How to Be the Perfect Slut

There's no insult in the English language like "slut": hurled as abuse, it can have a devastating impact. Being designated a "slut" can be reputation-ruining; however, it can also be taken as a compliment in certain situations, as a signifier of sexual attractiveness. A "good slut" is someone fun, sex-positive, and sexy — such a Samantha! Such a Jessa from GIRLS! Tequila shots for all my sluts! A "bad slut," on the other hand, is someone who deserves the full force of our collective scorn and disdain. What's the difference, though?

The word "slut" can be used punitively, aggressively, shamingly, chidingly, in seemingly congratulatory manner, jokingly, with complete vitriol, etc. In short, it has no real, clearly-defined meaning. It's a collection of (sometimes contradictory) connotations huddled around an empty set, its only true defining feature being a murky connection to sexual impropriety. According to the dictionary, a "slut" is "a promiscuous woman; especially: PROSTITUTE." (Definition b: "a saucy girl: MINX"). Apparently, it comes from the Norwegian word for "impure liquid," which makes sense, because we sluts are constantly stewing in a collection of impure sauces, like those of the bog from which Grendel emerged.

So, fine, we can all agree that the denotation of "slut" is "a promiscuous woman" — but what even constitutes promiscuity in our era of ever-dissolving sexual prohibitions? Casual sex hasn't been a taboo (or even a source of deep-rooted, lingering shame! Woohoo!) for a long time, now — and, yet, the designation of "slut" lingers on as something we're still permitted, if not tacitly encouraged, to call women who don't have sex the way we think they should.

Enter slutformula.com, a website I came across this morning, that was probably crafted by an angry 15-year-old who lives in the stomach of a Balrog. It claims to contain "the official Slut Formula." Through some sort of complicated algorithm (misogyny x cum-sock/I hate vaginas), the site's author alleges that they're able to calculate your "Sluticity Value." Here's a fun bit of reasoning that accompanies the calculator:

Why the Slut Formula? Why does it only apply to Women?
Women can pick and choose who they sleep with while men aren't nearly as picky and must constantly prove themselves while doing the attacking (ex: typically men approach women, not the other way around). Sluticity corrupts, and absolute sluticity corrupts absolutely. With provocative female attire, strict sexual harassment laws against men, and this innate ability to control them via vagina, women are the ones who must accept this responsibility and not abuse the power... if they do they will earn such titles as slut, whore, cock gobbler, etc.

The website, obviously, is a stinking pit of troll-feces that any woman with an ounce of self-awareness would likely know better than to take seriously (case in point: in order to not be a slut at all, at age 28, you can have had, at most: 3 sex partners, 5 kissing partners, and 5 oral sex partners). However, it didn't just hop out of a void, wielding a graph that shows a "linear relationship of sex and slutdom for a female." There are unspoken assumptions and deep-seated values in our society that create an environment in which less blatantly swinish iterations of this line of thinking proliferate.

Last week, Jezebel staff was discussing a recent psychological study that finds that college students who have meaningless sex (which is defined here as "sex with someone the respondent had known for less than a week") are more likely to exhibit "psychological distress." As lead researcher Dr. Melina M. Bersamin told Business Insider, "casual sex was negatively associated with well-being and positively associated with psychological distress." The idea that casual sex isn't always emotionally or physically fulfilling is, obviously, neither shocking nor new. But if casual sex is supposed to be the millennial's playground (no one steal this phrase and use it to name your nightclub because I am having it trademarked), shouldn't we at least be cool with it? Why does it cause us so much distress?

The general consensus was that casual sex isn't necessarily easy to be casual about. It involves navigating a veritable minefield of pleasure, expectations, desire, miscommunications, muddled emotions, fun!! (let's not forget), but also of judgment and shame. Taking up the Mantle of Sluticity is not always a simple task, because it's caked with centuries worth of fears and myths and horrible assumptions re: sexually active women. So how does one even go about being successful at casual sex without experiencing emotional consequences? What makes The Perfect Slut?

To be clear, here's a handy list of how to be the Right Amount of Slutty:

  • You've made out with enough people that you can joke about making out with a lot of people, but, like, not more than 30.
  • You've given a ton of OTPHJ's (over the pants hand jobs, duh), because the Slut Calculator doesn't count those.
  • You've had a threesome once — because basically everyone should have one by the time they're 28 — but it was kinda weird.
  • You've had enough one night stands to be able to say things like, "One night stands really aren't for me, unless the guy/girl is really hot, ha ha, high five, ladies!"
  • You're not clingy and really cool about having sex with people casually to the extent that everyone says, "Oh, wow, you are not like other girls I've been with; you're so cool about sex!"
  • You have the exact right amount of body hair. You, and you alone, know what that amount is because you are the Perfect Slut.
  • You don't put too much effort into looking slutty. You eschew club wear. But also, your cleavage looks great all the time.
  • Your "number" isn't high enough to provoke performance anxiety in your sex partners, but it's also not low enough to make them wonder what's wrong with you.

The concept is bullshit for a lot of reasons — mostly because it causes women to worry that they're not behaving properly, according to a set of criteria that are both insane and lacking logic or any form of coherence.

Personally, I have always been a terrible slut. In my time at college, the only thing I was worse at than being a cool and fun slut was probably not falling asleep during that CogSci lecture I took by accident. This is because, during my time at college, I was growing up and starting to realize what kind of person I wanted to be. That's a fraught process, and one that almost necessarily involves a lot of insecurity and self-consciousness. A time of great uncertainty about one's own identity, it turns out, is not a ideal time to try and be a fun and carefree casual sexer — I realized this the hard way (i.e., crying under a strobe light at a party while eating a bag of Tostito's).

Having however much sex you want, with people you may or may not know very well, should be enjoyable, it should be easy, and it should never make you second-guess yourself. In other words, it requires that you're comfortable with who you are and what you want, and capable of communicating both of those things. It requires you to have reached a certain level of self-actualization and self-assurance. I wasn't there yet, so I sucked at being casually promiscuous. I projected my anxieties about myself as a person onto the "relationships" I was having, and it put me in a state of mild psychological distress.

What's even more baffling about the Slut Conundrum is that "psychological distress" is caused by pressure on both sides. Yes, negative stereotypes about women who have too much sex abound, but so, too, do stereotypes about women who don't have enough sex. Having had sex with far too few people at a certain age is seen as shameful — maybe in a different way than having had too much sex with too many people is, but it's a real pressure nonetheless. In environments where hooking up casually is the norm, there's a tacit pressure to fit in with one's peers. But when we're not given the right tools — either through a general unwillingness to have frank discussions about sexuality, or through a lack of self-possessed sexual female role models in the media, or through something else entirely — the very desire to "keep up" can be depressing and emotionally draining.

There's a line every woman must walk with her sexual identity. The old, strict, prohibitions around sex have been replaced with a set of nebulous demarcations: yes, you should have premarital sex; you should even have casual sex if you want! But there are certain ways you have to do it and certain patterns of behavior that are acceptable, otherwise you are gross and sad. It's a different type of sexual policing, but it strongly impacts the way we see the world, the way in which we think sex should happen, and what we think should happen afterwards.

I don't think that anyone can pinpoint the fine line between what's perceived as "healthy, sexual woman behavior" and "big slut behavior" (or, conversely, between what's seen as "healthy, sexy woman" and "sad prude"). And that's because it does not really exist. It's just an arbitrary distinction that allows us to malign women as freely — and illogically — as we please.