The S Word: Slut

The Origin and Reclamation of The Once Dirty Word

I often encounter women who claim they have participated in a self-described “slut phase.” While some describe their experiences as empowering, other women may feel ashamed and guilty. The disparity between a woman’s sexual experience differs depending on her own attitude towards sex. As a woman in my early 20s, I wonder, why do we continue to feel shame regarding our sex lives? 

The word slut was first used as a noun in 1402 to describe someone as “untidy,” specifically in appearance and housekeeping. Shortly after, the question of cleanliness became intertwined with an individual’s sexuality. 

Historically, the word was exclusively targeted toward straight white women. Reason being, if a white woman rebelled against the feminine ideal of chastity before marriage, she was considered a slut. 

This standard is not dissimilar from the persistent concept of  “spoiling” or “adulterate” a woman through penetrative sex. Homosexuals and people of color were already deemed as inherently dirty due to structural and historical power imbalances benefitting whiteness. By reclaiming the word slut, the word itself becomes normalized and acceptable. Removing slut’s pejorative use in turn then removes its power and ability to oppress those it is used against. 

Five years ago, being labeled a slut was a cruel branding; it not only changed the way others view you, but power wielded against an individual’s self-esteem. In the 2004 movie Mean Girls, Tina Fey exposed the act of women calling each other sluts, both enabling the oppressor and becoming them. Meanwhile, feminists during that time were focused on eradicating the term. Through its liberal use in society and media, it became rogue and pitted women against each other. Since then, there has been a shift in sex educators and pro-sex feminists’ definition and application of the word slut. 

So what is a modern-day slut? Karley Sciorintino, the creator and writer of the blog, book, and Vice show Slutever, defines slut as “a person who seek outs visceral experiences through sex.” She also details: “A slut is someone who has no moral obstacle between themselves and their desire to enjoy sex. A slut is a person who has sex with who they want, how they want, and isn’t ashamed about it.” The term slut is not limited to having multiple partners, or engaging in hookup culture, sluts can be in a relationship. 

It often takes the comfort of an exclusive relationship to explore things one wouldn’t do with a casual partner. Thus, a slut is someone who is aware of their sexual autonomy and desires. But let’s face it, not everyone wants to be called or claim themselves as a slut. What’s important is how we own our individual sexuality, respect the sex lives of others, and continue to combat our sex-negative society. 


Ariana GiordanoComment