Why are women called sluts and slags and men are called lads and legends?

Why are women called sluts and men not

Some people get status for having sex, others get stigma. Why?

BISH words used to describe sexually active men

Whenever I ask people ‘what words are used to describe sexually active men,’ these are the kinds of responses I get. As you can see they are mostly positive, although depending on how you read them maybe not 100% positive.

BISH words used to describe sexually active women

Then when I ask them to ‘what words are used to describe sexually active women?’ I get these kinds of responses. As you can see, these are probably mostly negative. Although some people use the word ‘slut’ in a positive way, they are generally used as hateful and bullying terms.

So men are given status for having sex and women are given stigma.

Why are men encouraged to have sex and women not?

What effect might these words have on women?

What effect might these words have on men?

It’s also not just a ‘man/woman’ thing. In your head (not out loud on the bus) think of the most common swear words – I bet they’re to do with sex. So what does that tell you?

Also different people are given different names depending on different aspects of their identity. What are sexually active gay, bisexual or lesbian peeps called? Same for trans folks? Black and ethnic minorities? They are very different and lots of people are some or all of these identities.

Sexual slurs are used as part of racism, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia. What about disabled people though? Can you think of words to describe sexually active people with disabilities? What does that tell you about how we see disability?

So there are rules about who is allowed to ask for sex, or to ask for what they want from sex and also what actually ‘counts’ as sex.

How can we change this for the better?

If you want to cover this in a lot more detail I wrote a free Teach Yourself Sex Ed course, so go check it out.

Please leave a (nice) comment below if you like or ask me a question here.

© Justin Hancock, 2024 Find out more about me and BISH here.

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I’ve been a sex and relationships educator since 1999 (with a background in youth and community work). In that time I’ve taught and given advice about sex and relationships with thousands of young people in person and millions online. I’ve worked with many charities, local governments, schools and youth organisations facilitating training and workshops. My two books, Enjoy Sex (How, When, and If You Want To) and Can We Talk About Consent? are widely available around the world. I’ve been on the telly and the radio and have written articles for newspapers and magazines. I’m also a member of the World Association for Sexual Health. Read more about me and BISH here. Find out about my other work here Justin Hancock

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17 thoughts on “Why are women called sluts and men not

  1. I’ve come to find this website following a roaring debate with my other half. I -a straight female- have been shamed by myself and everyone around me for my past. A period of time that has since been reframed as a time of self harm, self destruction and numbness covering trauma. Even through taking ownership and trying to move on, I’ve been made to feel dirty and ashamed. At the time I felt that I had control. The sad truth is that I was vulnerable and lacked concern for my safety or future. He also has had a troubling time of sexual, self harming behavior, yet still found it acceptable to tonight brand a female singer on TV a “slag” for singing about promiscuity born from hurt and numbness. Back in the day, I used to love Christina Aguilera’s Cant Hold Us Down (which such lyrics as “but if a girl does the same then she’s a whore) it’s just a shame that not much has changed. I acknowledge that slurs come from all angles and to all people but I do feel the need to defend that standards for women are still not right. And I’ll be damned if I allow it to slip by in a house where I’m trying to show my 10 year old stepdaughter that name calling, gender related slurs and any sort of jokes about “the time of the month” are considered justification for shitty attitudes or behavior. I’ll arm her with everything she needs to cut that crap from her life, her friends lives and hopefully the next generations.

    1. Good for you and I’m totally with you on this. For my project for over 18s, my podcast Culture Sex Relationships, I interviewed an academic about her PhD called Her Sexual Self, which you might find interesting.

  2. The funniest thing is women get named “sluts, slags, whores” and whatever else if they have sex yet a man will get applauded? Yet I bet any women that is on this site can put her hand up and relate with the fact that she’s been in multiple situations where she’s said no to sex 2/3 times and the guy has still tried it and she’s just gave in to get it over and over done with! The man walking away feeling satisfied and the women walking away feeling worthless. But ONE “NO” should be enough to stop and not try anything right? So when people sit there and say she’s this and that for sleeping with someone and automatically been named a slag…what is he? Because I’m sure that’s not consensual? So what does that make him?

    This stigma about girls been this and that needs to stop because it takes two to tango. So make it make sense.

  3. I feel that women are targeted more in a way that is meant to demean them by men as men have previously been more “powerful” and the provider, so by calling women such names potentially keeps the women “below” them…. ( meaning as in from years ago and it has just slowly evolved over time as we are becoming more aware of equality in today’s society. )
    In terms of who is sleeping with who, so long as we are being safe and it is out own body then surely in the grand scheme of things should it really be such a huge issue?
    It seems that it could maybe just boil down to the individual who is the “slut” or “lad” or “womaniser” or “slag” to do as they feel with their own body and the rest of us to just focus on ourselves…

    Could just be a general judgement/opinion/perspective as per everything in life which is sad to see.

    The quote;
    We see things how “we” are not as they are springs to mind 🙂

  4. I’ve often wondered where this dichotomy comes from. As Emily says above, women used to be chattle and I suppose being “pure” was a type of currency, so maybe we’ve partially retained the idea that a woman’s worth depends on what she’s done sexually.

    I can’t help but wonder, when guys respond with disgust to the idea of a “used, loose” vagina, whether part of the problem is a fear of being gay. If a man has sex with a woman who has previously had sex with another man, in a way that maybe links the two men sexually, at least in their mind?

    Being gay is really demonised for men and so many feel the need to vigorously defend themselves against any accusation of being so. Perhaps demonising the woman instead is a form of deflection.

  5. Hi Bish
    I have just checked and I made that comment saying I loved this post back in July last year. My politics around gender and sexuality have shifted somewhat since then.

    I still love a) The family fortunes/gender fortunes idea.
    b) your attention to gendered language
    c) Your picking up on how women who are sexually active often get called negative, gendered words such as sluts

    However since then my knowledge of how masculinities and men’s sexualities are presented in language and culture has increased/changed.

    Now I am very aware that men also get called names which really do demonise their sexuality, particularly round being either sexually active, predatory or voyeuristic (or homosexual)

    eg words like ‘creep’ ‘perve’ ‘peedo’ ‘rapey’ suggest an aggressive, predatory sexuality and often without women’s consent

    words like ‘manwhore’ ‘womaniser’ ‘homo’ ‘dirty dog’ suggest promiscuous men in a negative way. And some men get called ‘sluts’ too

    and I think there are gendered connotations around the terms like ‘rapist’ and ‘abuser’ ‘harasser’ too indicating it is men who do these things, normally to women.

    I am sorry if my shift makes me look hypocritical. If you read my blog which I know you do, you will see this shift mapped out, eg documenting how I no longer identify as feminist.


    1. Hi Elly

      Thanks for your clarification.

      I happen to agree with you but firstly I need to say that, like in Family Fortunes, the answers above were the most popular answers and when I do this game with young people their answers are pretty close to above. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t pejorative terms for men and sex, but it’s about basic, general societal and cultural messages about sex and gender.

      However young people like to discuss this stuff in class, they wonder why they don’t hear negatives terms for men and sex as much, they also wonder if men really do get status for being a ‘stud’ or ‘man whore’. We discuss it in the context of hegemonic masculinities, do men have sex to prove themselves? What if men don’t want to have sex? They also discuss the changing contexts and meanings for pejorative terms for women (as you’ve discussed), can they be reclaimed? We also talk about our attitudes to sex generally and why people are judged because of whether they have sex and who they have sex with.

      All very interesting stuff. The post above is intended as a starter to get people thinking and discussing.

      I was annoyed that you said you didn’t agree with my post when you said that you liked it before, but thanks for explaining.


  6. I think it’s true that there are far more/ worse female derogatory terms in circulation, but it has to be remembered that if a woman (or man) is in the group of friends that call them that, it’s generally just a joke/ not serious. If they’re serious, they’re not friends! And if they’re not friends, the victim of such names shouldn’t care too much about what they think – if they are happy with their way of life, they shouldn’t have to stop in order to avoid horrible comments from people who don’t care about them…

    To ‘man’, about ‘become unwanted in serious relations’ – I don’t believe this at all. And no offense, but what you posted is insulting in the way of objectifying women and saying men only want women for sex. Life isn’t a porn shop.

  7. ok well ladies should take care of their vagina men dont want tore up vaginas in the long run… when men have lots of sex they can just wash it off without changing anything women get looser and become unwanted in serious relations

    1. Dude, you’re just wrong I’m afraid. What do you mean by “tore up” vaginas? Vaginas don’t get loose because of lots of sex.

  8. Please don’t take my ‘survey’ very seriously! I deliberately worded the question so that people would come up with stereotyped views about gender and sex. It was in order to make a point about who is allowed to have sex and who isn’t.

    If I’d have asked ‘what term would you use to describe…’ it would have been very different.

  9. A word is just a word. It can mean many different things to different people and in different ages.

    The words chosen in the examples above are already lopsided.

    Try different sets:

    Bell End
    Jack The Lad
    Sex Beast

    Femme Fatale
    Sex Beast

    It’s all about context and intent. If you wish to denigrate someone you can use any word.

    Female anatomy terms being used in a derogatory way is a reflection of uptight, anti-sexual culture.

    A double-standard against women is a reflection of male insecurity and female power.

    Totally agree with Quiet Riot Girl too.

    1. men think it’s okay to call women a whore but don’t think it’s ethical to have it called back to them. i had a man tell me once. men fuck who they can women fuck who they want. women decide therefore they are the whores/sluts. this angered me on a deep level because it’s so false. it’s 2021 you can have sex with whoever u want. everyone gets rejected. if your a man and u think this way your sexist. period

  10. Love this post. Don’t have much to add except that in kinky circles women have found a way to reclaim the terms ‘slut’ and ‘whore’ to mean very positive things about women who enjoy their sexuality on their own terms.

  11. I was just discussing this with a friend on Saturday. I pointed out that two of the most offensive insults in the US are cunt and twat. Now, for the record, I don’t find these terms to be particularly offensive, though a bit vulgar… but I asked him to consider that these words, which induce cringing, rage, or both (in America, anyway) are derogatory terms for female genitalia, and also some of the most insulting words possible, brought out as the big guns in any argument. He was floored. He’d never thought of it that way. Words such as cock and dick are also used in a derogatory manner, but not with the same reaction.

    Regarding Belle, I thinks it’s fantastic that she turned out to be an educated professional. That she is intelligent and educated is apparent to anyone reading her work. I’ve never understood the stigma regarding sex workers myself… being American, I’ve always put it down to our religious-reject roots. I mean, we were so fanatical that we were shipped off to another continent. A job is a job, whether you’re selling sex, music, art, etc. I’ve always felt that prostitution should be legal, for the protection of everyone involved. But, seeing as how oral sex was still illegal in my state until very recently, I don’t see it happening in my region any time soon.

  12. Great post! No, I don’t think there would be the fuss about Belle/Brooke had she actually been a man. I didn’t even know so many believed her to be fake, or a man (is there a diff? Sorry). There seemed to have been a collective sigh of regret that she IS a smart, witty, funny and beautiful WOMAN! In terms of your basic question, women used to be chattle, so derisive terms seem consistent with where our societies have been. I like the Vagina Monologue concept that women are now taking those ugly words and claiming and using them as positive and powerful. LOVE your blog. BISH is always the one to read!

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