What does "putting out" mean?

Dear Alice,

This is kind of embarrassing, but the other day, my friends were talking about sex and their boyfriends and everything. Well, one of them mentioned "putting out." I've heard the term before, but what does it actually mean?

Dear Reader,

You’re not alone in your confusion — especially when it comes to language related to sex, there are an infinite number of slang words and phrases that get thrown around to describe different sex-related constructs, be it related to activities, body parts, or concepts. They each usually carry their own connotations. Often, the term “putting out” indicates when a woman is willing to have sex with a man. Sex is a common pastime for people across genders and sexual identities, and the term can be applied in a non-heterosexual context and to anyone of any gender. However, in most cases, the term is heavily rooted in its connotation of how women are expected to negotiate sex with men.

There’s no evidence of when or why the term “putting out” adopted its meaning and no official definition of the term; therefore, its meaning has several variations. For example, some people interpret the phrase “putting out” as a derogatory term directed towards women who offer or readily agree to sex. Other subcultures consider “putting out” to be the act of an “easy” woman offering sex to get something out of a relationship, such as gifts or fame. Still, other groups of people consider it to differentiate between extroverted and introverted women, and how likely a woman is to become romantically interested in a man. In this last context, “putting out” can simply mean accepting an offer for a date.

Yet, among all these interpretations, “putting out” usually only applies to women in a negative way. The offensive and derogatory nature often associated with the term can be understood in the larger context of double standards in sexual conduct. A study of adolescents found that boys are much more likely to be pressured into having sex and consequently rewarded for it by peers. Unfortunately, girls are shamed by peers for engaging in frequent sex. What results is a dating culture that presents men as naturally sexual beings, with frequent sex being “normal,” while women aren't given the same agency in their sexuality. Due to the socialization of men to actively seek sex, coercion or expectations about how much sex ought to take place can dominate a relationship. This places undue pressure on women to have sex or “put out” as a requirement of these relationships, even if they may face social ridicule for doing so too much.

With such intricate context behind the term “putting out,” it’s understandable that there may be some confusion on what your friends mean. So, there’s no need to be embarrassed! It may be better to ask for clarification instead of using terms you don’t mean. Understanding the various meanings of slang terms before using them can help avoid mishaps. The next time one of your friends uses the phrase "putting out," it may be helpful to ask what it means to them.

Best of luck,

Last updated Mar 05, 2021
Originally published Oct 20, 2000

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