12 People On What The Word "Slut" Means To Them

"Slut" is a loaded term. And while there's been a recent spike in public outcry over "slut-shaming," the word has been around for a while. Around 1600, Shakespeare used the words "slut" and "sluttishness" in his comedy As You Like It to refer negatively to a promiscuous woman. Even before that, it was used as a term for an uncleanly woman.

Though we've progressed since Shakespeare's time, we're still in an era of slut-shaming, saying "She asked for it," if a girl is sexually assaulted while wearing a short dress. The issue isn't in the word itself; it's what the word represents: patriarchal structures of power, rape culture, and everyday sexism.

But it means different things to different people. Some men use it to attack women; some women use it to attack women. Some people refuse to use it at all. Others have tried to use it as a means for empowerment, by redefining the word to mean a powerful, successful, and sex-positive woman.

Still, the word as it relates to these issues takes on a different form depending on whose tongue it's on. Here are 12 people on what the word "slut" means to them:

"It's psychological warfare."

Slut is just a term that insecure men use as psychological warfare to maintain a dominant position over women. — Jeff, 26

"It's a sign of a woman who doesn't care about herself."

The word slut connotes someone who doesn't care about appearances, is opportunistic but may not care that much about herself. Because it's about a woman, it’s almost always used against a woman (and sometimes gay men). It connotes a sexual looseness and promiscuity.

I don't think it's appropriate to use because it's usually women who are jealous who refer to someone else that way. Or men that use the word pejoratively. Mariko, 60

"It's become a term of empowerment."

The term slut and what it means to be a slut has changed its meaning for me as I've matured over the years. In my high school years being called a slut was derogatory and embarrassing — the slut was the girl who got around and had a lot of negative gossip surrounding her. The slut was a threat to us other girls. The slut was having threesomes while the rest of us barely knew how to insert a tampon correctly.

Now, in my late 20s, slut has become a term of empowerment. My friends and I relish the term, because rather than seeing the slut as a threat to other women, it serves as a threat to patriarchal society. Being a slut then means being independent, self-assured, and self-determining in all aspects but especially in our bodies and our sexuality, which has always been held against us. — Naomi, 27

"I wouldn't want my sister being called that."

I don't really have strong feelings about the word, but I use it casually sometimes in more of a funny way. Not to ever refer to someone as a slut seriously. If I heard a guy refer to a girl as a slut, my first thought would be that she probably has a reputation. But if the girl was a friend, or my sister, I'd be annoyed she had that reputation. — Ben, 19

"It's someone who is sexually reckless."

I define slut as someone who is sexually active to a reckless degree, which is not necessarily measured by your number of sexual partners (because I think everyone should be free to do what they want) but by whether you engage in behavior that consistently disregards safety for your personal health and emotions as well as those of your partner. — Candace, 26

"Language is complicated and so is gender."

I feel complicatedly about the word slut. As a self-identified feminist, I'm obviously on board with the idea that slut-shaming is fucked up. Women should not be degraded for being sexually liberated. When a guy has sex with a million people, we may refer to him as a player, but that word is not as laden with the same taboo. It’s somewhat laudatory. So why do women have to be seen as unclean and irresponsible for indulging their sexual appetite? This is internalized, cultural misogyny.

At the same time, I feel like there’s room to reclaim the word. No, I don’t want to waltz around calling everyone — man or woman — who is sexually liberated a slut, but I also think that there’s room to neutralize the meaning of it. Like, if there were a feminist magazine called SLUTS, would we be offended? Probably not, as that’s a gesture of empowerment. In short, language is complicated and so is gender. So I feel complicated as a result. — Charlotte, 24

"It's what my frat brothers used to describe women."

I've become desensitized to the word slut, having heard it or some variation of it (read: slore) thrown around literally hundreds of times a day at my fraternity in college. And when I myself use it or hear it being used, it is almost always pejorative. A slut is a girl you might have fun with one night, but definitely not a girl you bring home to Mom and Dad. It's a one time, one and done type of thing. Whether or not it's fair to make broad assumptions about someone's character based on their reputation for having sex with a lot of people may or may not be fair, but it's what I do. — Jordan, 24

"I've used it to criticize other women."

I personally use the word slut in two different ways. For the most part, I use it to poke fun at a friend. In this context, it's always used in a light-hearted manner — there is never malice or seriousness behind my delivery. The other way I use it is to reference a person — man or woman — who is sexually promiscuous.

And I think you can't linearly define what's sexually promiscuous; it depends on the person and their behavior. I’ve used it with malintent when someone’s sexual behavior is hurting someone else, but I wouldn’t call someone a slut just on the basis of the amount of people they’ve had sex with. — Audrey, 23

"I hate the way I used to use it."

When I was in college, about seven years ago, slut and ho were almost treated like terms of endearment among friends ... which makes me sick thinking back on it! I'll see an old Facebook post from those days, using those hurtful words, and it makes me upset that we used to do that. I like to think that today those terms are irrelevant — you can do whatever you want with your bod, and no one should be judging you or using the 'slut' label. — Gabrielle, 29

"Women use it to hurt other women."

I wish that slut were a compliment, a word meant to empower women. Instead, we use the word as a deeply cruel barb intended to deeply undermine a woman's pride and confidence. As a woman who enjoys sex, I feel like I am constantly restricting my actions based on the prospect of potential judgment. — Colette, 24

"I don't use it anymore."

I'd say the word slut is definitely not in my daily vocabulary, at least not any more. At one point, I must have used it to describe a girl who had multiple sex partners. But then you start thinking of the double standard regarding expectations in the bedroom and it becomes hard to stand behind that word choice. That said, if you sleep with three different people in one week and they're all a little suspect, you might just deserve a moniker, regardless of gender. — Travis, 23

"As a man, I've never had to deal with its implications."

I don't actually run into the word slut too frequently in my daily life, but there was probably a time when I did. It doesn't feel like a word I would have used regularly, and as a man I've never had to really deal with its implications. There's no way to forcibly make words "go away," but my general impression is that, rather than slut as a pejorative being reclaimed, it's increasingly common to apply it to all genders and sexual orientations. Which I would totally be in favor of, if my sweeping generalization based on my unscientific observation is true. — Anthony, 28

Editor's note: Some names have been changed.

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