Girl Guilt


I stood in front of the bathroom mirror running my hands over the marks he’d left on me. Little nibbles and scratches, like sexual graffiti on my skin. Flashes of his flesh surged through my mind and I smiled as I fantasized about what we could do the next time.

And then it hit me.

Girl Guilt.

A knot of post-sex shame tangled inside of me. I’d violated the most primary tenet of female sexuality: casual sex on the first meeting. Not even the first date. We’d met at a friend’s birthday party and gone home together.

My stomach sank down, weighted with girl guilt and the prospect that I had lost respect for engaging in a consensual hook up. I tried to fight culture with common sense. Why does it matter? There were two people involved and we both enjoyed it… But I should have made him wait. Now he might not respect me, might think that was too easy and be over it…How the hell could he be that hypocritical? He’s just as much of a slattern as me… Too bad no one wants an easy woman.

The most disturbing thing is this isn’t a scene from high school. It happened this week.  If I, as an empowered, adult, female sex educator still have these thoughts, I can only wince at how the rest of the population fares.

Culture runs deeper than we realize. The lessons we learn in youth are the foundations upon which our reality grows, roots that inform every lesson thereafter. I wonder if we ever really dismantle the social constructions we inherit or if we simply cover them up with new messages and paradigms.

I sometimes fear the intrinsic nature of slut shaming and girl guilt is too deep to dislodge, that no amount of writing or lecturing or challenging social norms will shift that pendulum in my lifetime. Just when I think we might be getting somewhere, I speak to young women terrified of having sex for the first time. And they’re less afraid of the sensation than they are about how their first (male) partner will treat them: will he like their body? Will he respect them after?

And just when I try to tell myself these are just a few experiences, research emerges demonstrating a link between first sex and improved body image for males but degraded body image for females. Despite decades of public discourse about the validity of female desire, despite Our Bodies Ourselves, despite Betty Dodson, despite Susie Bright, the sinister double standard remains.

In a recent post recounting talking to her 11 year old son about slut-shaming, Airial Clark wrote: “I’m learning that what goes down in the dorm room starts on the playground.”

Truer words could not be spoken. In examining my reaction, I remembered my first run-in with the slut-shaming machine at the tender age of nine. The conversation centered around a girl in our grade, whom I’ll call Kelly, and the “naughty area” on the other side of the playground fence where the older kids allegedly went to hook up.

For reasons unknown, our grade designated Kelley as “the slut.” No one had any evidence she had so much as kissed a boy. But she did have tiny breast buds forming and I suppose that was enough to condemn her. Kids would spread rumors about Kelley having sex with any boy who wanted it. They’d claim they saw her hop over the fence or swear their friend had totally done her.

We were nine. This was the same year a ten year old girl in our class started hysterically crying because she started her period. We knew next to nothing about sex and sexuality except it meant doom for the females.

Children do not exist in a separate world of innocence. They live in the same world as everyone else, hearing our comments and conversations. At their youngest, their views are dependent on public discourse and private conversations. When a newscaster reports sexual assault and remarks about the victim’s attire, they remember. When we deride a person’s sexual choices, they hear. When our conversations about sex revolve around danger and forget to mention pleasure, they recognize.

And what favors do we do to younger generations with our shame? Sex, a simple physical act that can be so fulfilling and beautiful, becomes warped. We knot their future desires in a thorny fence of anxiety. By passing on our shame we prevent them from having sexual fulfillment later in life.

Because they will probably have sex one day. Hell, we expect people to have sex at some point in their lives. Virgins are simultaneously revered and suspect in our culture, depending on one’s age. Trying to scare youth away from sex is the worst possible tactic and only results in scared adults trying to work out their sexuality in the increasingly complex and uncharted modern romantic interactions.

I wish I could tell you that womanhood displaces girl guilt. But in a culture that legitimizes disrespect to females having sex outside of a committed relationship, how can it? I wish I could say the blatant hypocrisy of a male passing judgment on a female he slept with was enough to erase some sense of girl guilt, but when the larger culture agrees how can those actions not still sting?

So I propose this: call out slut shaming wherever you see it. Don’t be angry or riled up. Just note the double standard. Ask the person why they think a double standard is fair. Ask if they’d like to be treated like that.

Remind them of another pervasive childhood lesson: the Golden Rule.

55 thoughts on “Girl Guilt”

  1. I LOVE THIS.

    Yes yes yes. YES. It’s the idea that we even label it “the easy woman”. Why “easy”? What does that mean? It’s derogatory. It’s shaming. It’s saying, “oh it was so EASY to do you”. What does that even mean? And why is it on the woman? Further – who flippin cares? Why is it a problem if you want to have sex, so you have it? The point is, YOU wanted it!

    The sad, sad, sad, SAD thing is how much slut-shaming is done by WOMEN. TO OTHER WOMEN. WE uphold the idea that we MUST withhold sex FROM men, that it’s a contest, that we have to behave a certain way or… shame shame I know your name.

    I will answer your call. I will call it out. I will name it. I will question it. I already do.

    And I will live MY life how I want. I WILL have sex when I want to. And I WILL NOT care what someone else thinks of my choices.

    1. Fuck to the yeah. I hope that generations after us do not have to struggle with the sexual idiocy we’ve been handed.

    2. Too right!!! They think that a girls role in sex or relationships is to resist as much as she can and if she gives in, then she’s easy. They fail to realise we have a sex drive and can go after what we want!

  2. Yes! I recently called someone out who told me (excitedly) on a recent trip that the women in the country I was visiting are “loose.” Not confident, sexual beings who don’t let common conceptions of femininity hold them back from their sexual desires, but “loose.” And this from a self-proclaimed feminist male (in all other aspects, he was actually legit). So he was excited that women weren’t so “repressed” in this country, but used language condemning them anyways.

    How do we change ways of thinking when we’re still using this language?!

    1. I’m not sure words are the bigger problem. I wonder if language is subtly indicative of deeply internalized beliefs, a la Freudian Slip.

      1. Point taken, but I also think there is a whole lot of power in language that we sometimes ignore. Change language, even just a little bit, and you can sometimes make inroads to deeper problems.

  3. Thank you for sharing this; it’s such an important topic. I think about this a lot as the mom of a toddler girl. With my blogs (newpornbywomen.com and quizzicalmama.com) and new online resource center (lovesexfamily.com) devoted to holistic human sexuality information, I want to empower her to feel good about her body and sexuality and for the right to say yes for the sake of pleasure.

  4. Absolutely sister. Preachin’ to the choir here.

    I have spent my life fighting this notion and shall continue. This is only one of the many warped female views that thrive and are spread and become “normal” in our culture perpetuated in our institutions (some reasons why I homeschool my girl and boy). I would be considered a turbo-slut if I weren’t married, I’m sure. I was way too easy going about having sex for our culture. I never saw the big deal, two people, on the same page (whatever that page may be) enjoying each other. Seems swell. Why make it more complicated then it is.

    My daughter will have sex before she is married. This DOES NOT upset me. I would be more upset if she didn’t. I want her to have a happy fulfilled and confident life. I want her to know what she wants and go after it. I want her to be happy with who she is. Sex is a part of these things, about how we think about ourselves, how we find confidence in ourselves. Men and women, because we are animals and sex is a defining factor of us fulfilling our lives. Our bodies tell us this, and that’s all there is to it. No one should have to feel shame for fulfilling their intrinsic needs. That’s just nasty.

    Sex it up sex girl! And NO guilt. Just smiles.

  5. While I’d agree that it’s far more commonly used against women, it’s not exclusive to them. There are plenty of men who feel guilty for having sex on the first date. I’ve seen frineds of mine called man-whores several times, and for nothing more than having sex while not in a committed relationship.

    I agree the practice is archaic, and we’ll be better off when it ceases. I just hope the same courtesy is extended towards those men that have also been victims of this silly shame game.

  6. I love this post!! Thanks so much for writing it. Slut shaming, and sexual shame in general, needs to be discussed more in our culture.

  7. Just when I think much has changed since I was twenty (forty years ago) you come along and show me nothing has really changed.

    BTW, for all the bravado, not all males were so sure they were as free as you might think.

    Why do we let unjustified guilt ruin such a natural and wonderful thing? My generation often did. I wish yours had learned not to do so.

  8. As my wife says, a girl should be “easy” to someone she wants, and impossible to one she doesn’t want.

    (We did have sex in our first date. Next week we will celebrate the 9th anniversary of that.)

  9. Thank you so very much for this. You have no idea how timely it is.

    On April 3rd, SlutWalk Toronto marches to Toronto Police HQ to demand the end to intrinsic, institutional slut-shaming and sexual profiling against victims of sexual assault.

    I’m posting this article on our FB page: facebook.com/SlutWalkToronto.

    We will walk strong.

  10. I so know this feeling. I was a ‘slut’ long before I lost my virginity, and ‘bisexual’ long before I realised I was attracted to women. After being exclusive with women for most of my life, I’d forgotten the realities of slut shaming until recently. My lovely, gorgeous, tall, blonde, sexy friend cannot find a man. Why? As she is honest about her past experiences in the sex industry and she’s sexually confident, so men run screaming. I wish I could tell her that things will get better, but in all honesty I don’t think I can. Having encountered the kind of attitudes my bf gets when people discover his gf is a lesbian (and therefore obviously sexed) I suspect her wait for Mr Right is going to take a while.

  11. Wow.

    As a strong, confident twenty-three year old woman who struggles with this issue all the time, I truly thank you. This brought me to tears – I have never realized how I am always shaming myself for feeling bad for being a woman who ENJOYS HAVING SEX.

    This article is so empowering and I hope every girl reads it and feels better about herself.

    I know it has made me feel better about myself. So from the bottom of my heart – thank you.

  12. I slept with my husband on our first date and felt horrible guilt after. And yet, we continued to date and are now married! Just proves that it’s a stereotype that guys will lose interest and respect if you sleep with them on the first date.

  13. wow, Thank you for the article. It made me feel wonderful!! also opened my eyes to a different perspective. Thank you!

  14. Great article; I sympathize. Which brings me to my point: Guys often experience the same feelings of exhilaration followed by guilt & shame after a hook-up like the one you describe. But, because of the cultural double-standard that celebrates male promiscuity, the ones who do may feel confused and abnormal. In the absence of any outlet to discuss or express these feelings, a guy may shut down emotionally and ignore the entire episode — a strategy often mis-interpreted as non-interest or, worse, outright antipathy. This chauvinistic double-standard is psychologically devastating to both genders, and promotes rifts of miscommunication and misunderstanding between them.

  15. Instead of justifying your guilt, just don’t partake in the behaviour. There’s nothing respectable about an easy woman — culture didn’t define this, your biology does. Rationalize it all you want — you still feel guilty for a reason, and I’ll still think you’re a whore.

    1. Men are whores. They want to sleep with us on the first date so oh my god theyre filth and we shouldnt og near men who do this! -_- Prick

  16. Soooo… what’s your point? That you shouldn’t feel guilty because you slept with near-stranger who (surprise) never called you again? And that is somehow the fault of the male chauvinist societal complex of “double standards”?

    Wow.

    Just own your own poor judgement and impulsivity.

  17. Sex clearly has a uniquely powerful place in all societies and women, for lack of a better word are the gatekeepers. As such society conditions women to feel guilt about their sexuality b/c of millions of years of evolution w/o contraception and the havoc illegitimate children would play on heirarchical inheritance-based societies. We’re only 40 years into contraception so it’ll take a long time before female sexuality can separate from guilt..if it ever does completely

    Since sex is such a powerful force in our society, someone seen as ‘giving it away’ easily is deemed (especially by other women) with words like ‘slut’. The reason why there’s no corresponding term for a male is b/c it’s the easiest thing in the world for a women to have casual sex. For a man to have frequent sex, he needs to posses some skills (charm) or cash to convince a women to have sex. It’s a terrible double standard but one one level it speaks to a view that female sexuality is more a precious. What you did wasn’t slut like..it was two consenting adults and that you think about this so profoundly indicates the value you place on sexuality as well. A fun as we’d like to think casual sex it, there’s always an emotional cost. I’ve seen almost as many men shattered by feeling ‘disposable’ as I have women during one night stands. In the end, I think we all fear feeling disposable after being so vulnerable and intimate

    1. Omg. Its easy for women to get sex because MEN WANT IT ALL THE TIME! Its hard for men to have sex because youre all creepy slimey idiots who think getting a woman into bed is a ‘skill’ (wrong! if she wants you she’ll fuck you, if not she wont) . You’re not ”convincing” anyone. We have our own sex drive! Youre not convincing us of anything!!

  18. I appreciate and agree with this article. I am currently in an open relationship, enjoy having sex, bicurious, and am open and direct about what I want. I feel as though people immediately judge me for all those things as being easy, when I am just sure of myself (for the most part) in this sector of my life. While I occasionally have doubts, like everyone else, I am proud of who I am, and am tired of the double standard. Feeling regret cause you hooked up with someone you realize you don’t like? Fine. Feeling guilt because you hooked up with someone who you like and felt comfortable with, but was quicker than “society’s” standards? That’s not right. I’m 19, and hope that my generation and the ones to follow will work against the double standard, instead of getting caught up in the flow of things.

    1. Your generation gives me so much hope. May you tear down the walls built by previous generations and show us how it should be done.

  19. I agree with the author in all points. I have a daughter and I try to not to use the double standard also. But I know how men of all ages think and treat women who have sex too soon.

  20. I think that we’re at a point where we’re feeling religion’s hangover mixed with perhaps how women truly feel. To hide behind the cloak of evolution, as if a woman’s sole purpose is to bear a few children, stoke the fires, while it is a man’s to find the wood and pull his own on other women is preposterous. I challenge any evolutionist to pull off this feat. I think it’s more culture than biology that informs your comments, men or women (who I think you are brainwashed if you think that a woman enjoying herself, with all her g-spots, is suffering some kind of wrath later on) if you think of the double standard more closely. I’m a man, and I’m still trying to shake off this ever-powerful notion that women can sleep with a man and take it strictly for the sex. Perhaps our stances are couched in our unconscious seething, where we want women to remain our primary objects regardless of how many we have. Bravo for this article, even though it doesn’t change my mind however (I once read in The Brain That Changes Itself that a brain needs 3-4 months to change its pathways, so in the case of sex, whatever turns us on, whether it be legitimate or perverted – and what kind of definitions trickle therein – could also be applied here. It’s not only will that will change us, but practice). So the playground shapes us definitely. We’ll need a total “cultural revolution” starting with the tykes right? Well, at least women aren’t seen as “dirty” anymore for having their periods, or potentially threatened with getting branded like Demi Moore in some Hawthorne tale (The Scarlett Letter?) for having an extra-marital affair.

    Olivia Judson writes well on this topic. She writes for the NYTimes.

    http://www.imperial.ac.uk/college.asp?P=4715

  21. Another point: Whose evolutionary stance are you talking about “I have an idea”, talking about biology? Is socio-cultural evolution taken into perspective? Do you not see that evolution, as a catchall term, can do a lot of harm, let alone make you look parochial or “cavist” (that’s my term for people who think that our cavemen forebearers hold the truth to who we should be, like unable to use tools to break down meat or protect ourselves)? Should we stop wearing bike helmets if they make us safer or take our synthesized vitamins with guilt? To respond to “DN”‘s comment who isn’t surprised at what happened, yes it’s a double standard. Images of women as both sex objects and respectable create this and confuse you. It’s no longer odd to see women standing in lines to vote, and who says that female liberated sexuality isn’t the next vote we all need to vote in favor for and forget it ever was an issue? I think most people would shut up if men also held the possibility of getting impregnated, like a 50/50.

    I don’t believe in God, but when I think of evolution and sex’s pleasure and the fact that we’re loaded with erogenous zones. And then I think of riddles and paradoxes and ingenuity, what needs to be solved in order to be free, happy individuals, and what makes humans singularly spectacular and absurd. And my mother who suffered under my father’s thumb for believing all his religious and then evolutionary claims to her freedom.

  22. As thoughtful as this might be, girl guilt is not going away anytime soon. When it is deeply seeded in the bedroom and verbosely remarked during acts of sex. I’m not just talking S & M either. Comments of you ‘dirty slut’ and ‘whore’ while having sex are quite common. Woman seem to enjoy this type of degradation, whether in real life or on the screen. This is where the greatest impact and effort should be made. If you feel like a ‘naughty girl’ that needs to be spanked and that turns you on, I think the girl guilt is very high and deeply imprinted (in this one). Woman should stop being treated like whores in the bedroom first, if they really want to stop the guilt after the fact. How to do that, its up to the individual. I’m sure stopping in midstream (when offended) would be the most effective, if not the most difficult way, to make that point. But I’m sure pretty it wouldn’t happen again. Shamming people wont work (it never has), specially if shame turns your crank. Actions within each individual will eventually turn the tide and the guilt. Share the knowledge and act on it (acknowledge).

  23. The argument from evolutionary biology is that whereas women know they are the genetic parent of any child they give birth to, men rely on female fidelity to ensure they are contributing towards the upbringing of their own genetic offspring. This means that it isn’t so much a double standard at root as a unidirectional one; there isn’t a reason for reciprocal concern. With different reproductive biologies, men and women have to adopt different strategies.

    If that’s right (and it might not be, arguments like this are speculative), there’s a deep-seated and ineradicable male aversion to pair bonding, as opposed to sleeping with, women who sleep with lots of men. And if this reasoning is correct, this aversion is not spiteful or misogynist, but rather sensible from the male perspective.

    Perhaps there’s a connection between the decreasing durability of long-term relationships (life-long unbroken marriages are less common than they were), increasing male irresponsibility towards the support of offspring (baby father syndrome), and the sexual revolution.

    In any event, while you’re absolutely right to point out the intellectual inconsistency of slut shaming of women and not of promiscuous men, it’s an inconsistency that might be here for a while longer. The rebalancing of reproductive rights and responsibilities would help, possibly even more than calling people out for what is in part a rational behaviour under present circumstances.

  24. @Patrick Bois

    lol, you can rationalize anything. Your analogy of women’s promiscuity to wearing bike helmets because both are “modern” ideas is ridiculous… Let’s follow your logic through: women’s promiscuity, like bike helmets, is a modern idea; and bike helmets, generally accepted as a good idea, must therefore also mean that women’s promiscuity is a good idea. Hope you can see the logic fail here. If not, I can’t help you.

    I was actually being facetious about the so-called “double standard”. Men and women aren’t the same; neither are their standards. Deal with it. Don’t whine about it (like the author and yourself).

    I second “I have an idea”… Rationalize it all you want. Me and him (and the rest of society) are still gonna call you a whore. Who’s opinion counts more? Try it and see, honey. Just don’t say I (and everyone else) didn’t tell you so.

    Case closed.

  25. I absolutely loved this! Having my own blog centered around sexuality, the topics of slut-shaming and girl guilt and fascinating to me. I’ll definitely be linking to this when I post!

  26. If a key opens every door… its a master key, if a lock is opened by every key… its a bad lock, old joke but interesting point of view. lets be honest, sleeping with man on the first meeting let alone the first date is a terrible way to start a relationship. Personally when i sleep with a woman that soon i think to my self “why they hell would i devote time into developing a relationship with this woman?”. Im not judging her or calling her a slut but to me (23 year old man) id rather focus on my very demanding career, if i can get my sexual needs out of the way with a woman and not have to actually deal with all relationship drama… all the better, until i actually want to settle down and look for a wife. :)

  27. Thank you so much for writing this. As a preschool teacher who wants to be a sex educator I’m floored by our similar perspectives. You have the words that I always want to say!

    Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!

  28. Some women have escaped this, or failed/refused to learn the lesson of sex=shame. It’s actually been a long time since I felt guilty for sleeping with anyone. I’ve picked poorly a couple of times, and been left thinking “Blech, that was stupid.” Much like when the tequila seems like such a brilliant suggestion at the time. But for what it’s worth, GOOD sex (as in we’re both enjoying ourselves and each other) actually makes me feel desirable, beautiful and empowered.

    So, you know, there is hope.

    1. Thank you for this and please accept my apologies for not approving it sooner. (My internet access has been down and I haven’t been able to get online.)

  29. Of course women should be able to enjoy sex (safe sex) on a first date without being labelled a slut. As a feminist who enjoys sex I think these double-standards should have vanished long ago.

    However am I the only one who thinks that it is strange that you support the porn industry so vociferously, when much of the porn available degrades women calling them sluts,bitches, whores etc., encouraging the double standards which you quite rightly condemn?

    Surely it is a double standard to claim that women feel empowered when being abused by men in porn movies and then object to slut-shaming in the real world?

    1. First off, let me say: very sorry about the late approval of your comment. My internet has been down and I’ve been unable to do anything online lately.

      Now, as far as porn being inherently degrading to women, I don’t think this is the case. Is there incredibly misogynistic porn out there? Absolutely. Is there porn without any of that malarky? Absolutely. In fact, one can even find porn with no female performers at all! I find that porn (or, as it should be called “representations of people fucking”, but that’s not nearly as catchy) reflects many cultural conceptions of sexuality, regardless of the time period.

      And I know many a lovely person who works in porn and they really enjoy their work. Abuse? Please. Anyone who has worked retail can tell you far more tales of workplace abuse than someone performing in porn. And if you’re suggesting that any sex that isn’t missionary and full of love and adulation is inherently degrading then maybe try talking to people who don’t like having sex in that way. Their perspective could really expand the way you think about sex.

      I am, however, fascinated by the ways sexual scripts inform our sexual activities. You may or may not realize that regular people call each other whores and sluts during sex but still respect each other after. I’m curious as to why people do this. My thought is that framing oneself in this light during a sexual encounter somehow allows someone to be uninhibited and vociferously sexual; that, because they’re a whore or a slut in that moment they can do whorish or sluttish things to their heart’s content.

      Overall, I don’t think it’s a double standard or in any way contradictory to enjoy watching porn and also want to be respected for having sexual desire. In fact, I tend to see lots of women in porn allowed to have as much sexual desire and gratification as they could possibly want.

  30. I have to say that I have never felt the guilt you describe feeling after your encounter. As the woman before me, Avy I think, said I have felt negatively about the choices of partner I may have made but not the act or my role in it. I credit my mother with teaching me this attitude. She often told us of some of her more wild times and we laughed. She also said that it wasn’t smart to buy a car without taking it for a test drive so doing so with a man was stupid too. That being said my parents have been faithfully married for over 30 years so I feel my mother was able to illustrate both sexual empowerment and devotion and a strong value system. Now, in my own relationship that began after a “one night stand” my partner and I have been together for 9 years and we are monogamous. We also have sex 5-6 times a week which I think after almost a decade counts for a very healthy sex life for us. All of this I feel is because both my man and I had strong role models who taught us that sex is a wonderful thing but that with most wonderful things it comes with responsibility (i.e. awareness of disease and pregnancy)
    Great post though I am still sad that you felt the guilt at all even though you were able to rationalize it away.

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