"When women talk openly about sex, even if we’re saying things that men have been saying out loud for years, we’re deemed 'inappropriate' and sex maniacs," writes Slutever's Kristen Cochrane. Among the many things that don't define a woman is her manner of talking about sex, yet this is also one of the most common qualities people tend to draw conclusions about women from. Stereotypes like that of the hyper-sexual woman paint women as archetypes instead of people, and they lead us to judge ourselves and one another based on behaviors that actually say very little about who we are.
Cochrane writes that when she'd tell people on Tinder that she was a human sexuality researcher and writer, they'd react with messages like, “You seem like a highly sexual person.” There's nothing wrong with being a highly sexual person, of course, but this sort of conclusion reflects the false correlation people tend to draw between how open a woman is about sex and how promiscuous she is. As someone who also speaks and writes openly about sex but tends to limit my own sexual encounters to committed relationships, I've also experienced people viewing those two things as contradictory. "So you're down with hookups?" a friend once texted me after I interviewed people on the best sex they'd had.
If men talk about sex and admit that they want and enjoy it, people don't tend to assume they're "highly sexual" or "down with hookups." After all, they're just admitting to physical desires that are beyond someone's control and not at all related to their character or personality. Why shouldn't it be the same with women?
On top of the way we talk about sex, women — and people in general — are pigeonholed and stereotyped and judged by these ten other things. Here's why none of them actually say anything about you, no matter what anyone else says.
1. How Much Skin You Show
Contrary to popular opinion, nothing you wear says anything about your sexuality, respectability, or vanity. You can wear a short skirt without intending to sleep with anyone — or inviting anyone to touch you. And you can be the most sexual, erotic person in the world in a sweatshirt and sweatpants and no makeup.
2. How Dressed Up You Get
How much attention you pay to your looks also doesn't say anything about you. Men who wear suits and ties don't get called vain for wanting to dress up or narcissistic for caring how they come off to others, and women who wear makeup and dresses shouldn't either.
Not wearing a bra doesn't mean you're dressing provocatively any more than it does when a man doesn't wear a bra, and wearing one doesn't make you more feminine or less of a feminist. If you opt for a sports bra, you're not less sexy, and if you prefer frilly lingerie, that doesn't make you an object.
4. How Many People You've Slept With
Having sex for the first time doesn't define you any more than any other experience, like the first time you travel abroad or eat Thai food or play pinball. And subsequently, sex remains just another experience. No number of sexual partners makes you less wholesome, less innocent, or less respectable. Sex can be powerful and fun and confusing and all sorts of things, but it doesn't change who you are.
5. Who You've Slept With
You have the right to go into any sexual experience you choose without labeling yourself based on it. Sexuality is more fluid that previously believed, with 29 percent of American Millennials in one YouGov survey saying they've been attracted to more than one gender. You don't need to label yourself at all based on your attractions or experiences, and you certainly don't need to label yourself based on how an outsider might.
6. Your Body Shape
Your size does not define your health. In fact, more and more studies have been illuminating how wrongheaded our society's association between weight, size, and health really is. One recent study in the International Journal of Obesity found that nearly half of "overweight" people are healthy. Your body shape also does not indicate how disciplined or health-conscious you are. You can attain fitness and health regardless of your size, and even if you choose not to invest your energy in healthy eating or exercise, that doesn't mean you don't have the determination or strength to do so if you choose.
7. What's Between Your Legs
Like sexuality, gender and sex are more fluid than many people thought. A good portion of bodies — four percent, according to one estimate by biologist Anne Fausto-Sterling — are not easily classifiable as male or female. And even when your body is assigned a gender by someone else, that doesn't mean you have to view it that way. Our society's associations between bodies, personality traits, and gender identity are arbitrary, and you have no obligation to buy into them. If you identify as or want to present yourself as a woman, there's no reason you can't, no matter what's between your legs.
8. Your Educational Background
A degree is not the same as an education. Someone who never finished high school can have a lot to teach someone with a PhD. It's encouraging that more and more women are graduating college because that means they have the opportunity — but if you don't have that opportunity yourself or choose not to take it, that doesn't mean you are less intellectual or hardworking or wise. And if you date someone with less formal education than you, that doesn't mean you're "dating down" or settling.
9. Your Age
Being older does not make you irrelevant — it means you understand experiences that younger people have only read about. Older women have a ton to teach younger women about feminism, and if they have different perspectives, that is a reason to learn from them, not dismiss them. Teenagers can teach us a lot about feminism as well, because you don't need to be alive any number of years to understand what is right and wrong.
10. How Others Have Treated You
Being in an abusive relationship, being sexually assaulted, or being otherwise mistreated does not ruin you. No matter what your abuser would like you to believe, the way you were treated says nothing about you, you are not damaged beyond repair, and you can still form healthy relationships with people who understand that the scars your past has left are not burdens but signs of strength.