I was slut-shamed at 13—and it’s never left me

The first time I was called a slut, I was 13 years old, pudgy, bookish, and kohl-eyed. I was the antisocial weirdo who ate lunch in the bathroom, doodled Mott the Hoople lyrics in her notebook, and was best friends with her dad; I was even rumored to have read the dictionary for evening entertainment (this was actually true).

So I was shocked when Kumal (name has been changed), one of the most popular boys in school, picked up my pen from the floor in history class and refused to give it back to me until I agreed to give him a blowjob.

“Give it back, asshole,” I said.

“You’re not getting it back until you agree to give me head,” he said.

I stared back at him, unblinking. I’d never held a boy’s hand, let alone held his penis in my mouth. But I didn’t want to incite the ire of my history teacher, who had given me a D on my last test and was eyeing us suspiciously. Plus, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t flattered by the attention.

“Fine,” I said. “I’ll suck your dick. Now please give me my pen back.”

I didn’t think much of the encounter until later that afternoon, when I rode the bus with Kumal and his friends, who spent the entirety of the 40-minute bus ride hounding me to give Kumal head.

“You promised,” they said.

“No,” I said.

“Do it for 10 seconds,” they said.

“No,” I said.

“Fine, then we won’t talk to you again,” one of them said. “We’ll probably just tell everyone you did it anyway.”

From that point on, I wasn’t the loser who ate lunch in the bathroom.  I was the slut, long before I had actually even had sex.

For a moment, I considered this. I was new at school—shy, anxious, and homely; these boys had investment banker fathers and lacrosse sticks they dragged onto the bus and invitations to every single bar mitzvah. Maybe it wouldn’t be such a big deal to do it for a second, I wondered. Maybe it wasn’t any worse than kissing. Maybe in the long term, the consequences of me not doing it would be far, far worse than sucking it up (pun intended).

So despite never having kissed a boy, despite still having my braces on, despite never having seen, touched, or thought about a penis in my life, and despite having no real intention of going through with it, I begrudgingly leaned over and started to unzip Kumal’s pants. He jolted back and stared at me like I’d just offered him a piece of gum straight off the floor.

“What are you doing?” he said. “I wasn’t serious. I have a girlfriend. Were you actually gonna do it? You’re such a slut.” Their laughter rang through my ears all the way home on the FDR Drive and through my high school years, where that story became so interchangeable with my high school reputation that it might as well have been plastered on my photo ID.

From that point on, I wasn’t the loser who ate lunch in the bathroom. I wasn’t the nerd who read a page of the dictionary every night before bed. I wasn’t the sweet, quiet, bookish weirdo who loved 1970s glam bands and got Ds in world history. I was the slut who tried to give a boy head in the back of the bus. I was the slut, long before I had actually even had sex. It’s a label that I have carried with me for the rest of my life.


It’s not uncommon for people in high school to be assigned arbitrary labels, like a character in The Breakfast Club: She’s the freak, he’s the nerd, he’s the upskirt weirdo with nostrils you can shove quarters up, and so on.

In a world where girls’ and women’s bodies are constantly controlled and policed by men, “slut” has become a catch-all label.

But “slut” is a label that is difficult to shed. Like so many young women who’ve lost control of their own sexual narratives, who’ve been shamed at an early age for a sexuality they don’t know or understand, I have spent most of my life with Kumal’s word—slut—ringing in my ears. It is a part of my identity I feel I cannot change or control.

But my story of being slut-shamed pales in comparison to those of the countless other women who have been similarly sexually humiliated. My story is nothing compared to that of Rehtaeh Parsons, who committed suicide after facing taunts and harassment from her classmates when video footage of her brutal gang-rape went viral; Amanda Todd, who also took her own life after she was shamed for flashing a stranger on the Internet; Alyssa Funke, who hung herself when she was outed for doing an amateur porn film; or Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton, Scarlett Johansson, or any of the countless other women who have had nude photos of themselves leaked onto the Internet without permission.

In a world where girls’ and women’s bodies are constantly controlled and policed by men, where Snapchat and YikYak have elevated the art of shaming far beyond the crude caricature on the bathroom wall, where 84 percent of women have been catcalled on the street before the age of 17, “slut” has become a catch-all label. The fear of being called a slut keeps girls prisoner inside their own bodies, shackled to the desires they don’t yet have the ability to voice. Slut-shaming is an epidemic, and as the above cited cases prove, it’s one that can be lethal.

Slut-shaming also doesn’t stop after adolescence, as a recent TED Talk by Monica Lewinsky proved. In her TED Talk, Lewinsky referred to herself as the “patient zero” of women being publicly humiliated for their sexuality, after her affair with then-President Bill Clinton became a media sensation. “I was branded as a tramp, tart, slut, whore, bimbo, and, of course, ‘that woman,’” she said in her talk. “I was known by many, but actually known by few. I get it. It was easy to forget ‘that woman’ was dimensional and had a soul.”

Lewinsky’s TED Talk recently brought slut-shaming back into the cultural conversation, spawning multiple thinkpieces about cyberbullying, harassment, and the dangers of judging women solely based on their sexuality. But although we’ve paid lip service to the dangers of slut-shaming by bringing the stories of survivors like Lewinsky and casualties like Parsons and Todd to the fore, there are very few platforms for girls and women to share their own slut-shaming stories. (A notable exception includes Emily Lindin’s excellent UnSlut Project.)

Part of the lack of conversation surrounding slut-shaming can be attributed to the stigma of admitting that you have been slut-shamed. In many instances, it becomes an invitation for people (usually men) to pry into your sexual history, as a way of confirming whether the victim actually “merited” the shaming in question. Thus, a woman can be slut-shamed for talking about slut-shaming.

This issue is so much bigger than any one person.

As a sex writer, I’ve been subjected to this on numerous occasions. “Ask her,” a male colleague said to another male colleague, when he was trying to seek advice about getting his girlfriend to sleep with him. “She’s a sex writer. She has a lot of sex.” (For the record, I’ve been in a committed relationship for seven years, which isn’t so much a recipe for a lot of sex as it is a recipe for a lot of nights spent eating burritos and farting in bed.)

But as a sex writer, I’ve also devoted my career to the idea that no one should ever feel ashamed of enjoying an act that’s universal to the human experience or claiming ownership over their own bodies and desires. I believe this more firmly than I believe anything else in life, and I think it’s because I lost control over my own body and my own desire at a very early age, a very long time ago.

I could tell so many other stories about what it was like to spend my adolescence shamed for a sexuality I had no understanding of, let alone any control over. I could talk about the time my principal had to hold a grade-wide meeting because someone had written “EJ Dickson sucks dick” on the school bulletin board, where he never mentioned me by name but tossed meaningful glances in my direction all the while. Or I could talk about the time my parents intercepted an email I’d written to a friend at camp when I actually did lose my virginity, and how my father had hollowly told me on the phone that everyone was right, that I was a slut, how I’d locked myself in the arts and crafts room and sobbed and sobbed and sobbed for hours and hours and hours, because I knew that he was right.

But this issue is so much bigger than any one person. Over the next week (and hopefully longer), the Daily Dot will be sharing a series of stories from other women who have been shamed for their sexuality, for reasons as varied as being born in a traditional Indian-American culture or asking an innocuous question in gym class. All of us have had our sexual narratives wrested away from us at an early age, watched helplessly as it was molded and refashioned to resemble someone else’s idea of what our bodies wanted—or what kind of women we should be.

We want to change the narrative by letting everyone know we’re not tramps, sluts, whores, bimbos, or “that woman.” We’re speakers, writers, nonprofit owners, actors, poets, and bookish, kohl-eyed girls who are best friends with their dads and eat their lunches in the bathroom. And that’s why we’re sharing our stories.

Editor’s note: This is the first installment in a series of essays exploring the consequences of slut-shaming. Share your story at [email protected]

Illustration by Max Fleishman

EJ Dickson

EJ Dickson

EJ Dickson is a writer and editor who primarily covers sex, dating, and relationships, with a special focus on the intersection of intimacy and technology. She served as the Daily Dot’s IRL editor from January 2014 to July 2015. Her work has since appeared in the New York Times, Rolling Stone, Mic, Bustle, Romper, and Men’s Health.