End the Slut-Shaming

Note: The following article contains explicit details of sexual assault.

 

As a woman, you’ve received a lot of conflicting messages about sex. One of the  biggest is that if you have sex, or want to have it, you’re bad, impure, less worthy, a slut. I grew up hearing those message a lot, from the teachers at my Lutheran school, from my mother, from television and movies, from friends. Those messages had a serious impact on me and how I viewed sex.

When I was seventeen, I was sexually assaulted by an acquaintance. While I can label what happened as assault now, it took me a long time to be able to say that anything wrong had happened, and even longer to believe that it wasn’t my fault. Often after women are assaulted, those who learn of it take it upon themselves to review how the woman may have been responsible. In my case, I wore a revealing dress, I was drinking, I kissed my assailant first, I didn’t physically fight back while the assault was occurring. I have had others tell me that all of these things mean that my assault was partially or entirely my fault. This kind of victim-blaming is as common as it is devastating. It excuses the behavior of rapists, it emotionally harms victims, and it keeps us from reporting.

I came to Sarah Lawrence several months after my assault. I expected a safe environment, one in which my classmates would know and believe that sexual violence is always the perpetrators’ fault, and that blame should never be placed on the victim. Unfortunately, that’s not the environment I found. My freshmen year I went dancing in the city with some other students. I was drunk and I wanted to make out, so I did with a man on the dance floor I didn’t know. I was having a good time until he started moving my hands to his crotch, and insisting that I perform oral sex on him. I refused. He turned away and got me a drink. I saw him pour something in it. He told me to drink it. Again, I refused. I ran away and managed to find the SLC students I’d come to the event with. When I explained what had happened, a student I considered my friend said, “Well what did you expect? You were all over him.” In case it’s not clear, that is victim-blaming behavior. It’s the same sort of things people have told me about my assault, that I should’ve expected it, that if I didn’t want to be attacked, I shouldn’t have kissed him. Consent to one act is not consent to another. If I kiss someone, that doesn’t mean I’m consenting to anything else. If I’ve consented to certain acts in the past, it does not count as consent to performing them again with the same or different partners. Yet I’ve heard this kind of justification of assault frequently from students here. While it disturbs me, I believe it’s a natural extension of the slut-shaming culture in which we live.

Despite my past, having sex has become a very positive thing for me. To be able to say yes to sex when I want it, when no one is forcing me into it, can be an empowering thing. The same thing goes for showing off as much as my body as I like when I wear my shortest skirt to Sleaze Ball. The fact that there are events at this school which encourage students to embrace their sexuality, whatever that means for them, and to resist a culture of shame that in particular targets women’s sexuality, is awesome to me. It is those types of events that have encouraged me to reclaim my body and my sex life, to make sex a safe space for me again. I don’t have sex because this school is obsessed with it. I have sex because I want to, because I love my partner and want to express that physically, because I’m horny, because it feels good. And to me that’s radical and freeing. If I could send a message to the campus about sex, it would be that however you have or desire sex is great (as long as it’s consensual, because if it’s not consensual, it’s not sex, it’s rape). If you don’t want to have sex, that’s great. If you want to have sex with different partners at the same time, that’s great. If you want to have loud sex in your shower, that’s great. If you want to have sex with yourself, if you want to only have sex with people you’re in love with, if you want to have sex with your friends or with strangers, that’s great. What’s not great is judging individuals for the type of or amount of sex they have. So many of us have already internalized toxic amounts of shame about our sexuality. To force more on us is harmful and can lead to a dangerous environment in which victim-blaming occurs and women’s worth is determined by how much sex they’ve had or how much cleavage they’re showing. So let’s end the slut-shaming, and work towards being a community free of shame, judgment, and misogyny.

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