“What a slut – could she be any more desperate? She’s just trying to get attention. And look what she’s wearing!”
Statements like this are definitely uttered by both men and women about women, but right now, I’m more concerned with focusing on women who talk about one another this way.
Our larger community has come to agree that a slut is someone, most often a woman, who enjoys sex more than she should, is overtly sexual, and who exercises her own impetus to realize her sexual desire. Women criticize and judge other women who don’t suppress their sexual drive and behavior. We are encouraged to disavow our authentic wishes to be sexual. In fact, we are praised if we are powerless (or at least ambivalent) in our sexuality and this is incredibly destructive.
We have the messages of historical sexuality that still influences us – puritan sex, sex between one man and one woman for the purpose of procreation. And then there are the messages about sex in the media today. This is an incredibly difficult intersection to navigate.
Here’s the short of it:
Female sexuality is considered acceptable if a woman is in a relationship; she is encouraged to please her partner (love sex), but she runs into trouble when she seeks sex outside of a relationship (lust sex). It’s fine for her to have her own needs, though not necessary, as long as they are the right kind of needs – the kind that make her partner feel affirmed. She is discouraged from expressing her needs in a way that might make her seem a) too sexually aggressive or b) too difficult for her partner to please. The message to women is this; cast off your sexual needs and learn how to negotiate the needs of others. Don’t be too sexy, but please no, don’t be frigid and closed off, either. Follow this advice and you will be a respectable woman.
But do we want respect if we have to pay for it with our authenticity? And why do so many women experience the impulse to glance knowingly at one another when a member of their cohort walks by in clothes that express a part of her sexuality if we’re all under this microscope? (What exactly is the knowledge being shared with those glances, anyway?)
Part of what’s happening for women is fear, fear of expressing the parts of themselves that they have been told are shameful or “too much”. That in itself can be tough to overcome. When someone has believed that a core aspect of herself is bad for a significant part of of her life, even when she wants to access and express it, the insecurity of navigating and realizing this can be painful. Many women fear that they won’t express themselves the “right way”.
Some women resent one another for their ability to take the risk and express their sexuality in a way that feels healthy for them. This resentment is born of the fear I just described, anger that they, themselves, don’t feel capable of taking this action, and hope that they can govern their sexuality the way they want to instead of they way they’ve been directed. This hope keeps their authentic sexuality from straying too far so that they are, in some way, always connected to it.
If we experiment with allowing ourselves to be curious about our own sexual needs and desires, without pressuring ourselves to avoid nor move toward them, we can give ourselves space to get to know that part of ourselves. As we increase our self-knowledge, our capacity for connection in relationship will improve. The idea is to first share our desires with ourselves (because sometimes it’s a secret), and then with those close to us. We become less isolated. We become stronger and we begin to lose that urge to act like crabs in a bucket, keeping one another down. For some women, this will be a longer journey than for others. For all, powerful, safe, balanced, healthy, authentic sexual experiences will be worth it.
Love and Be Loved,