Love & Sex

751 College Kids Scared of Sluts, No One Else Is

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How internet culture is overturning the myth of the friendless slut.

If surveyed, I bet the average woman would want to be friends with Blanche Devereaux. She’s witty, sophisticated, loyal—she also happens to be a self-identified slut. This doesn’t stop Rose, Dorothy, or Sophia from seeing her as fit material to be a decades-long pal and confidante, someone who they could turn to during life’s greatest triumphs and gutter-low downswings. Most people see the friendship of four women—one of whom proudly and effectively navigates the dating world as a promiscuous woman—as a completely plausible premise for a scripted television show. That's because it is. Blanche, the friendly flirt, is not an anomalous character trope.

The Golden Girls star is amongst the ranks of sexually exploratory, opinionated, and yes, loving women on television like Joan Harris, Samantha Jones, Rachel Green, Kelly Taylor, and Ally McBeal. None of these characters are permanently or multi-episodically ostracized for their sexual decisions or excluded from the pearly, white gates of friendship solely based upon how many penises have been inside them. And you know why? The “friendless slut” is a bullshit myth.

Evolutionary biology will tell you otherwise. In fact, we’re okay with telling our culture that slut-shaming exists not because of outrageous social conditioning, but because we are wired to compete with others for our mates. In a recent study conducted by Cornell University, 751 college students were surveyed about “promiscuous” peers (defined by those in their early 20s who have bedded over 20 partners), and the results showed a decided preference by women for less promiscuous female friends–even when the surveyed women had liberal views and a higher number of partners themselves. The research concluded that sexually permissive women don’t want to befriend other women like themselves because they are safeguarding their mates, a competitive biological instinct. Where can these heathen strumpets turn to for a girlfriend, then? "Perhaps straight or gay men who would be accepting of their behaviors," the lead author adds. Ouch, science, ouch.

But oh yeah, the fact that promiscuous women are purportedly less desired as friends—it’s evolution. Totally. It has nothing to do with being beaten over the head with the warnings of slut-shaming ideologues our whole lives. Those are the people who consciously or unwittingly tell us a woman's worth=virginity, sexual violence is caused by clothing choice, the number of people we bed equates with our character, and that women will unwaveringly always choose their dicks before chicks. There’s a grain of truth in the study, but there’s also a sensationalism and a hint of science-serving-agenda. Don’t we all have that one (or five) slutty friend who relays their weekend antics over brunch, as we sit across from them gratefully lapping up the salacious details? Aren’t those kind of the most entertaining and, often, informative friends? Not as tokenized acquaintances, but as multi-faceted and powerful women. You know, women who do other things with their hands  and brains when they're not having sex.

The weight of the study becomes even weaker in the context of the diluted pool of college kids. A lot of sexual firsts are to be had in college and high school, ages when a lack of maturity and understanding of sexuality inform almost all of our thinking. It’s a time when we’re trying on hats of personas and politics; our personalities are a malleable melange of who is around us, what our parents taught us, and who we actually want to be. College perception, and therefore judgment, is as hodgepodged as a split-personality dorm room wall with that same Pink Floyd poster, Hello Kitty stickers, and Che Guevara quote, all at once. Not that the subjects are to be blamed; they're still developing opinions.

It’s just young to be so concerned with how many people other people have boned. As everyone’s numbers increase across the board over time, the revealing trend is that none of it really matters anymore.

What is promiscuity, anyway? In our daily social interactions we aren’t given a Cornell-psych concocted numerical definition. Really, our only reasonable definition of a slut is, “one whose sexual behavior we do not approve of”. Slut is a vapid word because it signifies more about the speaker than the subject. The almost-educated and recently sexually awakened have been arming anthropologists with ways to perpetuate the myth of the friendless slut, but technology is allowing the mosaic of voices who aren’t sitting in sterile Cornell labs to connect to discuss how youth culture and adult culture talk about sluts. The conversation, as it ages, is a lot different.

Enter Tumblr anti-slut-shaming culture, a rising underground of young voices lashing out against the prevalence of slut-shaming, victim-blaming, and Hester Prynne-izing. The “slut-shaming” tag on Tumblr features, not perpetrators, but Facebook statuses shaming the ignorant posters, women proudly displaying their bodies, and inspiring GIFs and videos like Sex Plus host Laci Green’s take-down of Jenna Marbles’ slut rant. In the video, Laci argues that slut-shaming is not one individual's problem but a, “personal failing on behalf of society." Her proffered solution is to open up a conversation about it.

And that's just what Tumblr and the rest of the youth-generated online media are doing. Pictures of exposed breasts hoping to desexualize them, Youtube rants against misogyny, and xoJane-style confessionals litter the internet in service of what Margaret Cho has coined, "slut pride." The creators of these blogs, embroidered pillows, memes, and videos aren't friendless, peerless outsiders, either. This is a movement of women and men who are interconnected in their intention, never isolated in their messages. The internet is full of sluts who aren't alone or vilified, but who unequivocally belong to a larger group, are well heard, perhaps even go viral.

Since slut is a pejorative term and language shapes culture, there's a large group of these men and women aiming to reclaim the term "slut". Slut Walks first began in 2011 in Canada to protest the legal system's all too frequent practice of blaming rape victims for being slutty and therefore deserving of their attack.  Women dressed in "revealing" clothing march together publicly, bringing the slut-pride culture that is rampant on Tumblr upright, communal, and filmable. These women are mainstreaming the slut, taking it out of its reviled shadow and showing that it is indeed in good, socially conscious company. These are promiscuous women who defend, believe in, and befriend other promiscuous or non-promiscuous women (for whatever that means).

The most confounding and troublesome problem with science's "friendless slut" theory is that the simplified vignettes of hypothetical women used in the survey research are just that: broad brushstrokes reducing a woman to her sexual experience and separating that from all other potential and characteristics. Those negligible talents and personalities we don't study are the exact criteria we base friendships and respect upon. In one brave Thought Catalog article, Charlotte Green explains, “My sexuality has absolutely nothing to do with you, and where my latest orgasm comes from has nothing to do with the great things I will do with my life. So call me a slut all you like, because I already know I am one, and it’s fucking awesome.” Contrary to evolutionary biology or college surveys, that is the not the voice of someone who we’d want to run away from or shield our boyfriends away from; this is the voice of the Blanche Devereauxs, someone who you get midnight pizza with.