Why Is “Slut” Still A Bad Word?

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock or one of Eddy Curry’s areolas for the past week, you’ve undoubtedly heard about the controversy involving Rush Limbaugh and Georgetown University student Sandra Fluke.

(Abridged version: During an unofficial Congressional hearing about contraception last Thursday, Fluke argued that birth control should be covered by health insurance at religious institutions, testifying that students at Georgetown pay as much as $1,000 a year for contraception. Limbaugh spoke about this on his radio show the next day, and referred to Fluke as a “slut.” Predictably, the hundreds of thousands of different angles you can take on this news story has given everyone associated with media a never-ending hard on since it broke.)

Now, Limbaugh is an disgustingly wealthy man (seriously!!!) who’s amassed his fortune by being very good at being a syphilitic chickenhawk, so him saying nasty things about a young woman is about as “dog bites man”-ey as a story can get.

Yet, in the past couple days, as I read Limbaugh getting publicly pimp-slapped by President Obama and clicked on several different articles written by several very serious people accusing him of “slut shaming,” one question kept popping up in my head: Why is “slut” a bad word?

Now, this question is (obviously) rhetorical. I know exactly why slut is considered to be such a pejorative term. I also don’t mean in any way to suggest that Fluke shouldn’t have been offended, angered, hurt, and saddened by Limbaugh using a word like that to describe her.

Thing is, my question isn’t about Limbaugh or Fluke or the contraceptive controversy. (Please re-read that). It’s not even about the term itself as much as what it’s used to describe: a person (woman or man) who has (or had) many sexual partners.

If, as many progressive, open-minded and liberal people say they believe, having numerous sexual partners isn’t a thing that a person needs to be ashamed of, why is there still such a negative connotation attached to the words commonly used to describe people who fit that definition?

I know that words like slut and ho and skank are used to shame, but if the acts themselves aren’t shameful, how are those words still given that power, and why haven’t we thought of any replacements?

You can argue that the mere act of creating a word to describe a person’s sexual activity is judgmental in itself. That argument breaks down, though, when you realize that not only do we have words to describe all human activity, we have also have considerate (and occasionally condescending) euphemisms for any terms that may have any type of negative connotation. We all know that “seasoned” means “old” and “plus-sized” means “fat,” but we still regularly incorporate the code words because they just sound less derisive.

Promiscuity, though, has no such euphemism. There’s no generally accepted “kind” way of saying “slutty.” Perhaps someone reading this can, but I can’t think of a way a person can reference someone having a much larger than usual amount of sexual partners¹ and it not come across as potentially (and likely) incendiary. I’ve heard people ironically refer to themselves or their friends as “slut” or “ho,” but once you remove the irony and the tongue-in-cheekness, it always stings (or is meant to sting).²

I wonder if this is because, despite what we might publicly say, we — men, women, liberals, conservatives, feminists, womanists, and bigamists alike — all still kind of feel that there is something off with a person who sleeps around. I don’t know. I do know, though, that it looks like I have no answers to that rhetorical question.

Maybe one of you might. if promiscuity isn’t a bad thing, why do you think that every single term used to describe a promiscuous person has such an unquestionably negative connotation? Basically, if being a “slut” isn’t a bad thing, why is “slut” still such a bad word? And, since it’s still a shitty word, why haven’t we thought of a word or even just a euphemism to replace it?

¹”Much larger than usual amount of sexual partners” is definitely relative. 

²There’s an obvious parallel here between “slut/ho” and “nigger.” No further thoughts, just pointing that out

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)