257425 Unraveling the slut narrative: Gender constraints on girls' sexual decision-making

Monday, October 29, 2012 : 4:30 PM - 4:47 PM

Debra Kalmuss, PhD , Heilbrunn Dept. of Population and Family Health, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, New York, NY
Aleza Summit, MPH , Department of Population and Family Health, Mailman School of Public Health, New York, NY
Jane Kato, MPH , Instituto Promundo, Washington, DC
Andrew Levack, MPH , Engender Health, Austin, TX
Background/significance: As girls explore dating and sexual activity in a context of persistent gender inequality, they are subject to peer surveillance of actual or perceived sexual activity and the labeling of certain girls as “sluts” or “hos.” While documented, research has not explored the public health implications of the slut narrative, nor its manifestations among young adolescent girls.

Objective/Methods: In-depth interviews were conducted to explore narratives about dating, sex and gender among adolescent girls. The sample consisted of 43 primarily Black or Latina girls aged 14 to 16 in Austin Texas. Transcribed interviews were analyzed using Atlas.ti.

Results: Labeling girls as “sluts” or “hos” is prevalent, and occurs for many reasons, some explicitly sexual and others not. Outcomes of being labeled include social shunning, sexual harassment from boys, and sometimes increased engagement in risky sexual behaviors. While many girls support the slut-labeling system, a few fundamentally critique it, and a sizeable minority question particular elements, most especially erroneous applications of the label. Whatever their position on the slut narrative, the assignment and policing of this label leaves girls in an uncertain place as they attempt to manage their relationships, sexuality, and safety.

Discussion/conclusions: The slut paradigm and the active sanctioning of girls who step outside of the rules are part of a larger gender context. To address the role of these issues in pregnancy and sexual risk, sexual health promotion programs must be built on gender transformation frameworks that explicitly acknowledge the slut paradigm and its effects on girls.

Learning Areas:
Administer health education strategies, interventions and programs
Planning of health education strategies, interventions, and programs
Program planning
Social and behavioral sciences

Learning Objectives:
Describe the slut narrative as it is constructed among young adolescent Latina and African-American girls in Texas. Describe how the slut narrative functions to police girls’ sexuality, how girls act as both the policed and the police in that process, and how girls both reinforce and question that narrative. Explain why directly addressing slut labeling and its consequences has the potential to improve adolescent girls' sexual health and overall well-being.

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I was a full participant in the analysis of these data and the drafting of this presentation.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.