You’re Calling Me a Slut?!

This week Rush Limbaugh has been taken through the ringer for calling Sandra Fluke a slut because she was advocating for health care coverage of contraception.  And rightly so!  Here’s a recap of Limbaugh’s statements, courtesy of the NY Daily News:

“What does it say about the college co-ed Sandra Fluke, who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex? What does that make her?” he asked his listeners.

“It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute,” Limbaugh continued. “She wants to be paid to have sex. She’s having so much sex she can’t afford the contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex.”

When livid Democrats asked Limbaugh to apologize, he double-downed and went even further on Thursday, suggesting women who use insurance-covered birth control should post their sex tapes online.

“So Miss Fluke, and the rest of you Feminazis, here’s the deal. If we are going to pay for your contraceptives, and thus pay for you to have sex. We want something for it. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch.”

Seriously?  What frustrates me the most about Limbaugh’s statements is that he has shamed her for not just using birth control (which many women use for purposes besides contraception), but having sex (which he has assumed she is doing).  The best way to DISempower and exclude someone from a conversation is to make them feel ashamed about something that they do, think, and/or feel.  Way to go Limbaugh!  And props to Sandra, and all her supporters, for calling him out on it and articulating so clearly why his statements are extremely problematic.

This national outrage provides a great opportunity to explore the way that we frame individuals that engage in sexual activity, especially in an educational context.  ‘Risky sexual behaviors’ are often described as not only potentially harmful, but also with a word closely associated to being a ‘slut’- the word promiscuous, one of my absolute least favorite words.  Since it is perceived as less offensive, promiscuity finds its way into the vernacular of educators, parents, teachers, and policy makers more frequently than the word slut, despite its equally negative connotation.  Why do I dislike this word so much?  It makes me cringe because negative associations with sexual behavior are the opposite of my agenda as a sexuality educator.  I want individuals to feel comfortable discussing and learning about sexuality, rather than ashamed.  Any language used by educators that makes people feel bad about sex will only dissuade individuals from thinking critically about their sexual choices thus excluding them from the conversation.  The question for educators is, does your language make your participants feel empowered, or ashamed?

While challenging, it IS possible to talk about risk and potential negative outcomes without saying that sex is bad, and that people who engage in sexual activity are promiscuous (read ‘sluts’).  As Sandra Fluke said on MSNBC’s The Ed Show, “this is historically the kind of language that is used to silence women.”  Let’s not silence our participants by framing sexual activity as shameful.  Be mindful of your language (I’m talking to you, Rush!)!