On the playground, time and time again, we would chant, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” I would say that sometimes to another child who said something mean to me—but inside, I would be thinking, Words do too hurt.
I remember my mother sitting with me at bedtime when I was four years old, reading to me from her old Bobbsey Twins books. The words wove a new world for me, one that captured and shaped my imagination. The words showed me things I hadn’t yet thought of.
Language → Reality
As much as language reflects reality, it also shapes our reality. The words we use affect how we think about things. In fact, several academic disciplines (philosophy, sociology, and communication come to mind) have a theory of knowledge that includes the premise that language is the primary means through which we construct our reality. That may sound like a bunch of intellectual mumbo-jumbo to some, but while I don’t completely agree with social constructivism, I don’t want to dismiss the idea that language shapes thought and our perception of reality.
The words we use, to speak and think, shape our feelings and attitudes. That’s the whole idea behind positive affirmations and the “I think I can” mantra of the little engine that could.
Words can affect us negatively, too. Consider some of the words we use relating to sex and sexuality. When we talk about naughty and nice in the bedroom, “naughty” refers to the things that are a bit more sexually adventurous. If we use an earthy, one-syllable Anglo-Saxon word for sexual intercourse, we are “talking dirty.”
And then there’s the “slutty” costume craze. Walking through the store a couple months ago, I saw a whole section of “slutty” clothes: slutty vampire, slutty nurse, slutty princess, etc. These costumes involve dressing in sexy clothes. The pictures on the packages show women in sexual poses, with come-hither looks on their faces. Looking sexual is termed “slutty” rather than “sexy.”
Think it’s no big deal? I disagree.
Slutty vs. Sexy
The word “slut” refers to a promiscuous woman. A slut is not a wife. Behavior that is often described as slutty is actually just sexual–it is sexually confident, sexually assertive, and maybe even sexually aggressive. To say that a woman who exhibits this sexual confidence is promiscuous (or is acting promiscuously) is to perpetuate the idea that wives should be sexual doormats, doing only what their husbands want, when they want.
To be quite blunt, for a brief time in my life, I was a slut. I dressed, acted, and spoke sluttily–but it is important to note that it wasn’t the behavior itself that was slutty; it was the fact that I was engaging in this behavior outside of marriage that was slutty. By naming the behavior itself as slutty, that behavior becomes viewed as something that is done only by promiscuous women. “Slutty” costumes reinforce the idea that it is the sexual behavior and appearance that is promiscuous, not the fact that the women on the pictures are not wearing wedding rings.
When a wife feels sexual and wants to be sexually assertive, if she thinks of that behavior as slutty, she may begin to think about herself or that behavior as negative or inappropriately sexual. This is a message that the church too often communicates already. Far too many women have struggled with their own sexual response and behavior simply because they believe it is inappropriate to enjoy their sexuality.
We women have enough challenges in embracing our sexual selves. We have body image issues. Our sexual response is different from that of our husbands, and it certainly isn’t like what is portrayed in media. Women who had casual premarital sex may have the burden of their past behavior weighing down on their sexuality. Women who maintained sexual purity before marriage learned to suppress certain feelings and ideas before they married and perhaps then struggled to release that which they had suppressed. Embracing and expressing our sexuality is something some wives are simply not well equipped to do (including me for most of our marriage). Negative words not only don’t help they can hurt.
When we strive to be good and godly in all we do, words like “slutty,” “naughty,” and “dirty” can muddy our reality. If we are strong in our sexuality, these words can be fun and add some spice to the bedroom. When we are weak or uncertain in our sexuality, however, these words can take hold and shape our understanding of sexual behavior as not appropriate for wives.
Our husbands have heard these words, too. They are just as much the recipients of church and society teaching about sexuality as we are. A young man who is exposed to sexual images labeled as slutty or dirty may well associate the behavior with promiscuity and will think that it is not appropriate for a wife. So what happens when he marries and his sexually confident wife is the one who introduces a new sexual activity? Men may have learned that sex is for them and not for their wives and that because good girls don’t, wives don’t either.
I’ve known too many women who don’t learn to be sexually expressive or confident—because they assume their husbands will think it’s slutty, because their husbands have explicitly said that behavior is slutty, or because they simply don’t know that strong sexual behavior in a wife is godly and appropriate.
Reframing Our Thinking
Instead of inhibiting our sexual expression or confidence because we have a negative association with it, maybe we need to reframe our own thinking that this is WIFELY behavior, not slutty behavior–and think about how to help husbands with these negative associations work toward this healthier understanding as well.
I occasionally receive emails from women who are trying to make positive changes in their marriage beds and then get stuck. They figure out how to increase frequency. They allow themselves to fully engage. They even get comfortable initiating every now and then—but they do this for their husbands, not for themselves. As soon as they get to the point of moving their sexual changes to the level of wanting sex for themselves and not just for their husbands, they don’t know how to move forward. One woman wrote, “Is it really okay for me to want sex sometimes because I’m horny and not just because my husband wants it? Is it even okay for a Christian woman to think of herself as horny?”
The problem isn’t the behavior; the problem is our attitude toward that behavior. Yes, it is okay for a Christian woman to feel horny and to want sex for her own sake and not just for the sake of her husband or her marriage. Rather than try to suppress our sexual behavior because it’s slutty, dirty, or naughty, let’s work on growing our understanding of that sexual behavior as wifely and designed by God.
I challenge you to think about the words you use in speech and thought. When you see a low-cut top at the mall, do you go right past it, thinking it’s too slutty for you to wear? Or, do you take a second look and think about how it would show too much cleavage to wear in public but it sure would look sexy to wear just for your husband? If your husband wants you to be more vocal in bed, do you freeze up because you couldn’t possibly say dirty words, or do you try to think of all the sexy words you know? If you buy the low-cut top and say the words, thinking that they are slutty and dirty, how does that make you feel about yourself sexually?
How we think about ourselves sexually shapes how we feel about ourselves sexually—and that affects how we are sexually with our husbands. How we speak to others about sexual behavior and appearance shapes their views as well. How do you speak to your children and others about sexual behavior? Do you use positive words to discuss what happens in the marriage bed, or do you use words like “naughty” and “dirty”?
Words can hurt. Words can also heal. Which words do you use when you think about your sexuality?
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. Ephesians 4:29