I am a slut

Monday, September 15th 4:34p.m.

I enjoy having sex.

In high school, I remember the word “slut” being whispered behind the back of any female-assigned person who chose to have sex, who talked openly about having sex, or who was rumored to be having sex. I also remember high fives being gratuitously awarded to male-assigned people who were having sex. I remember, particularly painfully, high fives awarded to male-assigned people who talked about using manipulation, dishonesty, and coercion to have sex with women.

I also remember first making the decision to have sex, with my monogamous partner, at age 17. Having grown up in a Christian family that insisted sex was a sacred act, meant to be shared only with your spouse as an expression of eternal commitment and love, this was a huge deal. Before having sex, I had a breakdown, screaming at my parents (I believe I used the word “fascists” at the time) at a public campsite before summoning the courage to have a sit-down discussion with them about my decision. I think all of us cried, and I remember feeling like I had experienced a “coming out” of my own. We ultimately agreed never to discuss my sex life.

The silence around female sexuality is deafening, and so when I finally did decide to start having sex, I didn’t have a lot of guidelines to draw from. I was fortunate enough to have been taught about condoms and hormonal birth control methods in school, so I at least knew how to protect myself from pregnancy and some STIs, but the dangers around sexuality go so much deeper.

I had some positive sexual relationships in college, before getting myself into a long and seriously codependent relationship. Everything I had learned about how to be in a relationship insisted that my monogamous partner was supposed to be in love with and attracted to me, and no one else. He was supposed to make me feel happy, confident, and safe, and was supposed to care more about me than about anyone in the world. He was supposed to meet my needs, without me ever directly communicating them.

Unsurprisingly, my real life partner was never good enough for me. He had deep, important relationships with other people. He wasn’t always excited about having sex with me. He didn’t tell me where he was going every time he left the house. And I wasn’t good enough for him either. I was too masculine, not pretty enough, I smelled weird. We fought constantly. At the time, we lived with another couple who were polyamorous, excited about dating and sleeping with people outside their partnership. The idea terrified me, and I grew to resent them, especially my female friend, worried their openness would destroy my obviously perfect monogamous relationship.

After leaving that partner, my relationship with my female friend grew stronger, over time. We became roommates, co-workers, best friends, comrades, and at moments even lovers (neither of us had ever had sex with a woman before). At the same time, I had a long string of sexual relationships. I was hurt and insecure from my ended relationship, and was using sex to prove my allure to myself. In reality, having sex in this way only made me feel worse. I was assaulted a number of times by men who took my silence as a “yes” or who asked for consent over and over until I finally gave it reluctantly. I remember in particular one partner who kept telling me I needed to “liberate” myself by sleeping with him (fortunately, I was more stubborn in my refusal).

It was a long process for me to finally build my self worth back from these experiences. Learning about consent, rape culture, and co-dependency through radicalism was important; building a life centered on my own strengths as an organizer and musician was even more so. I finally started to love myself, not for what other people saw in me, but instead for what I saw in myself. No one else could make me feel happy and confident, it had to come from me.

It was then that I met my first polyamorous partner. He was in a poly relationship with a woman I knew, so when I fell head over heels in love with him, I realized I was going to have to embrace this new, somewhat frightening idea. That relationship didn’t stick, but polyamory did. I realized that part of that was having other people to share my life with, people who could meet my needs for musical accompaniment, long conversations about political theory, cuddling, hikes in the hills, critiquing movies. For the first time, I realized that not one person could meet all my needs. I wanted a number of people in my life to be there for me in diverse and interesting ways. For a long time, I have had crushes on a number of people. But now, rather than not talking about my multiple relationships with each partner, or feeling guilty for sleeping with multiple people, I honestly communicate my interest in numerous people, and get to celebrate all of my experiences with everyone involved.

And, in the end, I now know I can always fall back on myself, and I trust myself to be there for me.

I have found myself madly in love with Sweetheart, who is my partner in crime, my bandmate, my boatmate, my lover, my traveling companion. I also find myself blushing, thinking of an upcoming date with a new crush, or smiling, remembering making out with a new friend this weekend. There are still hiccups; after a date last weekend, I found myself needing reinforcement from Sweetheart, afraid he would distance himself from me if I were interested in other people. There isn’t a whole lot to go on, when learning how to make this kind of relationship work, but with direct communication, I have faith I’ll be able to find a path.

Sex really is sacred, so I’m leaving behind a decade of shame and silence, and admitting to myself and to everyone that I like consensual sex.

And, if according to my high school peers, that makes me a slut, then I am damn proud to be a slut.

**This turned into more of a manifesto than a book review, but I meant it to be an exuberant pitch for the book “The Ethical Slut” by Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy, which you can read for free here: http://zinelibrary.info/files/The_Ethical_Slut.pdf

“In most of the world, “slut” is a highly offensive term, used to describe a woman whose sexuality is voracious, indiscriminate, and shameful. It’s interesting to note that the analogous word “stud,” used to describe a highly sexual man, is often a term of approval and envy. If you ask about a man’s morals, you will probably hear about his honesty, loyalty, integrity, and high principles. When you ask about a woman’s morals, you are more likely to hear about whom she shares sex with, and under what conditions. We have a problem with this. So we are proud to reclaim the word “slut” as a term of approval, even endearment. To us, a slut is a person of any gender who celebrates sexuality according to the radical proposition that sex is nice and pleasure is good for you. Sluts may choose to have solo sex or to get cozy with the Fifth Fleet. They may be heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual, radical activists or peaceful suburbanites.As proud sluts, we believe that sex and sexual love are fundamen­tal forces for good, activities with the potential to strengthen intimate bonds, enhance lives, open spiritual awareness, even change the world. Furthermore, we believe that every consensual sexual relationship has these potentials and that any erotic pathway, consciously chosen and mindfully followed, can be a positive, creative force in the lives of individuals and their communities.”

***I also really recommend this zine: http://galadarling.com/article/infinite-relationships/

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4 thoughts on “I am a slut

  1. I agree that there is not one person who can meet all your needs be they sexual or otherwise. Leslie, what I have learned from my younger days of being “single” and sexually active (15 years of it) vs. being in a monogamous relationship for the last 24 years is that every sexual partner I’ve ever had, have taken a little piece of me with them, as you’ve experienced, not always a positive thing. In my humble opinion, women’s bodies are not built for multiple partners for an extended period. We are receptors, nurturers by nature. That’s not to say that I am a promoter of any particular lifestyle except my own. Recently, I spoke with my friend from the old days. She is a beautiful, free spirited woman who has been single for several years now. When I asked her why, she told me that she felt it was her responsibility to stop “breaking hearts.” Without a doubt women have been a marginalized group. More the reason to fully acknowledge and embrace the power that we wield. We as humans need to understand the power behind our sexuality and be responsible for our actions.Leslie, you are a beautiful young woman who may not understand all the consequences be they positive or otherwise in regards to your sexual lifestyle. I would pay close attention to your intuition as guidance. Love you, Sweetheart.

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    1. I appreciate your thoughtful response, but I very strongly disagree that women are “receptors” or “nurturing” or really anything else by nature. I don’t identify as a woman because I am sick of being forced into that cramped gender role, and because people try to use that to influence or pressure me into particular ways of behaving. I feel much more comfortable identifying as genderqueer, because the identity of “woman” feels like a constant attack, but for the benefit of people who do identify that way, I think we should stop trying to posit what a woman is or is not.

      Historically people have believed many things about “female bodies” (I use quotations because, as a transgender friend recently pointed out, this idea is damagingly unspecific), including that thinking took blood from the ovaries and therefore made women less fertile, that riding a bicycle would cause permanent facial disfiguration only for women, that women only trade sex for security and protection from men. I think almost all evidence contradicts your idea that these bodies are not intended to have sex with multiple partners (many of us are able to have multiple consecutive orgasms, many of us have clitorises designed specifically for sexual pleasure, many of us have breasts much larger than are actually need for lactation, etc). If you’re interested in the history of female sexuality, I would highly recommend the book Sex at Dawn, which details a long history of polyamory around the world that in many places was stamped out by imperialism.

      Your message is very loving, and I appreciate that you aren’t trying to tell me what to do. Thanks for taking the time to respond.

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  2. I must admit Leslie…I’ve come to embrace the LGBTQA community, believe in legalizing marijuana, and have always been a strong supporter of other social justice issues. It’s easy for me to see myself as a progressive liberal…but I just don’t get the polyamorous choice – a tough leap for a baby boomer.
    There’s so much that works about a monogamous relationship that makes it worthwhile. Will one partner satisfy every single need? Of course not, and that’s what makes it fabulous…meeting the right someone who will fit into your life like that puzzle piece = the whole picture. Expecting one person to meet all of your needs is a bit ludicrous; that’s why I belong to book clubs with different women friends, spend days rummaging through antique stores with another friend who’s up for this, travel with yet another girlfriend, hike with yet another – all of these relationships are important to me, but they’re not sexual. If my husband is interested in doing these things (and he often is), I enjoy antiquing, hiking and traveling with him the most, but if he’s not interested….I have other options. My entire life is enriched greatly because of the multitude of relationships I have in my life, including an exclusive sexual relationship with just one person.
    An exclusive, monogamous relationship makes one a better person, I believe. It forces you to make choices, have intentional boundaries, and be clear about priorities = a worthwhile internal process. I have absolutely had to compromise by choosing to remain in a monogamous relationship for 30 years – and this has been good for me. It’s made me assess what really matters for me, go the distance in being there for my husband when times were tough – and be comforted when he did the same for me, and be wrapped in this loving loyalty that is such a beautiful part of a monogamous relationship.
    I’d encourage you to always have people of different interests in your life – and to enjoy and grow from these. Try not to look at monogamy as a step backwards, but as a worthy choice that has the power to bring a life time of growth, self fulfillment, and unconditional love = a very good deal Leslie.

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    1. Thanks for your response!

      I am glad that you find such fulfillment in your monogamous relationship, and in your numerous other non-sexual relationships! I certainly don’t think everyone should be polyamorous, or that monogamy is inherently non-functional, I am merely coming to terms with my own sexual and non-sexual preferences, and finding that I feel much more satisfied when I am in multiple loving relationships. I have a lot of love (emotionally and physically) to share, and enjoy being free to share it with whom I choose. That certainly doesn’t mean my love for and commitment to my partner is any less. There are sacrifices that come with any relationship, whether it be platonic or romantic, and that is certainly no different in my polyamorous relationships. Loving loyalty is no exclusive to monogamy.

      I don’t see monogamy as a step backwards; I see all consensual, communicative relationships as positive. I also very much appreciate the value of celibacy! At times I have chosen to be a celibate slut, and this has been very positive as well. All I’m saying with this piece is that there is nothing about being polyamorous that makes my partnership any less important, special, sacred, long-lasting, committed. And it is an incredible practice in direct communication and boundary-setting, which healthy monogamous relationships are too 🙂

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