All Worked Up about Sluts


True story.

A few years ago, my Lovely Wife and I decided to punch up our sex life by trying something — different. I’ll probably get into trouble for mentioning this, so I won’t say exactly what we did, but I will say it was the sort of thing that gets written up in those “True Confessions” type magazines that you find in dirty bookstores.

And we had a blast. Much more fun than we’d anticipated. When we were done, we felt like Boston when the Red Sox won the World Series. My Lovely Wife asked me what I thought of the experience, and what I thought of her for enjoying it so much.

I said, with a big smile on my face, “I had no idea you were such a slut.”

My Lovely Wife stared at me like I’d slapped her. Whoever said “Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me” never saw the look on her face. I spent the next several hours groveling and apologizing for my terrible insult of her character and my use of such a disgusting, slanderous term to describe the mother of my children and the love of my life. Talk about a buzzkill.

In the years since then, however, with regard to my Lovely Wife’s and my sex life, our boundaries of acceptable behavior, language, positions, and implements have broadened. Sometimes we still make love with soft music and caresses and gentle, passionate moments. And sometimes (and I KNOW I’ll get into trouble for mentioning this) we have hot horny grunt sex. We fuck like animals; fingernails, bite marks, rope burns, variable speeds, the thump-thump-thump of body parts on the headboard and, of course, the dirty talk.

And when We’re really going at it, when We’re scaring the cat and the neighbors are dialing 9-1-1 and We’re both on the verge of something significant, my Lovely Wife calls me a filthy fucking bastard—

and I call my Lovely Wife a dirty little slut.

And she likes it.

In Lewis Carroll’s Through The Looking Glass, Humpty Dumpty tells Alice, “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”

We tend to think of words as things that are standard and unchangeable. Once a word is assigned to an object or thought, we believe they’re stuck with each other like a tattoo on skin. However, one of the primary aspects of my own fascination with words is the way that their meanings and implications can and do often change over time, sometimes over a very short time.

At some point in the past twenty years, for example, pimp” became not just a noun, (“one who procures customers for a prostitute, usually in exchange for a percentage of her earnings”), but a verb, as in “to decorate or customize, especially in an outrageous fashion.”

When I was a kid, I was warned by my parents not to use the words “gay” or “queer” in conversation because they were considered derogatory to homosexuals. Now, those “gay” guys on “Queer Eye For The Straight Guy” embrace the terms. But I have to wonder; is giving a room the “Queer Eye” treatment the same as “pimping it?” Can I make up a new term, such as, Queer-pimping,” to mean “doubly decorating or customizing” something?

Then there are the conscious attempts to change a word’s meaning, especially to reduce the insulting or derogatory connotation. For example, a few years ago pop musician Meredith Brooks put out a song called, Bitch” expressly to give the term a more positive meaning, one of complexity and diversity and power and self-confidence, instead of its more common connotation, one of an ill-tempered or mean woman.

I’ve been told that people like Spike Lee and Samuel L. Jackson and rap artists are expressly using the “N-word” all over the place to rob the word of its negative power. Good luck to them on that; I can understand their motivation but you’ll notice I can’t bring myself to actually write the word down to prove a point, let alone say it. For that specific word, I think the best thing to do is just to never, ever use it, in any context whatsoever, in the hopes it completely disappears. I’ll let you know how that one works out.

Then there’s the word, “slut.” According to my New Webster’s Dictionary Of The English Language, a “slut” is “a dirty, slovenly woman; a slattern; a woman of loose character; a bold or impudent girl; a female dog.” For a more modern translation, defines “slut” as “a woman considered sexually promiscuous.”

These days, the word “slut” is getting a makeover. (Could we say the word is being “pimped?”) Reporter Stephanie Rosenbloom wrote a story for the New York Times last month called, “The Taming Of The Slur,” documenting how the word doesn’t just mean “sexually promiscuous,” anymore. The term can mean voraciousness of any kind, such as being a “coffee slut” or a “TV slut,” how it can refer to provocative fashions, and how among teenagers, it’s even become a term of endearment.

Ms. Rosenbloom’s colleague at the Times, columnist Maureen Dowd, went a step further last month by pointing out in a column how “slut” creates a sort of verbal quandary; the term is most often used to describe behavior in women that, when displayed by men, is considered in a positive way. “After eons of being a summary judgment that a woman is damaged goods,” Ms. Dowd writes, “the word slut has shifted into more ambiguous territory. It can still be an insult, especially since there is no pejorative equivalent to suggest that a man has sullied himself with too many partners. Men are players, women are sluts, just the way men are tough and women are bitchy.”

What makes the word even more problematic is the fact that the “good/bad” connotation of the word also depends upon whether a man or a woman hears it. let’s be honest. When a woman is referred to as a slut, most guys’ first reaction is, “what’s her phone number?” The term may be considered derogatory, but it still conveys potentially useful information.

That little fact is what got me into the doghouse with my own Lovely Wife. When I’d called her a slut, I meant it as a compliment. Still do. She’s sexually adventurous, enthusiastic, passionate, and even promiscuous in a monogamous sort of way. Once sHe’d realized that I was saying I found those to be positive qualities, she forgave me.

And it’s not just my own Lovely Wife. Women who are confident about their sexuality, who enjoy sex, either with multiple partners or just one, exude an aura that’s fascinating, sexy, and irresistible.

In their book, The Ethical Slut, Dossie Easton and Catherine A. Liszt say as much: “(W)e 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 has the courage to lead life according to the radical proposition that sex is nice and pleasure is good for you. A slut may choose to have sex with herself only, or with the Fifth Fleet. He may be heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual, a radical activist or a peaceful suburbanite.”

Still, when giving someone a label, whether it’s slut, pimp, gay, queer, or even the “N-word,” it’s probably smartest to just ask, first. Sure, it’s awkward, but it’s less awkward than saying, “Yes, I called you a kinky, sex-crazed promiscuous slut, but I meant it in a GOOD way.”

J.T. Benjamin
August 2006

“All Worked Up” © 2006 J.T. Benjamin. All rights reserved.

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