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Question #163: My sister won’t stop “jokingly” calling me a slut.

Dear Captain Awkward,

I divulged some details about my sex life to my older sister. Full disclosure, oh anonymous internet not threatening to “tell on me” to my parents: the manner in which I lost my virginity to a very nice man I’m still seeing a few months later. My sister and I are both pretty late bloomers, in our early 20s. My sister pressed for the information, and I think I complied because I hadn’t talked about the experience with anyone yet. Anyhow, as expected, my sister has been “jokingly” calling me a slut, talking to our other sister about it, and generally showing signs of never letting me live this down. I know I’m not a slut and haven’t done anything wrong–except talking to my sister about it. Basically, I’m afraid of how this might play out. Is there any way I can do damage control on this? I don’t want to bring a guy (this guy??) home to meet my family someday and have this be a subject of conversation, especially since I should have left it between me and him to begin with. Other notes: I haven’t told my parents I’m dating this guy yet. I live in a different state and only see my family at holidays.

-Just trying to wash out the word vomit stain

Guess what, Word Vomit! Your sister is an asshole. So one thing you can do when she calls you a slut, is say “Whatever, asshole.” She also doesn’t get to be trusted with your secrets anymore. She’s showing you that you’re not all that close, don’t you think? So a conversation with her could go like this:

Hey sister, I trusted you with something, and now you are treating me like crap. Why are you doing that? (wait for her to answer). No, seriously, what is your deal? (wait for her to answer more).  Do you really think I need to hear sexist bullshit about how sex is shameful from my own sister? If you think I’m going to put up with it, you are wrong. Apologize right now and knock it off.

I predict that her response will be some variation of “What’s the big deal? I’m only joking. Can’t you take a joke?”

To which you say, “You may mean it as a joke, but what you are doing is slut-shaming and it is not okay, so no, I can’t take a joke about this from you. Knock it off.

If she apologizes and knocks it off, proceed (with caution – she’s not back in the circle of trust yet). If she doesn’t, cut ties for a while and revisit later. If you ever bring your boyfriend around and she talks trash about the Great Deflowering, say, “Yeah, that’s my sister – she is an asshole. Ignore her,” and get on with Thanksgiving or whatever. Plenty of people have family members in the asshole community.

I don’t know what it means to have to “live down” the fact that you, an adult woman, had consensual sex with another adult, and my mind boggles at the idea of a 20-something woman trying to shame another one about sex. She’s trying to get you to feel shame about something that flat out isn’t shameful. If she’s threatening to tell your parents on you, that’s emotional blackmail right there. I mean, what does she think will happen if she tells them?

You are not obligated to disclose anything about your sex life to your folks, obviously, but one way to take the piss out of blackmailers is to just tell the secret that they are threatening to expose. “Hey, Mom and Dad, did (sister) tell you? I met someone I really like, his name is ___, and we’re dating. I don’t know if it will turn out to be serious, but I really like him and am having fun right now.”  It doesn’t have to be a serious or forever thing, your parents will probably be psyched to be let in on this aspect of your life, and they can draw their own conclusions or maintain a thin veil of parental plausible deniability about what you and this gentleman are doing with your time.

Or maybe they won’t be psyched to hear you are dating, in which…I mean….so what? I say this as someone whose parents were decidedly NOT COOL with finding out I was sexually active in college, to the point that they threatened to pull me out of school and called me all kinds of names and accused me of all sorts of terrible things in the heat of arguments. Aaaaaaah, Catholics. At the end of the day they have no control over what you do, which is why cultures built around patriarchy are so terrified by the sexuality of young women in the first place. You can pay lip service to whatever they say for as long as you have to (if you are financially dependent, for instance), and still live your own life. You can live with tension and discomfort and still love each other.

There’s a passage I’ve always loved from Lois McMaster Bujold’s A Civil Campaign* about claiming the mantle of adulthood for yourself that’s prompted by parents going apeshit about their daughter’s sexual and romantic decisionmaking in a patriarchal society. The young woman, Kareen, is talking to an older woman, Ekaterin, about how frustrating it is to be treated like a child.

“Nothing is more guaranteed to make one start acting like a child than to be treated like one…It took me the longest time to figure out how to stop falling into that trap.”

“Yes, exactly,” Kareen agreed eagerly. “You understand! So–how did you make them stop?”

“You can’t make them–whoever your particular them is–do anything, really,” said Ekaterin slowly. “Adulthood isn’t an award they’ll give you for being a good child. You can waste…years, trying to get someone to give that respect to you, as though it were a sort of promotion or raise in pay. If only you do enough, if only you are good enough. No, you have to just…take it. Give it to yourself, I suppose. Say, I’m sorry you feel like that, and walk away. But it’s hard.”

I’m not done reading it yet (about the halfway mark!) but I will again recommend Jaclyn Friedman’s book, What You Really, Really Want: The Smart Girl’s Shame-Free Guide to Sex and Safety  to help you navigate this new relationship in a fun way and to slay any shame-demons that enter your head. Your sister’s messages will always be out of line, but they will have less traction if you can rid yourself of the shame that our culture heaps on people about sex. Buy a copy for each of your sisters, too.

*If you haven’t read any Vorkosigan Saga, don’t start there- start with Cordelia’s Honor or Young MilesMiles In Love is only fun if you know the players going in and are already invested.

It is still Pledge Drive week here at Captain Awkward Dot Com, so if you like what you read and have a few bucks for the tip jar, I would be extremely grateful. Thanks to the kind souls who have already donated. I’ll be emailing you shortly.
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34 comments
  1. Nomie said:

    VORKOSIGANS!!!!!

    That is all.

    • JenniferP said:

      I could have a side-blog called “Life advice from Cordelia Naismith.”

      • Bethany said:

        If you did that I would read it EVERY DAY. TWICE. I get so excited when people I know love those books, it’s not even funny.

        • JenniferP said:

          I wonder if I could get some faded fatigues and make a faux “Betan Astronomical Survey” insiginia = Best Halloween Costume Evar.

          • Jake said:

            I was just about to come to the comments to squeeeee about how you referenced Bujold, only to find that others had beaten me to it. Why am I not surprised that the Awkward Army is full of Vorkosigan fans?

            LIfe Advice from Cordelia Naismith would be the best blog ever.

          • Celeloriel said:

            Best. Costume. EVER.

          • Lis said:

            Have you seen the flimsy doll book? It’s so awesome.

        • JenniferP said:

          Miles’s FEELINGSBOMBS aren’t like other people’s – they have intergalactic consequences.

          • JenniferP said:

            Ha, I will scan through the books and see if I can make this a recurring feature.

      • Nomie said:

        There is no font large enough to express my DO WANT.

        (Lois McMasters Bujold: responsible for me acing a test in eighth grade on fetal development. “Teratogenic”!)

      • Rachel said:

        You really are like Cordelia in Barrayar. If you want to start signing yourself as Captain Awkward Naismith, we’ll all understand. (But there need to be some very, very practical sex tips as well.)

        • JenniferP said:

          No one told me it was compliment day! /

        • Jake said:

          Do it! Please please please start doing this! (Including sex tips. I have always wanted more detail on that conversation Aral and Cordelia had about the sexual knowledge rules list. Maybe we can make a list like it?)

          • RQbrain said:

            Oooooooohhhh
            I’ve always wondered about that “rule 9.”

      • Liz L said:

        This is exactly what the world needs. Although I would venture to say that ‘Life advice from Cordelia Naismith’ might read an awful lot like the fantastic ‘Captain Awkward.’

    • RQbrain said:

      Thirded fourthed and fifthed.

      I recently re-read them all AGAIN. I call them my bible sometimes.

      The most recent impetus was that Miles ALSO gets depressed and needs to be sat on, or dumped into icewater, or have various people rescue him in various ways and STILL manages to do amazing awesome things. So its ok if I feel bad sometimes.

  2. Karin said:

    I have to admit that I was the asshole sister back in the days. I was quite a late bloomer (lost my virginity with 27) and my two year younger sister had boyfriends and sexual experience waaaaay before I did. My “teasing” her had its roots in envy paired with “putting her in her place”/making her feel bad about herself. Looking back, I can only slap my younger self upside the head. Hard.

    LW, the good Captain’s advice is great and I would follow it, because your sister’s behavior is definitely not right. You have no reason to feel ashamed about enjoying your sexuality.
    I don’t know how your relationship usually is, but maybe if the time is right and your sister shows that she is open for a discussion/talk you could have a heart-to-heart with her and ask her why she’s acting this way. Maybe it’s envy and she feels left behind, which is why she is acting this way. Just remember: You didn’t do anything wrong, LW.

  3. Her behavior smacks of sour grapes, and the Captain’s advice is aces. I would recommend not fully unpacking the why of her behavior with her, though. For that will uncover the naked little mole man of her own shame and jealousy, which is strongly tied up in a dark and juicy web of graspy wants and desires that she is terrified of and has not yet fulfilled, and that is some ugly territory. She will get even more blamey and judgey if you make her go there right now. No one appreciates having to talk about their envy while it is still stabbing them from the inside. You guys can go there in 10-15 years on a night of too many margaritas, and it will be hilarious with hindsight.

    Remember the eternal rule with sisters: The more she knows she is getting to you, the more she will try to get to you. I so agree with the Captain that nothing shuts sisters up faster than being dismissive of her taunts. Keep it fairly superficial, restrain your emotions, control the story with your parents, and you’ll be awesome.

    And have fun boning your nice guy! Boning is awesome!

    • Copcher said:

      I definitely agree with not dealing with the reasons for her behaviour, both because majorlady is right that she will probably get more blamey and judgey if you bring it up with her, and also because it’s really not your job to sort out the problems of someone who is intentionally making you feel like crap.

      What I really like about CA’s advice for you is that it deals with your personal problems with your sister calling you a slut (not okay because it’s not okay to call people names that make them feel shitty) and it also deals with the larger problems with using the word slut as a way to insult people (not okay because it is slut-shaming). However, since I don’t think it’s possible to hyperlink words in a vocal conversation the way you can in text on a website, you should probably just tell your sister to google slut-shaming if she asks what it is.

      One thing I would add, though, is that if you are going to bring this dude to meet your family and think that you might have to use the script of “Yeah, that’s my sister – she is an asshole. Ignore her,” you might want to warn him first. Not with a huge, “My sister’s a giant asshole and you must hate her,” kind of speech, but maybe something like,”Just so you know, she’s been giving me a lot of grief on this issue, and if she brings it up at dinner tonight I’m just going to shoot it down and move on.” That way he won’t be caught off guard and might be better able to have your back in the moment.

      • Ensign Perception said:

        Mmm hmm, definitely talk to your dudefriend about this situation beforehand if he is going to go meet her.

      • I second majorlady and Copcher.

  4. HKatz said:

    “Adulthood isn’t an award they’ll give you for being a good child. You can waste…years, trying to get someone to give that respect to you, as though it were a sort of promotion or raise in pay. If only you do enough, if only you are good enough. No, you have to just…take it. Give it to yourself, I suppose.”

    Beautiful. A reminder I needed.

  5. Yan said:

    LOVE this advice.

    Also, I would just like to say that unfortunately, Cordelia’s Honor and Young Miles have been hard to find locally, and having not read them, read whatever you can find in the Vorkosigan saga, as it will all start to make some sort of sense as Lois McMaster Bujold frakkin rocks.

      • I should further specify, this is entirely legal, as per the introduction by the publisher Baen on the front page.

      • Em said:

        Not quite all the books; for reasons that passeth human understanding, they don’t include Memory in the free ebooks.

        • JenniferP said:

          Memory is fantastic, possibly my favorite after the first two. And we are agreed, yes, that you can’t just dive right into the Butter Bugs from the beginning?

          I am so pleased that there are so many Vorkosigan fans who read here.

          • wondering said:

            lol Well you can – I did – even if it is not the best way to approach a new series.. A Civil Campaign is the only one I’ve read so far. I enjoyed it a lot and am on the lookout for more Bujold books.

      • Not Anne Shirley said:

        You can also transfer those files to an ereader, tablet or smartphone if you like! No need to read on the computer.

        God, I love Baen Free Library.

      • Bethany said:

        Oh. My. God. How did I not know about this? My kindle is about to be the happy kind of full. (In this case, the happy kind is free.)

  6. Ensign Perception said:

    Agreeing with everyone else: there’s some envy involved here, for sure. But talking about that with your sister won’t help.

    CA’s script is excellent as usual, but if you ever had any kind of confidante relationship with your sister, I’d actually go much much harder when it comes to the “I trusted you with something, and you betrayed me” bit of the script. Explicitly saying and showing that her behavior really hurts is not out of place here. Lay the smackdown, cry in front of her if you feel the tears coming, whatever. Her attitude is some high grade bullllllll shitttttt and she needs to feel the consequences. IMHO of course.

    • Ensign Perception said:

      Just to be clear, I mean lay the VERBAL smackdown. Don’t smack your sister!!! That would not be good.

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