there’s the worry about sexually transmitted diseases, which a somewhat randomly promiscuous person can transmit a lot faster than someone who’s got a steady partner. The old phrase “you’re not having sex just with them, but with everyone else they had sex with before you, and everyone else their former partners had sex with before them” applies. Stuff spreads fast.

Capella’s overriding point seems to have been outrage that there isn’t an equal term to use against promiscuous men, and she’s got a legitimate reason to be feministically outraged there. Still, I don’t agree with her sub-point that the “slut” is not doing anything bad, for the reasons stated above.


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4 Responses to Essence of Promiscuity

  1. trumwill says:

    I think that part of the objection was that it was actually applied to women that aren’t sluts and that it’s become more of a catch-all insult. I’ve not personally seen this (asked my wife, she hasn’t either) but that may have more to do with my social circles than the validity of their concern.

    The fact that there is no comparable term for men (or that comparable terms are not universally considered as derogatory) is not a minor quibble, though. It suggests that it is a woman’s responsibility to put the brakes on sexual behavior and that puts them in a damned-if-you-do damned-if-you-don’t dilemma because guys don’t like not getting sex, either, and many are not very respectful about not getting it.

    The whole slut/prude complaint is a bit overblown in my experience (which again may be entirely atypical) in that there is a rather wide range of behavior before most of the guys I know are put-off by a woman having too much or too little sexual behavior. The same ought to be true of women’s appraisal of men wherein too little romantic experience is an indicator of possible problems but too much is an indicator of someone that is less likely to be faithful or more likely to declare after the sex that there is no relationship. Whether or not women do this I don’t know, but they do seem to on some level.

    Further confusion about all of this is added that any sexual behavior (or lack thereof) is going to be condemned by someone, somewhere. A woman that has a single sexual partner may be deemed unacceptable by a certain portion of men that want a virgin (which is fine if they themselves have walked that particular walk) and a woman that doesn’t put out on the first date may be deemed a prude by another portion of the male population. There’s some truth to the saying that you can’t please all the people all the time and we might be tempted to say that she should accept that and move on, but there is the quite legitimate issue that a man’s sexual history is not nearly as scrutinized as a woman’s and it’s not a fear that we have to worry about nearly as much.

  2. Spungen says:

    A “slut” is a woman who acts or by behavior is deemed uninterested in finding a permanent or semipermanent partner, which in the past would be a “bad thing.”

    Like I was kind of getting at on Capella’s blog, the sting of the insult isn’t in that meaning. The real sting is that it implies a low value to the woman, not bad behavior. No woman I’ve ever known who had that applied to her was especially promiscuous — especially not in a voluntary, not-wanting-a-relationship way. If anything, it was a result of guys not sticking around even though she may have wanted them to.

    There were some high-status girls who had resentful guys say that about them, but in those cases the label had no effect.

  3. Capella says:

    You seem to be confusing “bad” with “unwise”. I am not endorsing or condemning promiscuity. Choosing to have sex with many partners and/or outside of a committed relationship – whether it’s a conscious choice or not – can lead to all sorts of unpleasant emotional and physiological consequences for oneself and one’s partners and (with lesser probability and directness) possibly negative consequences to society as well (i.e. due to unplanned, not-always-wholly-welcome, children – although it should be noted children are a possible consequence of all sex, including that had within committed relationships). I did not argue that an acquaintance’s sex life is something of which you must approve. In fact, I argued very nearly the opposite – that it is something of which you have no real right to approve or disapprove. People around us make stupid, or short-sighted, or questionably moral decisions every day. They smoke cigarettes and hog the seats on the bus and keep their heat turned up really high, and while we might argue against such behavior in general we don’t pick arguments with casual acquaintances about it, and we certainly don’t call them names based on their poor health habits or rudeness or environmental indifference.

    The very fact that you wrote this post indicates that you consider the sexual decisions of women – all women, apparently, including the ones you are not involved with or related to – a matter on which your approval is somehow relevant, public property the way a woman’s body becomes public property the moment she enters puberty, and that’s exactly what I’m arguing against.

  4. trumwill says:

    The very fact that you wrote this post indicates that you consider the sexual decisions of women – all women, apparently, including the ones you are not involved with or related to – a matter on which your approval is somehow relevant, public property the way a woman’s body becomes public property the moment she enters puberty, and that’s exactly what I’m arguing against.

    Web mentions disapproval for male sexual promiscuity, too, suggesting that he disapproves of that as well. So in that sense he is labeling both a man and a woman’s bodies (or sexual identities, anyway) public property. I do think that he sidesteps or at least doesn’t fully address the inequality in the way that sexual morals are applied.

    They smoke cigarettes and hog the seats on the bus and keep their heat turned up really high, and while we might argue against such behavior in general we don’t pick arguments with casual acquaintances about it, and we certainly don’t call them names based on their poor health habits or rudeness or environmental indifference.

    I’m not sure that these are the best analogies.

    More than a few non-smokers do pick arguments with smokers and voice very negative opinions of them as a group. The same applies to environmental indifference in the form of the great SUV debate. But you’re generally right that smokers and non-smokers and SUV drivers and non-SUV drivers that are friends or acquaintances don’t go straight after one another. I’m not sure that the same is true for having poor health habits, though. Calling someone fat or a synonym for fat is very fertile ground when it comes to insulting someone.

    All of this does pose some interesting questions as to when unwise behavior can be elevated to being considered bad behavior for society as a whole, whether we’re talking about sex or smoking or overeating or whatever else.

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