Slut and Prude Shaming in the Gay/Bi Community

10/15/2018

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Doesn’t the LGBTQ community consist solely of poly, queer-loving bis who have learned not to judge? I wish… but sadly, that isn’t the case.

This week for Good Bi Love, I’m going to expand my scope to not just talk about the bi community, but also the gay community; specifically, how gay (and bi) men experience slut-shaming. As someone who’s staunchly sex-positive, often writing about sex, I think this is an important topic that’s often overlooked.

Because even as millennials are becoming more open-minded to previously taboo topics like casual sex, sexual fluidity, and PrEP; slutshaming still runs rampant in the gay/bi male community.

In a 2014 article published in the Journal of Adolescent Research, Drs. McDavitt and Mutchler examined barriers and facilitators of sexual communication. The researchers conducted extensive interviews with emerging adults (18-21 year-olds) to better understand how younger gay men communicate with their friends and how slutshaming manifests itself in conversation.

Among the various factors they examined, judgmentalism, an attitude involving “moralistic devaluation of others based on either real or perceived behaviors,” was common when gay men discussed their sexual exploits to one another. The authors noted that calling a friend “slut” or “whore” can, however, result in a  “playfully judgmental” talk, which “…may also serve to alleviate tension and discomfort within scripts for sexual communication by injecting humor into dialogue around themes that could otherwise provoke anxiety—namely, gay male sexuality, HIV, and mortality.”

While joking about sexual conduct allowed the men in the study to be able to discuss their sexual conduct, the authors concluded that there was still an “implicit confirmation of heterosexist social norms.”

This confuses gay/bi men, creating complex sexual tension. They’re unsure how to feel and respond when labeled a slut. Is what I’m doing okay or not? He’s calling me a slut, a word typically reserved for women, so are we progressively breaking society’s perception of gender and sexuality or is he just judging me for sleeping with too many guys?

There are endless factors that contribute to slutshaming in gay/bi men. Psychotherapist Matthew Dempsey released a video where he discusses why gay/bi men slutshame. He notes that the United States was born from a puritanical ideology and sex for any reason other than procreation was considered immoral. Add that to the fact that it’s two men having sex, something previously considered deviant, and guilt arises. As he said, “There’s going to be that many more irrational beliefs around what it means to have sex, and instead of being able to check in with that and maybe understand some of that, instead what we do is project it out to other gay men, and kinda make them feel bad for it.”

Sadly, projecting our sexual insecurities can make us feel better about our own sex lives. We do feel better when we separate ourselves from other “sluts,” transferring shame, but that relief is only temporary and at the cost of someone else.

Greg Lippolis, LICSW, a therapist who specializes in gay issues, called slutshaming a “homosexual panic” defined as a severe attack of anxiety based on a person’s unconscious conflicts regarding homosexuality. But he clarified, “They [these conflicts] are constructed ‘in-the-world’ and reinforced with every performance. We have a choice with how we treat one another as gay and bi men. Just as we as men, have a choice about how we treat women. But, it seems, that [slutshaming] continues to take practice.”

Jealousy was yet another factor that contributes to slutshaming. Gregg, 25, a victim of slutshaming said “I think a lot of the slut shaming I’ve faced from people who know me personally is out of an overlooked jealousy. They can’t see that I am looking for something more substantial and often consider me to be self-centered and focused on stealing bits of attention from several men, even though I’m searching for the full attention of one man. A lot of my promiscuity often comes from me being unsure if any of my potential suitors are interested, so I’m afraid to focus too much on one who may just be passing through.”

Many gay/bi men want to have more sexual encounters, but feel a guilt in doing so, and are then jealous of their friends who can and do have more casual encounters. Ironically Gregg’s not even looking for casual encounters; he’s looking for something more serious, yet still he’s slutshamed.

While nearly ubiquitous, not all gay/bi men experience slutshaming. In fact, some experience the opposite. When I asked some queer men of their experience with slutshaming they cited prude-shaming, or not sleeping with enough men. Thomas, 24, stated, “I often feel very pressured and even shamed to not be going out and, presumably, sleeping with a higher quantity of men…The gay and straight community alike shame me for not hooking up especially considering, as they put it, my ‘roots’ in the rather omnipresent hookup culture at Vassar [College].”

There seems to be a false ideal when it comes to the number of men you can have sex with and a certain coyness required when discussing sex. You have to sleep with some men, but not too many, and afterwards, you need to feel appropriately “naughty” (or remorseful) for your actions, clarifying that this type of thing “typically does not happen.” Then and only, have you proved that you can have fun, but you’re not a “slut.”

When asked to discuss slutshaming, Jessica Harlem, the Program Manager of LGBT Office at Harvard Medical School, said, “The slutshaming that heteronormativity and sexism relies upon could easily seep into our psyches as queer people. We are surrounded by a sex-negative culture that demonizes those of us who are living outside the lines. We have to work hard to be the people who fight back against any slice of stigma or shame when it comes to sexuality.”

So instead of projecting outwards when we feel shame surrounding our sexual activity as queer men, let’s look at the roots of these causes — whether it’s jealousy, guilt, or homosexual panic — and keep our judgments to ourselves. As Matthew Dempsey quoted, “Judging someone else doesn’t define who they are, it defines who you are.”

Zachary Zane
Zachary Zane a Brooklyn-based freelance writer, speaker, YouTuber, and activist whose work focuses on (bi)sexuality, gender, identity politics, relationships, and culture. He's a contributing editor at The Advocate Magazine, a columnist at Bi.org, and currently writes for The Washington Post, Cosmopolitan, Out Magazine, and PRIDE.