Rumors, and the associated yuckiness

Okay, I am diverging from this week’s regularly scheduled blog posts again. I’ll have to return to them next week.

Last night rumors swirled around a community of adults about one young woman’s theoretical, or rumored, sexual activities.

It’s unclear how the rumors got started, or whether there is any truth to them. No one knows if any of this young woman’s peers have any knowledge of the rumor. No one wants to continue to spread the rumor by asking any of her peers. No one wants to make things worse by asking the young woman herself.

The only thing that is really crystal clear to me right now is that there is one rather freaked out mom who is now mentally going over every conversation and nuance from the past three months.

I am so disappointed by all of this. All of the people who I have talked with are basically good people. They certainly don’t want to be spreading rumors, they want to be stopping rumors. But there is good reason to believe that by trying to stop the rumor, it is being spread.

Rumors about sexuality can have serious, long-term repercussions for preteen and teenage girls. Leora Tanenbaum’s book Slut! Growing up female with a bad reputation catalogues this experience thoroughly.

Almost everyone knew a “slut” in middle school or high school. Some of you may have been labeled that yourself. Others may have been saddled with other sexual labels that held little truth to them (dyke, fag, etc.). But the point that really stuck with me in Tanenbaum’s book was that many, many young women who are labeled a “slut” have had very little sexual experience – often less than their peers.

I tell other adults that young women labeled a slut often are not, and they rarely believe me. They say, “Well, that might be true for some girls, but the slut in my high school…well…you wouldn’t believe what she did!” Often these adults, long out of high school, suddenly catch themselves at this point. They wonder aloud if that girl actually did have sex with the entire football team in one night. They realize that, in fact, she probably didn’t, because anyone having sex with that many people in one night by choice is highly unlikely. They suddenly wonder about their own unintentional part in continuing false and painful rumors about an unaware and awkward teenager.

Now I wonder about the adults who are talking about the young woman I mentioned earlier. I wonder if they have examined their unintentional part in extending this rumor. There is a salaciousness in talking about adolescent sexuality, both as an adolescent and as a parent, but for different reasons. I like this young woman. She’s strong, she’s interesting, and she’s fun to be around. I hope the rumor ends without her peers hearing about it. I hope that this young woman is blessed by passing into young adulthood with no other sexual rumors marring her experience.

But if I am being honest, I have very little faith that she will be so blessed. Very few women are.

About Karen Rayne

Dr. Karen Rayne has been supporting parents and families since 2007 when she received her PhD in Educational Psychology. A specialist in child wellbeing, Dr. Rayne has spent much of her career supporting parents, teachers, and other adults who care for children and teenagers.


  1. I was 15 before I ever even held hands with a boy, and yet, at 12 I was called “slut” many times, because my breasts were developing rapidly. It still hurts now, to think about it, and still affects what I choose to wear.

    And yet, what, really, is wrong with having sex with a lot of people even if someone really does? It doesn’t have anything to do with whether she’s a kind person or a fair person or ANYTHING. It’s just sex!

    I hope the young woman you’re talking about manages to get through this with few or no negative experiences.

  2. This post brought tears to my eyes and, since I am sitting in a public place at my work site, I am trying to push them back and still feel the feelings. I am so pleased that a professional sex educator can address this topic so sensitively and respectfully.
    I remember so well my painful teen years, being called a slut and a whore by my mother and my peers.
    I am grateful that today Dr Rayne can vocalize the difficulty for the adults, with good intention, but likely being driven at least partially by the “salaciousness of discussing teenage sexuality”. Thoughtful adults can discuss the topic and the issue, but it is important to guard the words and the internal motivation very carefully to avoid further damage.
    Thank you for your post.

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