Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
An open letter to the campus community:
Swarthmore, I’m a big slutty slut. I have a lot of sex with a lot of different men because, frankly, I love men and a few ladies, because, frankly, college. And here’s why: I love sex. I love everything about sex and every personally-defined variation of sex: I love to kiss and to come and to cuddle and to explore new sexual frontiers. I love sweet sex and rough sex and nights with no sex. I love all the accoutrements of sex: I love underwear and birth control and sex toys and porn. If I were to honestly list my skill sets in rank order by an algorithm accounting for both enjoyment and aptitude, sex in all its iterated glory would top that list by leaps and bounds (and you should know I bake a mean pie, write an even meaner thesis, and gain a great deal of satisfaction from both of them).
Let me clarify: I’m not a slut because I’m out of control of my own sexuality. I’m not a slut because I’m hoping to rope a guy into wanting to be with me. I’m not a slut because I’m looking for some kind of validation or self-esteem boost. I’m a slut because I make the active, intentional, self-aware and enjoyable choice to be. I’m a slut because I choose to call myself “slut.”
My choice of the word slut is ultimately motivated by society’s warped and uneven attitudes regarding some notion of essential, inherent female sexuality vis a vis that of men. Ours is a society where women ”put out” their goods to please men, where it is nearly impossible to imagine a girl who goes out and beds a new guy every weekend who isn’t in some way damaged, or immature, or looking for some form of validation. This is a society where, rigidly, men just want to get some and get out and women are responsible for keeping men’s natural desires at civilized bay.
Make no mistake: this society of Brobible.com, of Tucker Max, of pick-up games, of most RomComs, of things as seemingly mundane as the scorn inherent in the term “walk of shame,” is a society which seeks to control women’s bodies, sexuality and choices to conform to a specific notion of a way to be a “good” girl, a “good” woman. This is a society of rape culture, plain and simple, and these types of policing of specifically gendered bodies and choices are prototypical slut-shaming.
This unfortunate aspect of capital-S “Society” is by no means a not-in-my-collegiate-bubble kind of issue either. Slut shaming is alive and well on Swarthmore’s campus. We hear it in the scornful tones with which we remember certain alumnae, see it in the raised eyebrows of friends of friends as they recount an acquaintance’s Saturday night hookup, read it in the comment sections of our sex columnists and gossip blogs. It’s tempting to think that as a community of progressive, forward-thinking, and generally socially aware individuals, we wouldn’t be bolstering these kinds of harmful understandings of sexual constructs, that these views exist only on the fringes.
But the lived reality of sluthood at Swarthmore is a surprisingly difficult one, even when not interacting with the obviously slut-shaming margins. We are greeted with a community aura of sex-negativity or at best sexual cluelessness. Institutionally speaking, the administration has a record of responding to issues involving sexuality with either a sort of manic, nip-it-in-the bud attitude, or an ill-advised stance of ignore-the-problem-and-it’ll-go-away. They have a well-known past of extraordinary blundering bordering on victim-blaming regarding instances of sexual assault (albeit one that is happily and actively changing in recent months). They responded to past instances of sexual assault at Genderfuck by proposing to cancel the party, as though preventing drinking and dressing skimpily would prevent the underlying factors of sexual assault (read: assaulters). The Dash for Cash, the singular intentionally body-positive and administratively-endorsed campus tradition – which was well publicized and opt-in – was canceled at earliest possible opportunity. And in an egregious, though since-resolved, issue a few years ago, a campus wellness campaign could find the funds to provide free yoga mats for students, but not free condoms. Overall, Swarthmore does a very good job of making the sex-positive, sexually adventurous, and promiscuous among us feel like we’d have a pretty precarious safety net availible if something happened to make us feel uncomfortable.
In this context, it is an intensely loaded and personally meaningful move to re-appropriate the traditionally venomous epithet of “slut” to fill the void in sex positive vocabulary to describe myself, my actions, my choices as a sexually active, aggressive, and generous woman. Is the choice of this moniker a comfortable one for all us sex-positive sex fiends? Absolutely not. But the entire point of making this term available to be self-selected is to reinforce, reiterate, and celebrate the agency with which a person might approach their sexual experiences, partners, and identity.
For me, being slutty is about more than just getting it in on Saturday night. It’s about rejecting the social imperative to ignore my own desires and keep my legs shut in order to be desirable, to be acceptable, to be the “right kind” of girl/woman/person. It’s about identifying and going after what I want. It’s about claiming and owning and enjoying my own body and sexuality and about the euphoria of exploring the miraculous, bizarre, and thrilling intricacies of another person’s. It’s about holding yourself accountable for your own sexual choices and health and holding society accountable for its own sexual bullshit.
Sluttiness is not about the number of dates or make outs or hookups it takes for you to feel comfortable rounding all or one or any bases with another person. In fact it’s not about numbers at all. The emphasis we place on our own sexual numbers is just another example of rigid, moral socio-sexual policing. How many women’s magazine articles have you read which essentially roil in what they’d have you believe is the eternal question: to disclose numbers or not to disclose numbers? You know what? Fuck that. Share or don’t, that’s your call, but don’t imbue this number with some sort of synthetic and sacrosanct meaning. Sexual numbers are meaningless. They tell you nothing about a person. They don’t tell you whether or not to get tested, as you as a sexually active or potentially sexually active adult should be getting tested with regularity anyway. They tell you nothing about the content of a person’s character or their childhood or their relationship with their father or their mother or their feelings about their own body.
So yeah, let’s talk numbers in the seven years since I’ve become sexually active.
98: the number of people I’ve made out with.
24: the number of people I’ve gone down on.
14: The number of people I’ve had penetrative sex with.
8: The number of people with whom I’ve gone out on dates.
You know what that tells you about me other than I might have busyish Saturday nights? Absolutely nothing. Some numbers that might be more meaningful in telling you who I am as a person:
325: the number of hours I spent teaching peer-run classes on sexual health, body image, and healthy relationships in urban schools my senior year of high school.
1: the number of times I’ve had my heart broken.
4: the number of scars I still have from the abrupt end to a fun day spent bike riding with my dad when I was seven.
0: The number of people I’ve slept with without being immediately upfront about the date of my most recent STI test, whether or not I’m sleeping with other people, whether I am available for anything above and beyond casual fun and without first ascertaining all of this information from them.
So here’s the deal, Swarthmore. We’ve tried to have this conversation before. Last semester, columnist Hester Prynne opened her installments with a discussion of reclamation and hers was an excellent primer extolling the virtues of sluthood. This past week a Swassip post turned into a comment-war fueled indictment of the morality of those externally impugned as sluts. In both instances, there has been frustratingly little safe room in the ensuing conversation for those living a life navigating the murky waters of Swarthmore with multiple partners. It’s time for real talk: an introduction to a conversation on the lived realities of identifying and acting sluttily on a campus slightly deluded as to its own sex-positivity. So here it is, an above-ground forum for a conversation not only about sluthood or about sluts, but with and from those of us who have made this choice for ourselves. I am slutty; hear me roar.
See you next week, Sex Fiends, Slutfriends, fellow sluts, and – largely – Swatties,