What's Your Body Count?

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“So like what’s your body count?” he asks, hair disheveled, bed sheets crumpled by our feet, late night creeping further into early morning.

“Never have I ever slept with more than x amount of people,” someone boldly announces during a dumb round of Never Have I Ever. I already have most of my fingers down.

Or maybe it comes up in casual conversation with a girlfriend in the middle of lunch, with an old high school friend while catching up over Thanksgiving break but nonetheless, it comes up. The private question of how many people you’ve had sex with, that somehow seems to be such an integral bit of information for public knowledge.

I never know if I should lie, usually I see if the other person will answer first and I can adjust the honesty of my response depending on theirs, sometimes I’ll dance my way around the entire question as nonchalantly as possible, sometimes I’ll preface my answer with some form of rationalization. “Well, only one of them was a true one night stand” or “I’m good friends with half of them now” or “Sophomore year was crazy, you know how it is.”

More recently, I’ve found myself being ashamed of myself for being ashamed. What are the potential repercussions that I’m so afraid of if I’m completely honest in my answer? Is it the fear of being thought of as less than or “impure”? Is it the fear of — god forbid — being called a slut? I’ve yet to quite put my finger on exactly what it is, but I know for sure that my fear doesn’t come from my own insecurities with my sex life. The fear itself stems from the unknown reaction of others and what they might think of me. The fear stems from slut-shaming.

I guarantee if you ask any college aged female about their experience with slut-shaming they’ll have a story for you. Being called a slut for refusing a guy’s advances at the bar or for what you’re wearing, being called a slut for “leading a guy on” or stopping a sexual encounter part way through because you’re no longer comfortable, being called a slut for being open and confident with your own sexual history. The list goes on and on.

It seems obvious: there’s a double standard that exists between men and women when it comes to their sexual histories. We see this double standard sensationalized not just in our own social circles, but by what we see in the media as well. There have even been legitimate psychological studies about this double standard, saying “According to the sexual double standard, boys and men are rewarded and praised for heterosexual sexual contacts, whereas girls and women are derogated and stigmatized for similar behaviors.” This psychological study by Derek A. Kreager and  Jeremy Staff actually proved that men with sexual experience maintain higher levels of social status among their peers while women are more likely to be isolated for the same behaviors. I’d say it’s safe to assume that men don’t have a subconscious anxiety of being called a slut. The same can’t be said for women everywhere, women I know personally, and for myself.

I’m a strong advocate for reclaiming words that are meant to specifically harm and degrade women. Words like “bitch,” for example, I’ve learned to love and appreciate. And as crazy as it sounds, I find empowerment in using these words to describe myself rather than letting myself feel defined by them at the hands of someone else. Bitch is used for women the way words like determined and outspoken are used for men that do the same things. This is a similar double standard that’s seen with girls and the term “slut.” But for some reason I’ve had trouble using that reverse psychology with the term slut, the fact that the crudeness and intended harm of this word was ingrained in my being at a young age could be to blame.

It wasn’t until I saw the recent viral video that made its way around Twitter on July 11th where my feelings changed. It was a clip of the young woman attending the Amber Rose Slut Walk being interviewed by conservative figurehead Jesse Lee Patterson. This event is intended to reclaim the ideologies behind the word “slut” by means of women empowerment and community. Patterson often attends Amber Rose Slut Walk events, asking female participants the blatant question: Are you a slut?

The young woman in question who reached internet celebrity status after thousands of retweets, responds to his question unapologetically. “Yes, we are all sluts. You’re a slut. All these dudes behind you are sluts. Your camera man’s a slut. Your PA is a slut. Everybody’s a slut.” And yet, he continues to egg her on asking, What makes you a slut. Without hesitation she fires back, “Because I own my body. My body is not a political playground. It’s not a place for legislation. It’s mine.”

After more questioning on his part, even trying to get her to admit her number of past sexual partners she ends with, “It doesn’t matter what a woman’s sexual history is... A ‘slut’ is a word for any woman who is owning their sexuality.” Patterson even continued on asking her why she “dressed like a slut” and on and on. And this is not just an over theatrical representation of what women all over the world go through every day. In the end, the outrageousness of this video all circles back to a fact that shouldn’t be forgotten: at the end of the day a “slut” is just a word, just an arrangement of letters.

Like many of the issues facing the world and specifically young people today, slut-shaming is completely systemic. And likewise with those issues we face, because we are the younger generation we are the ones that can begin to instill change. These antiquated beliefs of sexual history equating to worth need to be cycled out of mainstream society. I’ve learned that I need to stop being ashamed. My fear of being called a four letter word by someone that cannot understand the complexity of one’s identity outside of the number of people they’ve had sex with is irrational. My sexual experiences have been safe, consensual, and have taught me so much about myself rather than taking value away from me. I am more than a silly number and I am more than the fear of name-calling. So yeah, I’ll say it outright right now. Sure, I’m a slut… but so what?