I Was Told I Was a Slut Before Puberty, And Now I'm Terrified of Sex

From the age of 11, the word "slut" has ruined my relationships with men, sex, and myself.
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Becky Storey
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From the age of 11, the word "slut" has ruined my relationships with men, sex, and myself.

I don't remember hearing the word "slut" before reaching middle school. Unlike the current generation of school-aged kids, my generation didn't know those kinds of words until our first year of "big school." We didn't watch TV shows that used them, and we didn't have social media. We were kept in an innocent bubble where we giggled at words only as rude as "boobs." Unfortunately, once we did learn those words, they were used in abundance. The arrival of curse words and harmful language was hard and fast, like a volcanic eruption, spitting out hurt like lava and smoke with no concern for who gets hit. By the end of the first year, I had a whole new level of vocabulary. My most familiar word, by a very long way, was "slut." Not because I had used it, but because it had been used toward me, a lot.

Looking back now, years out of school, I can see how much that word crippled me and shaped me into the person I am today.

From my first week in middle school and for the following two years, I had a series of "boyfriends." I use the term "boyfriend" loosely because our relationships never left the school grounds and were typical of any prepubescent relationship. I was barely 11, and with each boy there was little more than uncomfortable hand-holding, but that didn't seem to matter. Due to the volume I'd acquired and the short time between each one, I had branded myself a slut even before puberty had kicked in. I was living the real-life Scarlet Letter; it was as if my new identity was written on my forehead.

Unfortunately for me, I went to a very small school where everyone knew your name and every detail about "your story." One teacher even referred to me as the "school bike" because "everyone has had a ride," which is probably the most hurtful thing I had heard in my entire life. Not only was what she said horrendously inappropriate for a teacher, but it was simply incorrect. Hearing my peers excitedly tell me our teacher had joined in on the slut-shaming is without a doubt one of the most gut-wrenching things I have ever experienced. I laughed it off like the news hadn't just torn my heart into pieces, but, truthfully, it traumatized me for years to come.

Me at 12, when the bullying began to peak.

Me at 12, when the bullying began to peak.


At 12, I was called a slut more than my own name, and the sudden arrival of Facebook meant I couldn't escape it even if I tried. I have one vivid memory of Facebook crushing me completely. In the era when it was cool to post pictures that listed various personality types and then tag people in it, I was tagged in two, both as "the slut." I remember crying to my mother about them, I wanted the earth to open and swallow me whole. I showed her the pictures and the accompanying hurtful comments, but I was too ashamed to tell her the real reason why they said these things about me. I just cried until I had no tears left. I was devastated and extremely ashamed of myself, if only I had known at the time that I had nothing to be ashamed of.


In high school, I had my first real boyfriend, my first love. A man I still love to this day, even though we are only friends. We were on-again, off-again for two years, and every time I had been the dumper. My mind was clouded by my early experiences, and I never quite felt settled. Each time I left him for someone new — a rebound "relationship" that lasted a few weeks and never amounted to anything — before too long I was back where I started. This trend did not improve my reputation. I was flirty, sure, but I never crossed a line, and I was far from promiscuous, but the name you gain when you start school sticks harder than the name you are given at birth, apparently.

In college, I could finally escape the life that had been built for me over the last five years, but it felt more like I had brought it with me, carrying it around in my backpack alongside my books. While I felt sure that had I left behind the label, I know I still wore the scars of the word "slut" engraved on my soul. I had one boyfriend at college, and our relationship was perfect in its own way and intimate. He taught me more about loving myself and what I deserve in a relationship than I could have ever asked for, but the scars of my past were already settling within my heart, and inevitably the relationship never reached its full potential.

It wasn't until I left college that it became apparent how my outlook on men, relationships, and myself had been so catastrophically morphed by my early teenage experiences.

It's no surprise, really, that now as an adult, I have some major reservations when it comes to sexuality. As the years passed since my school days, my repressed memories came back to haunt me like the vengeful ghosts in a horror movie, each one reminding me of the person I was forced to believe I was. That's the reality of the matter; this name was forced upon me. Looking back, it's clear I was never a slut, I was barely a teenager with a series of awkward and innocent relationships, but the name was branded onto my skin like a tattoo, regardless of what I was really doing with my life.

I lost my innocence for real, so to speak, at 15 to my first love and most bizarrely of all, that had no impact on my "slut status" at all. Since then, however, I have stuck with only the one notch in my belt while many of my friends have several notches, or even several belts. The truth is, my low record comes down to the fact that the word "slut" rings in my ears at the mere thought of finding someone new. The scars sit deep in my mind, and I don't think they'll ever truly fade. I have every intention of abstaining from sex now until I'm quite some way into a long-term committed relationship, even marriage if I can. I refuse to ever feel like I allowed myself to live up to the name, and while I don't judge anyone for engaging in casual sex, I know I'm too terrified of bringing back that reputation to ever try it myself.

Nowadays, I go through phases in how heavily that word affects me. For a few days, I'll be confident enough to behave like any other single young woman. I'll be happy to hold conversations with males and dress as I please, but soon enough that phase will end and I will fall into a shame spiral. I will think through everything I said and attempt to convince myself I'm not a slut, but the truth is, some part of me will always believe I am. At its very worst, I will scrub myself in the shower until the top layer of my skin no longer exists. I feel dirty. I feel an intense fear that I'll live up to the name. The word "slut" has scarred me so deeply that I find it incredibly hard to have male friends, let alone make new ones.

The damage done spreads further than just my relationships; it affects me on a completely personal level. I fear my own body. I don't remember the last time I saw myself entirely naked. I am uncomfortable in the shower, getting dressed and undressed, and just about anything that involves my own body in its all-natural state. It has nothing to do with body image — I'm happy with the way I look, but I cannot stand the connection between being undressed and being sexual. I dress away from any mirrors, and I shower fast. I feel ashamed and uncomfortable, I feel like a slut just for being undressed all on my own.

Similarly, the word has shaped the way I dress and the way I present myself. I dress somewhat masculine; I don't do revealing clothes or strong makeup. For the most part, I'm comfortable with that: Big sweaters and flannel shirts work for me. But every so often, I'll see another girl dressed beautifully, and I'll wish that I had the confidence to dress like that, but I don't. I'm so permanently concerned that I'll look like a slut and be back there living with that name that I choose to stick with being completely covered. The worst part is that I don't think any other girl is a slut for dressing in ways I fear for myself. It's entirely nonsensical.

My version of "dressed up," which does not reflect my adult status.

My version of "dressed up," which does not reflect my adult status.


Now, here we are in 2016. Women are reclaiming the word "slut," and it is magnificent. We are embracing the fact that a woman can be as sexual as she wants and is still owed the same respect as the Virgin Mary. This new era has given me more confidence to allow myself a little more freedom. I may not yet be able to interact with men without hearing that godforsaken word in my head, but I am learning to love my body because it is my body, instead of hating it because of its symbolism for sex, and that's a good place to start.

My body will one day guard my own child for its first nine months; it will protect a brand-new human as it readies itself to join the world. To me, that's a miracle, and I refuse to continue to feel ashamed of my own body when it is capable of such incredible things. I have made a promise to my younger self to no longer consider my own skin a sign of promiscuity, but instead for exactly what it is. My body is my temple, and it keeps me alive. It protects me from the forces of nature, it repairs itself when it is broken, and it has withstood pain you couldn't begin to imagine. I won't allow myself to hate it anymore.

I will dance in my underwear to cheesy pop songs, and I will be proud that my body can dance. Slowly but surely, I will move closer to the mirror and learn to appreciate everything I am as a human being.

In our youth, we fail to realize how much the words we use will harm a person. At the time, no one would have thought that the words they used to taunt me as a tween would continue to swirl around my brain for so many years to come. The word "slut" is such a harmful term, and yet it doesn't mean a thing. When applied to a male, it has no impact at all; it's a word used specifically to make women feel bad for behaving in the same way men do. It is entirely natural to pursue your sexual interests. Just because you are a woman doesn't mean you should feel ashamed. It's about damn time women reclaimed the word "slut."

Congratulations to you for getting some. Get it, girl.