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In human sexuality, slut-shaming is a form of social stigma applied to people who are perceived to violate traditional expectations for sexual behaviors, commonly applied to women and girls. Some examples of circumstances where women are "slut-shamed" include violating accepted dress codes by dressing in perceived sexually provocative ways, requesting access to birth control,[1][2][3] having premarital, casual, or promiscuous sex, or being raped or otherwise sexually assaulted (which is known as victim blaming).[4]

Definitions and characteristics[edit]

Slut shaming is defined by many as a process in which women are attacked for their transgression of accepted codes of sexual conduct,[5] i.e., of admonishing them for behavior or desires that are more sexual than society finds acceptable.[6] Emily Bazelon says that slut shaming is "retrograde, the opposite of feminist. Calling a girl a slut warns her that there's a line: she can be sexual but not too sexual."[7] Amy Schalet argues that too much sex is a liability for girls, which often causes the discourse on the topic of girl's desire for sex to be non-existent, and that ignoring the fact that girls have sexual desire in sexual education, media, and the social sciences results in girl's having difficulty developing sexual subjectivity; she says sexual subjectivity is the capacity to feel connected to sexual desires and boundaries and use these to make self-directed decisions.[8] Many have stated that slut shaming is used against women by both men and women.[9] Jessica Ringrose has argued that slut-shaming functions among women as a way of sublimating sexual jealousy "into a socially acceptable form of social critique of girls' sexual expression".[5] The term slut-shaming is also used to describe victim blaming for rape and other sexual assault; e.g. by stating that the crime was caused (either in part or in full) by the woman wearing revealing clothing or acting in a sexually provocative manner, before refusing consent to sex,[4] and thereby absolving the perpetrator of guilt.

Men and women alike are culprits of "slut-shaming": The study "Birds of a feather? Not when it comes to sexual permissiveness," published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, notes that sexually lenient individuals are judged more negatively than non-permissive peers, which places those who are more permissive at risk of social isolation.[10] The researchers from Cornell University found that similar sentiments appeared in nonsexual, same-sex friendship context as well.[10] The researchers had college women read a vignette describing an imaginary female peer, "Joan", then rate their feelings about her personality.[10] To one group of women, Joan was described as having two lifetime sexual partners; to another group, she had had twenty partners.[11] The study found that women—even women who were more promiscuous themselves—rated the Joan with 20 partners as "less competent, emotionally stable, warm, and dominant than the Joan who'd only boasted two".[10][11]

In the media[edit]

Two women protesting about victim-blaming and slut-shaming at New York City's SlutWalk in October 2011.

The SlutWalk protest march started in Toronto in response to an incident where a Toronto Police officer told a group of students that they could avoid sexual assault by not dressing like "sluts".[4][12][13]

The term has since been used when describing the comments of Rush Limbaugh during the Rush Limbaugh–Sandra Fluke controversy.[14] Condemnation of Limbaugh following the incident is argued to have increased public attention to societal shame around women being demeaned in the media for use of birth control.[3]

James Miller, editor-in-chief, for the Ludwig von Mises Institute of Canada wrote a controversial article defending slut shaming.[15] The article was later taken down, but still received criticism from some libertarians, such as Gina Luttrell of Thoughts on Liberty, an all-female libertarian blog.[16]

In literature[edit]

There are several instances in literature in which women are degraded or admonished for their sexual behavior. In these novels, men are largely exempt from the public outrage that their female counterparts endure for engaging in relationships deemed socially inappropriate:

  • In Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, the title character has a highly public affair with the affluent Count Vronsky. Anna is rejected by her friends, while the reputation of Count Vronsky remains more or less untarnished.[17]

Attempts to stop the practice[edit]

Members of The Arts Effect All-Girl Theater Company have developed a play, "Slut", in which they address the damaging impact of slut shaming and slut culture.[18][19] The creators note that their play "is a call to action – a reminder" that slut-shaming is happening every day, almost everywhere.[19] "Slut" is inspired by real-life experiences of 14- to 17-year-old girls from New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania.[19] The play was shown at the 2013 New York Fringe Festival.[19][20]

In her statement on the production, and of slut-shaming in general, author of Slut! Growing Up Female with a Bad Reputation, Leora Tanenbaum writes: "A teenage girl today is caught in an impossible situation. She has to project a sexy image and embrace, to some extent, a 'slutty' identity. Otherwise, she risks being mocked as an irrelevant prude. But if her peers decide she has crossed an invisible, constantly shifting boundary and has become too 'slutty,' she loses all credibility. Even if she was coerced into sex, her identity and reputation are taken from her. Indeed, the power to tell her own story is wrested from her. The Arts Effect's SLUT written by Katie Cappiello vividly represents this irrational, harmful, terrible circumstance...This play is the most powerful and authentic representation of the sexual double standard I have ever seen."[19]

Some believe that school dress codes are a form of slut shaming, and are unfair to girls and women.[21] Some believe that these dress codes "violate Title IX, the federal law that ensures non-discrimination in educational environments."[21] On Monday, September 22, 2014, "about 100 pupils walked out of Bingham high school in South Jordan, Utah."[21] Students staged a walkout because more than a dozen girls were turned away from a homecoming dance for wearing dresses which violated the dress code rules.[21] "School staff allegedly lined up girls against a wall as they arrived and banished about two dozen for having dresses which purportedly showed too much skin and violated the rules." It is believed that this act was awkward and humiliating towards the female students, which spawned the walkouts.[21]

Gay male slut-shaming[edit]

Gay men have traditionally been relatively tolerant of promiscuity. However, this changed considerably with the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s. Condom use as a safe sex practise became prominent in the late 1980s as a result of the AIDS epidemic,[22] though the availability of antibiotics and antiretroviral drugs in advanced economies has led to condom fatigue among men who have sex with men.[23] Some public health officials argue that the government should promote increased condom use among gay men, while others believe the government should promote pre-exposure prophylaxis for prevention of HIV/AIDS using drugs like Truvada.[24][25][26] Some people argue that public health officials are slut-shaming men who are unwilling to use condoms. Some reports indicate that gay men who use Truvada to lower their risk of contracting HIV are shamed for doing so, based on perceptions that Truvada users are more promiscuous.[27][28]

Some gay rights activists have said that environments which have slut-shaming are more likely to lead to gay men engaging in practices which lead to increased rates of HIV infection.[29]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Lamb, Sharon (27 June 2008). "The 'Right' Sexuality for Girls". Chronicle of Higher Education 54 (42): B14–B15. ISSN 0009-5982. (subscription required (help)). In Dilemmas of Desire: Teenage Girls Talk About Sexuality (Harvard University Press, 2002), Deborah L. Tolman complained that we've "desexualized girls' sexuality, substituting the desire for relationship and emotional connection for sexual feelings in their bodies." Recognizing that fact, theorists have used the concept of desire as a way to undo the double standard that applauds a guy for his lust, calling him a player, and shames a girl for hers, calling her a slut. 
  2. ^ Albury, Kath; Crawford, Kate (18 May 2012). "Sexting, consent and young people's ethics: Beyond Megan's Story". Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies 26 (3): 463–473. doi:10.1080/10304312.2012.665840. Certainly the individualizing admonishment to 'think again' offers no sense of the broader legal and political environment in which sexting might occur, or any critique of a culture that requires young women to preserve their 'reputations' by avoiding overt demonstrations of sexual knowingness and desire. Further, by trading on the propensity of teenagers to feel embarrassment about their bodies and commingling it with the anxiety of mobiles being ever present, the ad becomes a potent mix of technology fear and body shame. 
  3. ^ a b Legge, Nancy J.; DiSanza, James R.; Gribas, John; Shiffler, Aubrey (2012). ""He sounded like a vile, disgusting pervert..." An Analysis of Persuasive Attacks on Rush Limbaugh During the Sandra Fluke Controversy". Journal of Radio & Audio Media 19 (2): 173–205. doi:10.1080/19376529.2012.722468. It is also possible that the Limbaugh incident has turned "slut-shaming", or other similar attacks on women, into a "Devil-term". It may be possible that Limbaugh's insults were so thoroughly condemned that he and others (such as Bill Maher) will have a more difficult time insulting women who are not virgins, or attacking them in other sexist ways. 
  4. ^ a b c McCormack, Clare; Prostran, Nevena (2012). "Asking for it: a first-hand account from slutwalk". International Feminist Journal of Politics (Taylor and Francis) 14 (3): 410–414. doi:10.1080/14616742.2012.699777. 
  5. ^ a b Jessica Ringrose (21 August 2012). Postfeminist Education?: Girls and the Sexual Politics of Schooling. Routledge. p. 93. ISBN 978-1-136-25971-5. Retrieved 16 May 2013. 
  6. ^ Denise Du Vernay. Feminism, Sexism, and the Small Screen. pp. 163–182.  in Joseph J. Foy; Timothy M. Dale (24 April 2013). Homer Simpson Ponders Politics: Popular Culture as Political Theory. University Press of Kentucky. p. 164. ISBN 978-0-8131-4151-0. Retrieved 16 May 2013. 
  7. ^ Emily Bazelon (19 February 2013). Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy. Random House Publishing Group. p. 95. ISBN 978-0-679-64400-2. Retrieved 16 May 2013.  Emphasis in original.
  8. ^ Schalet, Amy T. (2011). Not Under My Roof: Parents, Teens, and the Culture of Sex. University of Chicago Press. pp. 12, 156. ISBN 978-0-226-73620-4. 
  9. ^ Belisa Vranich, Psy.D.; Holly Eagleson (1 July 2010). Boys Lie: How Not to Get Played. HCI. p. 52. ISBN 978-0-7573-1364-6. Retrieved 16 May 2013. 
  10. ^ a b c d Vrangalova, Z.; Bukberg, R. E.; Rieger, G. (19 May 2013). "Birds of a feather? Not when it comes to sexual permissiveness" (PDF). Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. doi:10.1177/0265407513487638. 
  11. ^ a b Hess, Amanda (7 June 2013). "Slut-shaming study: Women discriminate against promiscuous women, but so do men". Retrieved 11 April 2014. 
  12. ^ Ringrose, Jessica; Renold, Emma (May 2012). "Slut-shaming, girl power and ‘sexualisation’: thinking through the politics of the international SlutWalks with teen girls". Gender and Education, special issue: Making Sense of the Sexualisation Debates: Schools and Beyond (Taylor and Francis) 24 (3): 333–343. doi:10.1080/09540253.2011.645023.  Pdf.
  13. ^ "SlutWalk Toronto - BECAUSE WE'VE HAD ENOUGH - SlutWalk Toronto". 
  14. ^ Ball, Krystal (3 February 2012). "Boycott Rush". The Blog (Huffington Post). Retrieved 13 December 2012. This type of despicable behavior is part and parcel of a time-worn tradition of Slut-Shaming. When women step out line, they are demeaned and degraded into silence. If you say Herman Cain sexually harassed you, you are a slut. If you say Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas sexually harassed you, you are a slut. 
  15. ^ "Editor-In-Chief of Mises Institute in Canada Advocates "Slut-Shaming" – Kate Andrews". 3 September 2013. Retrieved 11 April 2014. 
  16. ^ Robinson, Elizabeth (5 September 2013). "Misogynists Gonna…Misogynate? (or, More Issues with That Post)". Thoughts on Liberty. Retrieved 11 April 2014. 
  17. ^ a b Triska, Zoë (7 October 2013). "9 Female Book Characters Punished For Having Sex". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 24 December 2013. 
  18. ^ Hersh, Lauren (2 August 2013). "NYC Girls Challenge Weiner Campaign: Stop Slut-Shaming". Retrieved 11 April 2014. 
  19. ^ a b c d e "Why Slut — Slut". Retrieved 11 April 2014. 
  20. ^ "Meet the Teen Star of PETA's Latest Controversy. We Love Her.". Love + Sex – Yahoo Shine. 8 August 2013. Retrieved 11 April 2014. [dead link]
  21. ^ a b c d e Carroll, Rory. "Students protest 'slut shaming' high school dress codes with mass walkouts". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 December 2014. 
  22. ^ "Global strategy for the prevention and control of sexually transmitted infections: 2006–2015. Breaking the chain of transmission" (PDF). World Health Organization. 2007. Retrieved 26 November 2011. 
  23. ^ Dennis Sifris, MD and James Myhre. "The (Real) Reasons Why People Don't Use Condoms". Health. 
  24. ^ Shackford, Scott (8 May 2014). "Truvada: Chill Pill or Party Drug?". Retrieved 15 December 2014. 
  25. ^ "Why Aren’t Gay Men On The Pill? « The Dish". The Dish. 
  26. ^ Stopping HIV? The Truvada Revolution (Full Length). YouTube. 26 June 2015. 
  27. ^ Amanda Holpuch. "Truvada has been called the 'miracle' HIV pill – so why is uptake so slow?". the Guardian. 
  28. ^ "Truvada – the other little blue pill". The Sydney Morning Herald. 
  29. ^ Turk, Hussain (8 September 2014). "Op-ed: Slut-Shaming Is a Cause of HIV". The Advocate. Retrieved 15 December 2014.