A Slut by Any Other Name

Louisa Leontiades Sexual Shame, Vile Depths

Morals come under fire when you enter into a debate about open relationships. When I told my Father about our open relationship he said ~

I’ve always thought that morals are what society defines as the best thing in the long run for the majority. But you are not the majority and as long as you’ve considered the risks and are being honest with one another, then go ahead. Be happy.

But not everyone is as open-minded as my Father. My friend said ~

My boyfriend doesn’t want you to come over. He thinks you’re a slut who’s just going to jump into bed and have sex with us.

I could only assume from this statement that he had mistaken the word ‘polyamorist’ for ‘rapist’.

After a bout of outrage, I sat down to examine what ‘slut’ really meant. In my middle-class protestant English upbringing, morals were synonymous with some implicit society values and explicit commandments set out in Christianity. But by upsetting the moral of monogamy, it seemed that for many people I had upset the entire morality cart. Because I had made the choice to enter into plural relationship territory it meant that I could no longer be trusted to respect anyone else’s sexual choice or preference. I was, by definition, an immoral woman. A slut.

What is Sexual Immorality and Does it Exist?

Since morals are a set of governing rules which define acceptable standards of behaviour, in polyamory the definition of ‘slut’ becomes somewhat different. It is acceptable, even desirable, to develop multiple, parallel loving and/or sexual connections. It’s not immoral. Thus many polyamorists (and indeed feminists) consider that ‘slut’ is a word that needs to be reclaimed; unsurprisingly as feminism is one of the keystones of polyamory, The Ethical Slut by Dossie Eastern &; Janet Hardy is known as the ‘polyamorist’ bible. However in [polyamorous] life there can still be choices that are healthy and unhealthy. Acceptable and unacceptable – above all to yourself. Choices which honour your integrity and choices that do not.

Whilst I agree that the word ‘slut’ has no place in demeaning women (or anyone else for that matter) who choose happily among a pool of consenting adults to have many sex partners, I do believe that unhealthy sexual choices can and do exist. So here’s my definition of what others might call sexual immorality.

Someone who makes sexual choices which force them consciously or unconsciously to cross their own boundaries.

Those choices and expectations are unique to each individual. I don’t usually enjoy recreational sex, so if I disrespected my own desires, went ahead and did it against my will, it would be an immoral choice… for me personally. Conversely for those who do enjoy it, it is not unhealthy or immoral. Which leads to the more important question of why anyone would go against their own will in the first place. Sadly it happens far more often than you might think.

Our patriarchal culture takes away womens’ voice and womens’ choice. We are schooled to be ‘sugar and spice and all things nice’. We are derided for exhibiting any kind of independent, feminist or angry behaviour. We are told that our feelings are invalid, we are taught ‘not to make a fuss’ or belittled for ‘showing weakness’ through crying. One only has to look at some derogatory names for “men-who-show-emotion” to see how biased our society is. They’re ‘pussies’. Or ‘girls’. So we learn to cut off our true feelings and desires because we are rejected if we show them.

In the same way society puts enormous pressure on women to conform to the ‘good girl’ values of chastity, fidelity and obedience. Women are taught that their natural sexual inclinations are ‘wrong’; they are taught to repress, to disrespect themselves and their own desires. It’s not surprising therefore that many of us have tremendous difficulty in saying ‘no’ when it counts. Because we are taught that repressing what we want in order to please others… is the right thing to do. In living up to society expectations of what we should be, we become people we are not. Which means that we grow up inherently – and unconsciously – disrespecting ourselves.

Relationship skills – like everything else – take practice. And an important part of this practice is the ability to state our needs and desires honestly. Many women need a lot of practice to do this; to combat what we’ve been taught. And so monogamy becomes simply another tool in the patriarchal arsenal which reinforces the ‘false’ self. A woman only has to say ‘I’m married’ and it alleviates any necessity to honestly say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to a prospective partner. It’s the easy option… for both parties. Because in many cases monogamy becomes a convenient excuse created by men to be used to protect the male ego.

‘Sorry, but I don’t find you attractive’… should be a perfectly acceptable response. And yet many men can’t take it. When I first outed myself as polyamorous, I had forgotten that I would have to refuse men on the basis that I didn’t find them attractive. That I would have to protect myself without a wedding ring. In fact 7 years in, I can’t count the number of times I’ve had to refuse men who simply assumed I would sleep with them because I was in an open relationship. It tends to be at this point that the men I reject (nicely) say something like

“You mean you sleep around with god knows how many men and you’re rejecting me? ME? I wouldn’t touch you anyway. You’re just a fucking slut.”

To which I laugh. Because I’m the one respecting my body and my boundaries. Which means I’m the absolute opposite of what the think they’re calling me.