Embracing Sluthood

July 27, 2010

A recent blog post from Feministe encouraged women to embrace their inner slut. I thought it was a fun and interesting spin on an age-old double standard. I’m sure some people were offended by the moral implications, but many more in the comment section felt empowered. Sort of like Black people embracing the “N” word. This was horny women throwing off the shackles of a puritanical society.

I certainly have no problem with women having more guilt-free sex. I’ve often encouraged it. But where I fell off the bandwagon was when the author admitted she was sexually assaulted. It gave me a moment of pause, not to condemn but pause for concern. Certainly, I can understand wanting to let it all hang out, especially after the end of an emotionally grueling relationship. I can even understand the need for space to emotionally heal. Just not sure if copious amounts of sex is the way to do it.

Don’t get me wrong, I think survivors should have as much sex as the next gal. More power and more condoms to you. But the fact is sexual trauma can create an unhealthy relationship with sex. And that can ruin a survivor’s chance at learning to deal with intimacy and even impede recovery, especially when the survivor confuses sex with intimacy. Especially, if the woman has a taste for emotionally unavailable men or needs to be emotionally detached/drunk to enjoy sex. So for me, the issue is not so much the amount of sex being had, it’s the way these women relate to it.

In her defense, the author also mentions she was in therapy for a long time. But any therapist will tell you that sexual promiscuity is an adverse effect of sexual assault. This is not so much a moral judgment as it is a medical one. So I don’t know if it’s the right message to be sending other women who have been sexually assaulted. It’s sort of like asking alcoholics to embrace a keg of beer or telling a rageoholic to just go with it.

Maybe we should ask if those women are having sex for the wrong reasons. – Are they using sex to create self-worth? Are they having sex with multiple partners to get back at an ex? Are they using sex as a way to avoid intimacy and sabotage relationships? If a relationship ended because of infidelity, should the person be racing to sleep with the next person who gives them attention? Isn’t casual sex reinforcing self-destructive behaviors?

And then comes the issue of needing time and space to heal after a long term relationship. Wouldn’t time for reflection and time to work on issues be more productive (albeit less fun) than having sex? The same applies to serial daters or people who jump from one relationship to another. We all need time to assess and rebuild. By jumping into the arms of another right away, aren’t you essentially depriving yourself of this opportunity to heal and grow? And if you’re a survivor of trauma, don’t you need even more time to heal?

The author had mentioned breaking a dry spell, so clearly she had taken time out to work on herself. But many survivors do not. Many are so frightened of being alone, they use sex and rebound relationships as a quick fix. They fear being alone because that means being alone with their thoughts. And that means having to deal with difficult issues and troubling memories. Seems like I read somewhere that, in order to be strong enough for a relationship,  you have to be strong enough to be alone.

Yeah, we all have a right to make bad decisions. I’ve abused that right on numerous occasions. But as good as it feels to have someone validate our bad decisions, is it the right thing to do? Sex should be had frequently but when it becomes yet another way for someone to avoid taking responsibility for your own behavior and mental health that’s when I have to question priorities.

Sexual liberation should be embraced, but not at the expense of self-liberation. Sex should be guilt-free, but does that mean free of responsibility? Maybe those who are suffering from trauma should settle some personal issues before they go jumping in the sack with every Tom, Dick and Mary.  Just sayin.

5 Responses to “Embracing Sluthood”

  1. Thomas said

    Sexual assault survivors are a significant portion of the population, and obviously not a monolith. I’m concerned with making a one-size-fits-all declaration about what is or is not good for them.

    Jaclyn, for example, was raped in college. She’s healed, she’s had a number of long, healthy relationships, and she’s written and done activism that grows in part out of her own experiences. Should she be either monogamous or celibate forever because she’s a survivor? No! Rape survivors shouldn’t have to conform their conduct, years after, to a standard that nonsurvivors don’t.

    Obviously, why we’re having sex is a question not only every woman but every person may want to ask. But it’s pretty clear from the piece that Jaclyn did just that. I don’t think she’s confused about her motives; she wants positive sexual interactions while she’s looking for romance.

    Finally, even if she was a brand new survivor, I don’t think it follows that she shouldn’t have multiple partners after. I’ve known a lot of survivors. Some want not to have sex again, and some have a lot of sex again, but a broad declaration that the latter course is pathological does not sit right with me. Doing it to feel worthwhile in the immediate aftermath may be a mistake, but some women want the last sexual experience they had to be one in which their agency was respected, or one that was pleasurable, or simply to put as much good sex between them and the rape as possible. I think I have to trust women to make those decisions for themselves. Actually, I’m concerned that making pronouncements about what is good for all survivors — even from one person’s particular vantage as a survivor — disserves them by disrespecting their agency.

    • savorydish said

      Thank you for giving us another perspective, but I never said all rape survivors shouldn’t have sex. Especially ones like Jaclyn who have been privileged enough to have years of therapy and have given themselves time to heal. I hope she has many more partners. I made note of her exception and I would like to add that I think she is really brave for coming out like this.

      But there are many survivors reading her post that do not have the same privilege. Survivors who have not healed. I’m not saying they shouldn’t have sex either. But it’s one thing to encourage people to have healthy sex and quite another to tell them to go out and be sluts. I would love to trust people to make all the right decisions, but sadly we live in a world where some people repeatedly make bad decisions, such as alcoholics. Unfortunately, that is part of their condition. These decisions not only affect themselves but those around them. And just as I would urge an alcoholic go to an AA meeting, I urge rape survivors to make healing their priority, not sluthood. It disserves them to tell them otherwise.

  2. Jaclyn said

    I’m unsure where you think I told anyone to be slutty, since I would never do such a thing, and I explicitly said the opposite:

    “I’m not telling you this because I think you’re a slut, or should be a slut. I don’t know you. I don’t know what you need, or what you have access to.”

    And I also take issue with your division between healing and sluthood. For some survivors, sexual experimentation is a crucial part of their path to healing.

    My essay was prescriptive, yes, but not of sluthood. Instead it prescribes a world where women are not punished or scolded for our sexual choices, whatever they may be, and in which we stand in solidarity with women who make choices different from the ones that may seem natural to us. My healing from trauma didn’t focus on promiscuity, or much on sex of any kind, but I stand firmly beside any woman whose path leads that way. I hope you’ll reconsider and stand with us all, as well.

    • savorydish said

      As I said in my own post, I already stand with you in regards to women not being scolded for their sexual choices. I’m not laying blame here. I hope all women have more guilt-free sex. My concern is with survivors who may not have healed and have a very different take-away then the one you have proposed. And even then I’m not suggesting that they shouldn’t experiment with sex. I’m talking about priorities not absolutes. You are obviously an example of a woman who focused on healing first. And that is a good model. My post was not an attack on your position, but a supplement to it. But thank you for clarifying your stance.

    • savorydish said

      ps- You’re obviously a very influential writer. I’d love to see a post about empowering survivors through therapy and healing. You seem to have benefited from both. Maybe you’ve already written one? I know it’s not as sexy, but I’m sure a lot of your readers would benefit from hearing more about your story.

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