If rape culture and the systemic oppression of women’s sexual agency can be traced in large part back to the virgin-whore dichotomy, then all the focus on slut-shaming is only dealing with the “whore” part. The purpose of this post is not to excuse slut-shaming, but to point out that it’s only half of the story.

Prude-shaming* enables rape culture, too. Prude-shaming is a tool of sexual coercion, whether it’s “don’t you want to make me happy?” or “I’m a man, I have needs” or “don’t be so repressed, lighten up!” Prude-shaming is a tool of woman-on-woman oppression – “she keeps her virginity locked up like Fort Knox” (actual quote from a woman about a female friend). Just as slut-shaming is about perception rather than behavior, prude-shaming isn’t dependent on how much sex a woman has – only how much sex she “looks like” she has. Women who don’t dress sufficiently feminine – which often means sufficiently revealingly – or are perceived as not sufficiently sexually receptive, are degendered and called men. Or they’re subjected to homophobic, anti-lesbian slurs. Or people speculate graphically about the state of their genitals (HUGE trigger warning for anti-ace bigotry, misogyny, misandry, rape jokes and rape culture).

Not having enough sex is as taboo as having too much sex, or not having the right kind of sex. Stereotypes about “prudes” (religious puritanism, lack of adventurousness, sexual phobia, sexual pathology, physical  undesirability) all have their analogs in slut-shaming culture: lack of morality, irresponsible thrill-seeking, fear of being alone or inability to get along “without a man”, sexual addiction, and dressing or presenting as “too sexual”, respectively. They are two sides of the same coin. It doesn’t make sense to address one without the other, and I hope as awareness grows about sexual coercion as a manifestation of rape culture, prude-shaming attitudes will come under greater scrutiny.

*Truth be told, I’m not entirely comfortable with this term, because “prude” is a slur I’m not terribly interested in reclaiming. The wounds are too fresh. However this seems to be the accepted term used for shaming based on perceived sexual inactivity or lack of sexuality, so it’s the one I’m going to use for now.

First published 7 Feb. 2012 at

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