What Is Slut Shaming?

A Form of Bullying That Targets Teen Girls for Their Sexuality

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Slut-shaming is a form of bullying where girls are targeted, often on social media, and bullied through degradation or humiliation for their sexuality. Slut-shaming means ridiculing girls for the way they look, the way they dress, and their presumed level of sexual activity.

In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter,” Hester wore the letter “A” on her chest for the world to see. It was a way for the community to shame her for her adultery. The scarlet letter of slut-shaming is much more permanent and much harder to handle, whether it takes place on the Internet or in school hallways.

One in four middle school students has experienced unwanted verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature at school.

According to a study conducted by the American Association of University Women, slut-shaming is one of the most common forms of sexual harassment affecting students in middle and high school.

Types of Slut-Shaming

While the methods vary, bullies often use social media sites to share explicit photos and videos, often taken without the target's knowledge. Bullies and mean girls may take photos of the girls they are targeting and post rude or sexually explicit comments about their bodies. Bullies might also engage in name-calling and sexual bullying.

Images

Sometimes a student might create an image of another teen that brands them a slut or shames their body in some way.

For instance, in one situation teens created a series of multi-pane images accompanied by captions and posted these to Instagram. One example included a picture of a girl with exposed cleavage and a caption that read: “Hey girls did you know that your boobs go inside your shirt?”

Videos

Some teens have also been known to have sex and record the act on their smartphone without their partner's knowledge. They then share these videos with friends or even online. This form of sexual bullying is not just morally wrong; it is against the law.

It could result in child-pornography charges. Charges could be filed against both the person who took the video and shared it as well as any students who have a copy of the video—even if they did not ask for the video. If it is on their phone, they could be charged with possession of child pornography.

Texts

Sexting also can lead to slut-shaming. For instance, when a pair of teens is dating, they might share sexually explicit or nude images. Then, when they break up, the upset partner shames the other partner (often a girl) by sharing nude or partially nude images online.

This type of activity also is against the law and could result in child pornography charges. In other instances, a teen might really like another teen and send them sexy images. The recipient could respond by sharing the images and shaming the person who sent them. It is really important that kids understand the risks and consequences associated with sexting.

Slut-Shaming Culture

Schools can contribute to the culture of slut-shaming by creating restrictive dress codes that penalize girls for showing too much skin while allowing boys much more freedom. When girls are disciplined for not following the school guidelines, they are told that they have to dress in a certain way to avoid "distracting" boys.

This is a dangerous line of thinking. It implies that girls are somehow to blame or responsible for slut-shaming and for being sexually bullied or assaulted. The idea that girls are responsible for the reaction of boys, or that boys are unable to control themselves, is a form of victim-blaming.

Effects of Slut-Shaming

For many people, the double standard is frustrating. Boys usually receive praise and admiration for their sexual conquests, while girls are branded as loose, easy, a slut, a skank, or a whore. 

People who are victims of sexual violence in any form may be more prone to anxiety, risky behavior, depression, and suicidality. Girls who have been slut-shamed may have body-image issues. Depression, anxiety, and thoughts of suicide are linked to slut-shaming.

Suicide Risk

There are numerous reports of young girls who were sexually shamed that later took their own lives. These include Amanda Todd, Jesse Logan, Hope Witsell, Sarah Lynn Butler, Phoebe Prince, Felicia Garcia, and countless others.

Each girl was sexually shamed in some way, and in some cases for things they did not even do, Slut-shaming left them feeling like suicide was their only option to escape the constant torment.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

What Parents Can Do About Slut-Shaming

While you can't control other people's actions, you can educate your own children and provide them support. You can also advocate for them and their peers in the school system and the community.

Talk About the Dangers

It's important to talk to teens (of any gender) about the risks of sexting and sexual bullying. No matter how much they may trust a friend or romantic partner, sharing images could have devastating consequences.

Remind teens that regardless of how they feel about the sexual behaviors of others, slut-shaming is unacceptable. If a child is caught engaging in sexual bullying or slut-shaming, they need to be disciplined and learn how to take responsibility for their bullying choices.

Keep Communicating

Research into slut-shaming and other violence shows that when parents use "strategies based on communication and information rather than restriction," teens are better able to protect themselves online. It's important to help tweens and teens develop the skills they need to use social media and other online spaces safely.

Provide Support

Create an environment and a relationship that encourages your child to come to you with problems. If they have a slut-shaming experience, you want to be able to help them resolve it and heal from the pain it causes.

This also includes being supportive of your child's sexuality and gender expression and guarding against toxic masculinity and other gender stereotyping. Research shows that teens who do not "identify as exclusively heterosexual" may be more likely to experience slut-shaming.

Be an Advocate

School rules such as dress codes can contribute to a culture that is shaming to girls or people who express their gender identity in nontraditional ways. If this is the case in your child's school, speak up.

It's also important to ask for a response from the school if your child does experience slut-shaming or any other type of bullying. Your child is entitled to a safe learning environment.

A Word From Verywell

It's upsetting to think that your child could experience slut-shaming, but unfortunately, it happens. Knowing what it is can help you protect your child. So can being supportive of them and their peers and helping build self-esteem so that your child can feel confident engaging with the world. They will be living independent lives very soon.

8 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Rinehart S, Doshi N, Espelage D. Sexual harassment and sexual violence experiences among middle school youth. American Educational Research Association 2014 Annual Meeting.

  2. American Association of University Women. Crossing the line: Sexual harassment at school.

  3. Federal Trade Commission. What to do if you’re the target of revenge porn.

  4. U.S. Department of Justice. Child pornography.

  5. U.S. Department of Justice. Citizen’s guide to U.S. federal law on child pornography.

  6. National Women's Law Center. DRESS CODED: Black girls, bodies, and bias in D.C. schools.

  7. Endendijk JJ, van Baar AL, Deković M. He is a stud, she is a slut! A meta-analysis on the continued existence of sexual double standardsPers Soc Psychol Rev. 2020;24(2):163-190. doi:10.1177/1088868319891310

  8. Goblet M, Glowacz F. Slut shaming in adolescence: a violence against girls and its impact on their health. IJERPH. 2021;18(12):6657. doi:10.3390/ijerph18126657

By Sherri Gordon
Sherri Gordon is a published author and a bullying prevention expert.