Some Practical Ways Slut-Shaming Is Hurting Us All

In case this hasn’t been made clear, I obviously support sex-positive dialogue and strongly oppose slut-shaming, for a lot of reasons.  Slut-shaming is the result of a miserable double-standard that we as a society should be trying to end, for starters; for another, it makes it difficult to talk about sex in a way that makes sex safer and more enjoyable for those involved; and  for another, it’s just a throwback to a time when it DID make sense for women to have to be more careful, a time which ended when we invented things like condoms and birth control which meant that a woman didn’t have to have a baby just because she had sex.

But sex-positive rhetoric aside, I think there are a couple of reasons why slut-shaming is hurting us on a strictly practical level, and they’re all related to health.  So even if you think that women should be staying home and knitting, try to understand: they’re not, and there are reasons why we need to accept that choice in order to make their lives and our society safer and healthier.

REASON #1: THE RAPE ISSUE

You guys saw this one coming.  You HAD to see this one coming.  The slut stigma helps perpetuate harmful practices like victim-blaming that shift the focus from the behavior of perpetrators to the behavior of victims.  This prevents us from actually attacking the causes of violent sexual crimes because the only people who can actually stop rape are people who might case rape (namely, rapists).  It prevents us from actively engaging men in the dialogue about rape culture when we desperately need to draw them in if we want to alter the norms that allow for sexual violence at this level.

But on top of that, this disincentivizes reporting because women are afraid that they will be stigmatized and blamed if they come forward and say that they were raped.  This forces many women to try to hide this fact, which has several consequences: 1) their rapists are never punished, which means they could very well rape again, and 2) many survivors (both male AND female) feel isolated and alone and are less likely to seek the help they need to deal with the trauma of being assaulted.

REASON #2: THE HIV ISSUE

In case this wasn’t obvious, HIV is a pretty big issue in the United States and around the world today.  Living in Washington, DC (where we have a remarkably high prevalence rate, for the record), this issue is front and center in the health discourse.  But what people are failing to discuss is how slut shaming prevents women from asking the questions they need in order to gain the knowledge needed to make truly informed decisions.

As if that weren’t enough of a problem, people are disincentivized to get tested, which is vital in order for people to make the best possible decisions and for societies to curb the spread of the virus, if they think they will be shamed and judged for needing to be tested.  This comes from people associating promiscuity with HIV-~-this association is often inaccurate, but regardless of sexual behavior, people need to be able to get the medical help they need.

REASON #3: THE BIRTH CONTROL ISSUE

Try to stay with me for this one.  Birth control is a medical product.  I need everyone to understand this.  The decision to use birth control is a medical decision made by patients and doctors together.  When we as a society allow people to deem those who use birth control “sluts”, we say that using birth control is bad, it is something to be ashamed of.

Actually, disallowing women to make the best health choices for them is something people

Above: a woman at the Rally Against the War on Women (April 2012) holds up her “S.L.U.T.” sign

should be even MORE ashamed of, again for a couple of reasons.  First, because 9 million women in the US use birth control for a non-contraceptive purpose.  That’s 9 million women who definitely DON’T deserve the slut stigma just because they have ulcers or need to regulate their menstrual cycles or whatever.  But on top of that, there are real social harms to disallowing or disincentivizing the use of birth control, including higher rates of teen pregnancy, babies born to families in poverty or young parents who can’t support them and then end up in the foster care system, etc.  No mater how you spin it, birth control is net beneficial for women and for society, and adding a negative connotation to its usage is bad for ALL of us.

Most of all, we need to start recognizing that our current discourse about sex has real consequences, for individual women and for us as a society.  HIV, STIs, rape culture…these are things far more shameful than women who are comfortable with their sexualities and who choose to engage in sexual activities.  So instead of policing women’s behavior in their bedrooms, maybe we could focus more on helping women make more informed choice and get help when they need it.  I’d be a lot prouder to live in that society, wouldn’t you?

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~ by Randi Saunders on October 2, 2012.

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