Slut-shaming i one area where we’ve made a lot of progress — but only in some circles. While there are certain groups and communities that have embraced sex positivity to their core, there are also still so many places in society where women are shamed. And sometimes, it’s more subtle than you'd think. 

There are, of course, the more obvious versions of slut-shaming — you can directly equate the number of people someone has slept with their morality or goodness or you can call someone a “slut” as an insult. It’s vile. It’s reductive. It’s just plain stupid. But slut-shaming isn’t always that obvious — there are more understated ways that it can manifest. In fact, even the most sex-positive among us can make slips that we don’t realize we're doing (myself included). 

It might be the language we use without really thinking about it or sometimes it’s speaking in a certain way in front of someone you don’t really know very well. Spoiler alert: your jokes with your friends don’t always translate well to others.


Before we get started, a friendly reminder that having a lot of sexual partners is not a bad thing. Some people merrily refer to themselves as sluts, because they’ve embraced and reclaimed the term (again, I totally do this). But slut-shaming isn’t always about using the word itself. It’s implying something about the number of people someone has had sex with or the amount of sex they’ve had and what that means about them as a person or as a behavior.

It sucks. And here are the subtle ways it might be happening. 

1. Expressing your own "number" with embarrassment

I’ll never forget my friend burying her head after an ill-fated one night stand and saying, “Crap, I guess I’m in the double-digits then.” The irony, of course, was that my number of sexual partners was more than double hers — and well into the double digits. She realized what she had said before adding, “Oh no, it’s just me. I wanted to keep it below 10.” 

Now, on the one hand, I feel for her — we all have regrets and many of us have sexual experiences we maybe wouldn’t do over again. But it’s ridiculous to assume that she could somehow separate her own judgement of herself from a judgement of me. If she wanted to keep her number to a certain level, there was obviously a reason for that — one that I didn’t live up to. Everyone should live their life and fuck their fucks in their own way, but when you vocalize certain judgments, even about yourself, you might be slut-shaming. 

2. Referring to people you don't like as "skanky" or "slutty"

This is a really common one. We may accept certain behaviors in ourselves and people we care about, but are really quick to throw out judgement on someone we don’t know very well or don’t like. So you might never judge yourself or your friends about who they have sex with or how they have sex it, but you'll do it to other people.

But taking the approach of something being fine when you or your friends do it but not fine in other people is still saying there’s something wrong with that behavior. Even if you use the word “skank” as a general insult, like “jerk” or “asshole”, you’re still slut-shaming. You’re still adding to and reinforcing the rhetoric of insulting women based on their sexual behavior. It’s not cool.

3. Commenting on how quickly someone sleeps with someone else

“Wow! Already?” It’s simple, but it’s pretty fucking effective as slut-shaming. Even when it’s followed up by, “No, I mean, you go girl. Get it!” or some other empty platitudes. Your shock is obvious — and it’s damning, even if you don’t mean it to be. Slut-shaming isn’t always about the number of people someone has slept with, it can also be about the circumstances they have sex in or who they have to have sex with. Be aware of how you're responding to your friend's news.


4. Using “slut” or “skank” around people you don't really know

So you may have reclaimed these terms, but that doesn’t necessarily mean everyone has. I have certain friends who I might use the word “slut” in a positive way with, because I know they do the same — often because we were friends at the time we were both being really, really slutty. But I also have friends who I wouldn’t joke like that with — or in front of — because I know that they wouldn't necessarily know the context and might view it as me slut-shaming someone else. Or even slut-shaming them. Know your audience. 

5. Questioning someone’s choices

The eye roll. The awkward face. The, “You sure you’re OK?” that trails off into nothing. Just because you don’t explicitly say you don’t approve of something, doesn’t mean you don’t make it clear. And that lack of approval can take the form of faux concern.

Yes, sometimes you might know somebody well enough to know if their sexual behavior is such a departure from their norm that it could mean something is off, but assuming have a lot of sex or casual sex always means someone isn’t OK is definitely slut-shaming. 

Slut-shaming is still way too prevalent in society at large, even if some people have learned to embrace sex, positively and completely. And while it’s still such a big issue, it’s crucial that we’re all aware of what we say and how it might be construed. Because slut-shaming is never OK, even when it’s unintentional. Check yourself.