Why I’m Happy I Was Called A Slut In High School

For many of us, high school is the time when we begin to truly learn about ourselves, particularly when it comes to relationships and sex. First boyfriends, virginity, dating, and heartbreak are all new concepts – and sometimes we face them all within the same year. Of course, we all move at different rates, and some of us will do more exploring than others. I was one of the girls in high school who began experimenting with sex early on, and I paid a price for it – I was called a “slut” more times than I can count. And while being associated with that slur might seem like a nightmare to many girls, I look back on those years and think to myself, “I’m really glad – maybe even grateful – that I was called a slut in high school.”

The author and her friends in high school.

The author and her friends in high school.

Throughout my childhood, I was never made to feel bad for wanting to know about what sex was, so by the time I hit puberty, I had already discussed sexuality with my parents and other adults. I always tended to gravitate towards older kids while growing up, and much of my early life was spent with full-on grownups, so by the time high school started, I felt I was ready to lose my virginity. I eventually lost it when I was 14-years-old, and have never regretted it. I lost it in a more casual way to a boy I never saw again afterwards, and I was okay with that. This only emphasized my feeling that sex wasn’t that big a deal. Still, it would be another year before I had sex again, this time with my first love.

After a year and a half of dating, when I was a junior, this guy and I broke up. After that, I decided to take advantage of being young and single. I started hooking up with guys who were older and didn’t go to my school, and eventually developed a reputation as a “party girl.” From my perspective, I was just having fun and growing up, but it soon became clear that I was being judged harshly for my free-spirited approach to casual sex.

For me, sex and commitment had always been separate concepts, and so it was easy for me to feel like sex could be a purely physical act. As long as I was being safe, I never felt I was doing something “wrong.” But it quickly became clear to me that not all 15 and 16-year-olds viewed “sleeping around” the same way. Soon enough, I was hearing from friends that so-and-so was calling me a slut, and it was devastating.

I went to a very small high school, and so the rumors were very difficult to shake. Everybody knew everybody’s business, and the mean girls on campus didn’t take kindly to me bringing older guys (especially ones they didn’t even know) around to parties and other social gatherings. I remember one party in particular when I decided to invite an older guy I’d been hooking up with. The night ended abruptly for me when one of those mean girls approached my date and asked him if he knew he was hanging out with the reigning slut of our school. It was humiliating, and I spent the next few days in tears. Although I rarely socialized with that girl, it was embarrassing and hurtful to be so harshly judged by her. I found some solace in my group of friends, all of whom supported me and expressed their disdain for her behavior. But at 16, it was hard for me to recognize that her opinion really didn’t matter, and so it tore me apart.

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I ended up losing some friends. Some girls didn’t hang out with me because their parents thought I was a bad influence, which was so ironic because I always had the best grades in school. It felt like I was being ostracized for doing the same things every other high-school student does – experiment and make mistakes – and it wasn’t until I graduated and went to college that I felt I was able to shake the stigma.

But before that, facing so much ridicule prompted me to begin asking questions like, “what makes me a slut?” and “where does the concept of a slut come from?” and “why aren’t men ever called sluts?” I never felt like a slut, and I certainly didn’t think the number of sex partners I had at that age constituted “sleeping around.” And yet, others seemed to agree with each other that I was indeed a floozy – and all of those people couldn’t be wrong, right? Eventually, I bought into it, and began to feel guilty for what I’d been doing. I began to see myself as someone who was acting out sexually because of some deficiency I had. I mean, I was only behaving like a slut because I didn’t love myself, right?

As I continued to feel defeated and angry with myself, I simultaneously noticed that there was always a part of me that felt secure in my sexual behavior, and unfairly treated because of it. In my senior year, I was dating a new guy who was amazing, and we loved each other. But after a few months, I found myself feeling suffocated and I dumped him. I was 17-years-old and confused. I hated being thought of as a slut, but I was seemingly unable to want a boyfriend for more than a few months. Something was different about my views on sex and relationships, but I didn’t have the vocabulary to explain it to myself or others.

The author today.

The author today.

I became fascinated by the concept, and eventually started seeking answers in books and online resources. I was only a senior at the time, but I started reading about ideas never taught in high school: gender norms, misogyny, sexism, feminism, and the history of female sexuality. Books like Camille Paglia’s Sexual Personae, Helen Gurley Brown’s Sex and the Single Girl, and Jessica Valenti’s The Purity Myth helped me expand my conceptions of what female sexuality can look like. Most importantly, these books made me realize that I was not a bad person, and that the problem lies with societal conceptions about what women should and should not do with their bodies.

High school seems like a long, long time ago for me, but issues relating to womanhood and sexuality follow us our whole lives, and I still carry my slut-shaming experiences in high school with me everywhere I go. The difference is, today they’re not a burden. Instead, I find myself thanking the mean girls who made it their mission to call me a slut. Without them, I would not have delved so deeply into self-education. Today, my relationships are more honest, happier, and healthier because of it. I was called a slut in high school, and I am proud.

What are your thoughts on this essay? Can you relate or do you disagree? Share in the comments!

You can follow the author, Amanda Mester, on Twitter or Instagram.

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