State of the Tart: A Sluthood Manifesto

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,

the Tart


  1. Hear, hear! Well said, Tart. Here’s to making Swarthmore a more sex-positive and less slut-negative space.

    Your delighted ally in safe and consensual promiscuity,

  2. Thought you should know, seeing as there are few comments visible here, that this article is doing the rounds of the sex-positive peoples of the world, including us way down here in New Zealand.

    Response is generally a huge “Fuck, Yeah!”

  3. You are absolutely amazing and you completely summarized my beliefs in a beautiful way. This slut-shaming on Swat’s campus needs to stop, and I think that this is a great way to get it out there. I hope more people read this, especially the ones who are active in slut-shaming and rape culture. I can’t wait to read more of your articles.


  4. I don’t attend Swarthmore College but I am a grad student at University of Delaware and commute from my home in Swarthmore, and I must say this is an amazing publication. Sexual activity is a byproduct of our genetics and those who openly engage in it should not be ostracized. The same people who shun outward signs of sexual activity are the same immature people who laugh at the word “penis” and “vagina” and sadly these are the people that often have the most influence in society.

  5. Fantastic article! On a campus where almost everything is acknowledged as a social construct, it is so surprising to see most if not all of the student body assume a relation to sexuality determined by a near constant repression. This is not to say most of the students are sexually repressed, that is a different matter, but that their viewpoints often stem from a very regimented and established notion of sexual desire and consummation, without knowledge of this origin. The way men are seen as sex-hounds and women as the limitation to their sexuality, or the way it is assumed each gender has a prescribed method of relating to their sexual desires and needs, is an exceedingly vicious influence on our social interactions on a variety of levels. This harms our conceptions of sexuality, love, satisfaction, agency, and self.

  6. So, I have a question regarding judgement. I understand the right for you to do what you want to do, and especially for women to take control of their sexuality, but when it comes to “judging” someone (male or female) for this pastime (ie, having lots of sex), is it really always necessarily bad?

    For example, if someone were to write a column titled “Nerd Manifesto” because they “love video games” and are constantly playing them, I would probably judge them for their habits. I would probably consider it somewhat self-indulgent to be constantly engaged in something I consider meaningless or trivial. It may not be to them, but it is to me. This may make them someone that I don’t really want to spend my free time with or play video games with, simply because their attitude is different.

    Yeah, this is an overly simple analogy, I understand that the issue runs deeper, but I’d love a thoughtful response on what it means to be “judgmental” and how far it is within your rights to expect others not to make some kind of judgement on your habits, no matter what they are.

    Thanks guys!

    • If someone is playing video games at a frequency/amount comparable to having a busy Saturday night, as the Tart sums it up, does that really enter into how you think of them as a person?

      Plenty of people are interested in things I don’t care about or actively avoid or are way more into things that I do like, and that doesn’t *necessarily* mean that I judge any of these people.

    • There’s also a difference between “judgement” and shaming, disrespecting, and generally treating as less worthwhile, which is more what the column is talking about, I think. Of course everyone is entitled to her own opinion, but when that opinion is used to belittle and disenfranchise someone else it’s over the line. You could think someone was silly for playing too many video games; that’s your perogative (though judging people for their habits is, as Sara pointed out, not necessarily a fruitful pursuit). However, if you then tried to publicly shame, humiliate, and police their behavior (as is commonly done to women who enjoy sex, especially with multiple partners), that would be wrong and unfair.

      That’s my two cents–hope it addresses your question. (And I didn’t even get in to power dynamics and oppression, which is a whole related can of worms.)

  7. Ever since I arrived at Swarthmore I’ve had my previous ideas about sexuality, and especially the idea of sluttiness vs. studliness, challenged in the best way possible. This article solidifies everything I’ve come to realize, and more. Bravo.

  8. I’m a Haverford alum, and I just have to say, I really appreciate this article. I think it’s just one side of the story, though.

    Ultimately, I don’t think America is characterized by its sex negativity, and I REALLY don’t think American college culture is characterized by its sex negativity. While it kind of varies by gender (because gender roles are HUGE in this), by and large, I’d characterize “college culture’s” attitudes towards sex as simultaneously encouraging it rampantly while being ashamed of it. Think about the image of hookup culture; get drunk, hook up with someone you barely know, forget about it and don’t talk to them afterward. This is more encouraged for men than it is for women (men are encouraged to have somewhat less shame), but the massive role alcohol or drugs plays in an overwhelming number of hook-ups suggests that there’s probably some level of discomfort with what’s going on.

    This article attacks one aspect of that: the shame around that encouragement of sex, especially towards women. By encouraging women (and men) to be open with their sexuality, rather than just portraying a caricature of the gender sexual stereotype (“bro” culture is a good example of that caricature), it opens up one avenue through which people can embrace their own, unique, individual sexuality. But I think the other side needs to be under attack as well: the compulsion to have sex because “that’s what you do in college,” which is particularly directed at men. Because that assumption also inhibits people’s ability to express their own genuine sexuality by discouraging them from saying no to sex when they’re really not interested.

    Overall, we really need to embrace all variants of sexuality. Female “sluts”, male “prudes”, male “sluts”, female “prudes”, and everything in between (include all variations of gender identity). We need to stop expecting that someone’s sexuality works a certain way because of their gender, and embrace the reality that people’s sexuality takes all sorts of different forms, and that the only important sexual constants that everyone needs to hold on to are communication and understanding.

    • Thanks, Phil. I know the issue of female sexuality being controlled is the more immediate and grave of these two sides, but, as a college male who has felt my own genuine sexual expression being hampered by this “sex is what you do in college” mantra, I’m grateful to hear this problem voiced.

      BTW, great article too!

    • Well said, Phil. If Tart had addressed this issue from the angle you present, they would not have sounded like a spoiled child throwing a tantrum. The use of quotes around ideals such as “good” and “right” did nothing but discredit Tart’s point by casting a shadow of “I’m being a rebel! rawr!”

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