I've got no clue... What's a "prude"?

Dear Alice,

Hey! I was just wondering what prude means. I mean, I am very curious about it, all my friends talk about it, and I have no clue what it means. If you could help me out, I would be very grateful. Thanks again.

— Curious and Clueless

Dear Curious and Clueless,

At some point, in everyone's life, you’re bound to come across a term that you can't quite figure out. It can be difficult to ask for a definition when it seems like everyone around you already knows it, so kudos to you for asking! Without knowing the context in which your friends are using “prude,” it’s difficult to say exactly what they mean. The term could suggest a number of things, but an overall definition often implies that a given person is overly concerned about whether what they say, what they do, how they dress, etc. is proper. Depending on the context, tone, and situation you’re in, prude could be referring to a number of things.

The term is often used as a label to judge someone as sexually conservative and “no fun.” For example, a person might call someone that is uncomfortable with sexuality or nudity, or even other behaviors such as drinking alcohol or doing drugs, a prude. In this sense, it’s basically synonymous with “uptight” or “goody-goody.” Being a prude could also describe a person who doesn’t know very much about sex because of lack of experience, or who doesn’t do something sexually that someone else wants them to do.

Again, without knowing a bit more of the situational details, it can be difficult to say what your friends really mean when they use the term. To dig a bit deeper, you may consider investigating some context clues: are your friends calling each other prude? Other people? Were they calling someone was a prude because of something they said, something they did, or didn’t do? Was it used as an insult or as a compliment? Once you determine what the context is, you might have a better idea of how and why they’re using it.

It’s also good to note that sometimes people also use “prude” to pressure someone into feeling that they should be having sex, doing drugs, or drinking alcohol. If your friends are using the term this way, remember that regardless of what they think or say, the decision to be sexually active, drink, or do drugs is up to you. If you feel like you’re being pressured, it’s wise to wait until those feelings of pressure subside before you make any decisions (for more on how to address peer pressure, check out Friends say, ‘Smoke!’ in the Go Ask Alice! archives).

Curious and Clueless, there are a lot of terms related to sex, alcohol, and other drugs, so it can seem overwhelming to try and learn them all. If you’re stumped about any other words or phrases relating to these topics, you can check out the Go Ask Alice! Sexual & Reproductive Health and Alcohol & Other Drugs archives to learn more.

Here's to staying curious, but not clueless!

Last updated Jul 01, 2016
Originally published Jan 29, 1999

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