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L.A. Beat

Ask Margo — What’s up with the word “slut?”: Part 1

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“A slut is person that has sex with multiple partners. Same meaning as promiscuous but with a nasty heart breaking overtone to it, as in “that stupid slut cheated on me and broke my heart”. The term generally applies exclusively to females and is obviously derogatory/insulting.”
-Male, age: 45, Musician.

(Lethbridge, AB)
 (Answered “yes” when asked “have you recently used the word to describe someone?”.)from

A few weeks ago my friend was called a slut. Naturally, I defended her, but I also wanted to know why the person cared. The slut-word isn’t like other names, like say asshole.

To call someone a slut shows you’ve invested a little more personal interest in them. It implies you are, in some way, monitoring the person’s sexual activity.

So if you are going to be some kind of slut monitor, you’d think that it would have to be worth bothering to do. Is it though? As an advice columnist I usually do the regular Q&A, but this week I decided to talk to some of my friends to see what they think about the word slut.

I tried to get a variety of friends to participate. I chatted to eight women and seven men. Most of the people were between the ages of 20 and 35, though I did talk to one person under 20 and two over 40. Their occupations varied but regardless of their day jobs, most of the people I spoke to are artists of some kind.

A little less than half live in Lethbridge, with the remainder living in Vancouver, Victoria, Calgary, Toronto, as well as Los Angeles and Manchester, UK.
I started off the one-on-one discussions by asking my friends: “what does the word ‘slut’ mean to you?” I received a number of different responses; some sounded a little judgmental; some sounded like textbook definitions; some articulated how “damaging” the word can be; some mentioned ‘ye olde’ double standard; and some considered the word a positive thing.

As I asked my friends to define “slut”, I began to wonder, even though many of them acknowledged the abrasive nature of the word, how many of them actually use it? I was very interested in what each person had to say, especially because I know that I have used the word in the past, even after I decided  not to judge someone for being promiscuous. So, I expected at least a few conflicting responses, and this certainly proved to be the case.

Six out of my 15 friends answered that they had “within the last year, used the word ‘slut’ (in a negative way) to describe someone, or to tarnish their rep or image”. All six friends admitted that they used the word to describe a woman (though, two of my friends have called both men and women sluts; which conflicts with both of their definitions that the word only applies to women).

I noticed another conflict in the responses when I asked if anyone had recently been swayed into judging someone who had been called a slut. Only two out of the 15 friends clearly stated that ‘yes’ the slut-word effectively influenced them into judging someone. Interestingly neither one of them had recently used the word, which suggests they don’t really give a damn if someone is a “slut,” but clearly they can be made to care.

In contrast, out of all the people who said they have used the word to purposely be harsh, not one of them reported that the word affected their judgment of someone else.

Why would this happen? What is the point in insulting someone when you yourself are unaffected by the chosen insult? It is doubtful I can come up with any concrete answer, though I will discuss it further in next week’s column. So look out for the S-word Part Two. In the meantime, a thank-you to my friends with their following definitions:
“The word slut means many different things; it's a word that I hear and am brought back to many different stops along my life. The first time I was referred to in this manner I didn't know what it meant.

But the way it was delivered cut deep into me and brought me shame deeper than I had ever known. Later in life I heard it and knew what it meant and started identifying with the label; I was so hungry for a place in the social world of junior high that I owned the persona that came along with the label.” -Female, Photographer, 31 (Lethbridge, AB).
(Answered “Yes,” when asked if she had recently used the word to describe someone).

“The moment I hear the word 'slut' I hear a double standard. Men who have sex with many women are "studs". Women who have sex with many men are "sluts". One is derogative and one isn't.” -Female, 49, Politician, (Victoria, BC).

(Answered: “No” when asked if she had recently used the word to describe someone).

Feel free to let me know what you think, and as always, send your relationship/sex advice requests to: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

— By Margo, Special to L.A. Beat
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