Purple Magazine
— F/W 2014 issue 22


sex double standard



Slut (noun): a sexually successful female. This is my personal definition of the word “slut,” and I think if it caught on, a lot more people would be open to the idea of “slutty” and “role model” existing in the same breath. I’m not here to talk at length about sexual double standards. Everyone already knows the deal: for men, promiscuity is encouraged and praised, while women are punished and shamed for the same behavior. Duh, old news. However, that is slowly beginning to change, and — at least in my experience of liberal, educated circles — the playing fields of dating and casual sex are leveling. However, sluttiness — hedonistic sexual adventure and promiscuity for the sake of one’s own pleasure and thrill — is still a taboo, especially for women. And in my opinion, a big reason for the lingering stigma is that we don’t have enough slutty female role models — intelligent, sex-positive, responsibly promiscuous women, acting as living proof that having a high sexual appetite and satisfying it doesn’t mean you’re awful or doomed.

It’s difficult to cite a specific example, either real or fictional, of a happy, healthy, promiscuous person — let alone one who is a woman. There’s yet to be a character in a movie who says, “I have sex with five different guys a month and feel great about it,” because that makes people uneasy. Instead, the slut gets punished — whether she dies in the end, or ends up miserable and alone — because that’s the narrative our society is comfortable with. The promiscuous woman is painted as evil, inconsequential, or disposable.

There are countless examples of this. Lars Von Trier’s recent sex-epic, Nymphomaniac, was a powerful film, but we can’t ignore that by the end, the protagonist Joe was physically
and emotionally destroyed by her high sex drive. There are classic examples from literature, from Belle de Jour to Anna Karenina and The Scarlet Letter, all of which feature a woman whose sexual curiosity and subsequent infidelity lead to her entire life falling apart. Then there’s the fact that in basically every horror movie ever made, as soon as a girl has sex, she dies. But perhaps the most clear-cut example is the 1977 film Looking for Mr. Goodbar, in which Diane Keaton plays a woman with an increasing appetite for extreme sexual experimentation. In the end, she’s beaten, raped, and killed. In the real world, there’s the recent scandal of the Duke University porn star, who, after being exposed for performing in X-rated films to help pay her high tuition, became the target of such intense slut-shaming and so many violent threats that she couldn’t go back on campus. These are just a few examples out of many, but the lesson from all of these stories is resoundingly clear: your promiscuous behavior will not go unpunished. Tina Fey hit the nail on the head in Mean Girls, when the high school sex-ed teacher tells his young female students: “Do not have sex. If you have sex, you will get pregnant … and die.” Funny, yet eerily poignant.

So why are the images we see of promiscuous women in the media always so grim? It’s certainly possible to have sex in an unhealthy or obsessive way that’s harmful to one’s life and relationships. That goes for both men and women. But there are also plenty of women out there having plenty of sex who are plenty happy about it. Through my job writing about sexuality, I have lots of friends who engage in open or polymorphorous relationships, who do sexy work, or who are just proud, self- appointed sluts (like me, yay!), which means I see firsthand what a progressive, happy sexual lifestyle can be. Yet these stories are rarely told.

The sad fact is that we live in a sex-negative society that conflates having a lot of sex with being a bad person. Not only that, but it can even be considered an illness — as seen in Hollywood’s recent obsession with sex addiction — which means that people who have a lot of sex automatically experience issues of shame, doubt, and guilt. Often their friends and partners inflate those feelings by worrying about them or treating them as though they have a problem. But it’s important to remember that it’s conduct, not quantity, that makes sex unhealthy. It’s possible to have a small amount of sex in an unhealthy way, just like it’s possible to have a lot of sex in a healthy, fun way. Having a lot of sex, in and of itself, is not a bad thing, no matter what your gender.

But it can be hard to embrace that idea, especially when everything around us seems to be saying otherwise — and it gets even harder as we get older. We associate promiscuity with youth and bad decisions and are expected to calm down with age. Some begin to regret their promiscuous pasts. I can already feel it myself — at 28, between friends, there’s certainly less talk around the dinner table about sexual exploits than there was just a few years ago. People are becoming more polite, and it’s kind of a bummer. People often ask me how I “deal” with the thought of getting older, and my potential future kids being able to see the trail of my sexual history online, everything from nude photos to my old blog posts about the drug-fueled orgies of my early 20s. But I’m kind of insulted by the idea that just because I get older, I should automatically reject the less inhibited behavior of my past and the things that were once important to me, like creating an open dialogue around sexuality.

Thankfully, there are a few beacons of light in the otherwise puritanical media: Samantha on Sex and the City, with her unapologetic, self-aware sluttiness, is still one of the most empowering figures available for women with a high appetite for sex and adventure. Then there are porn stars, such as Sasha Grey and Stoya, who are intelligent, sex-positive women promoting extreme sexual exploration while also speaking out about sexual health. In the ’40s there was Anaïs Nin, one of the first women to write erotica. She wrote about her sexual exploits with Henry Miller and other lovers, and was a rebel pioneer of slut pride. Madonna held down the fort in the ’80s, and today, I personally love Chelsea Handler’s brazen, more-is-better attitude about sex. These women are great, but we need more like them, especially in the mainstream.

Which is why I think that if you happen to be a happy, healthy, slutty woman, it’s important to not be ashamed, in order to set an example. You should “come out,” so to speak. I realize that sometimes writing or talking about sex and one’s sexual behavior can get very cringy very fast, feeling egotistical and preachy, or worse, like you’re showing off. But I think it’s important to find a way to talk about female sexuality in an open, honest manner. We cannot be what we cannot see, and until we see more happy, intelligent, responsible, empowered sluts in positions of influence, it will be difficult to aspire toward such an image.

Karley Sciortino is a sex journalist living in New York. She makes short films, writes for American Vogue, and authors her website, Slutever.

[Table of contents]

F/W 2014 issue 22

Table of contents

purple EDITO

purple NEWS

purple BEST of the SEASON





purple BEAUTY

purple LOVE

purple SEX

purple NIGHT

purple STORY


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