A Reader Asks: What is Promiscuity?

I like sex, a lot. A lot more than I have it, tragically, and that’s not for lack of opportunity, but, rather, because I have moral preconceptions and perhaps even fears that I just can’t get past (IE: STDs, my Catholic youth, etc.).

I’ve said before that anyone can get laid if they set their standards low enough. I still believe that, and doubt that will change anytime soon. But I went and made a comment in response to one of my readers’ comments a couple days ago and have since received an email asking me my definition of promiscuous. That alone would have given me pause for thought, since definitions are generally arbitrary, but the moral semantics of it, that’s a different beast altogether. But then the reader went on at length and that then left me utterly flummoxed. This is the hefty tome I received:

What makes one promiscuous? It seems that promiscuity has a negative connotation; Is this because of a description based on religious, cultural, moral or philosophical matters? IE: Experiencing sexual desire is limited to procreation only; monogamy; one man with one woman… And if this doesn’t fit the scheme, are we sinning or acting amoral? Is it gender related? If a woman sleeps around, more than likely she will be considered a slut. Say a man has the same amount of sexual partners… “well, boys will be boys and need to be experienced.” I don’t think a man would be “accused” of sleeping with too many partners — oh, maybe in the gay community. Okay, so what is it – the quantity? How many times with different partners – 3, 10, 25 – what is the cut-off number? Or is it a matter of timing/frequency – a different partner every month? I know some people can’t even remember the names of their lovers! And are you promiscuous if you (even just once) sleep with someone for other reasons than “just” making love? I am thinking about a “sugar daddy”, IE: financial gain other than prostitution. Or is it then a matter of feelings and emotions; consequently, the lack of emotions and/or just a fulfillment of desires and needs? Would a married family man be considered promiscuous if he (once) had sex in a swinger club — kissed the wife good-bye in the morning, and in for a quickie with another woman the same night?

What, are you trying to make me work for a living? Hardy-har-har.

Here’s what the dictionary wants us to believe, for starters:

1. Having casual sexual relations frequently with different partners; indiscriminate in the choice of sexual partners.
2. Lacking standards of selection; indiscriminate.
3. Casual; random.

First things first: I’m not here to judge anyone, for anything. That said, I think the point of the definition above is that anything outside of a regular relationship, as soon as casualness or randomness enters the picture, is promiscuity. However, the tone that the word takes on depends on the perspective of the speaker. Are you judging the behaviour? If so, then the word is a negative one. Are you simply stating fact? Then it’s merely a pragmatic, honest descriptor.

Fact is, I’m actually a pretty old-fashioned girl, in some ways. I want one guy to shower with affection, and nothing more. (Although I don’t wish to be married, but that’s another posting for another time.) I don’t want to experience a rainbow of lovers, I have no interest in that. I feel a sexual relationship gets better the longer you’re in it, provided you maintain open communication and a willingness to experiment. If a guy cheated on me, I’d probably walk. That’s just me.

Have I slept with a guy on the first date? Yeah, absolutely, and that was promiscuity. Have I had sex outside of a relationship? Yeah, I have, and that was promiscuous. Would I have sex with someone other than a lover I was presently involved with? No, I doubt it. Would I consent to being the other woman? In the past, no, I haven’t (and I’ve actually busted a dude who lied and said he was single, when I knew his girlfriend). In the future, I really don’t know, but I’d find it hard to justify being the “other woman.”

I don’t think you can argue the literal definition of what promiscuity is. I think the nature of the sex you have (with emotions, without, with a commitment, without) defines whether it’s a promiscuous act or not, and that’s not really a matter of semantics, but rather, simple fact. The question then is, is that amoral? And what’s the answer? Then, dear reader, you’re absolutely entering into a philosophical debate, and a difficult one, at that.

Is morality subjective? That is, does the morality of an act depend on the situation and the beliefs of those involved? The majority of the world will tell you no, that morality is not open for discussion, because X religion deems that virtue as being Y. It’s one of the oldest arguments known to mankind, except in polygamous/polyamorous societies, and one that there’ll never be a proper answer to, and certainly nothing definitive will ever tumble from the fingers of this lowly writer.

A lot of people will comment that it’s not the act itself that indicates morality or the lack thereof, but rather, the underlying intention. Yada, yada, fucking yada.

Ultimately, I think what it all boils down to in life is, can you sleep at night? When you wake up in the morning, do you feel a little more whole, or a little less so? Are you satisfied with who you are, with what you do or have done? Can you own up to your actions on your own terms? (Owning up to things in a social, public forum is not necessarily an indicator, because there are a lot of judgmental assholes out in the world, whether it’s Pat Robertson or the dude down the street.) Granted, sociopaths have their own little club where they feel none of these questions apply, and then you indeed have to look at what a moral median might be for society at large, which is how we get laws in the first place.

I know what gets me to sleep, I know what keeps me up nights. I know what leaves me tinged with disgust, I know what leaves me with warm fuzzies day in, day out. I have few illusions of the moral high-ground I’ve set for myself, and while those standards are ones I strive to hold true to, I wouldn’t judge another for failing to meet them – unless they were involved with me, because then it should become an understanding, something to strive for together, something to embrace. Ah, proof: A romantic at heart, I is.

Promiscuity simply is what it is, sex acts committed in a random, casual manner; a hedonistic enjoyment of the flesh. And that’s not all bad, particularly if both parties are on the same page. When people get hurt, when disease gets spread, when irresponsibility transpires, then it’s something I frown on, that I judge. The rest of the time, well, we’re all adults, and if there’s agreement, then that’s all that matters. It’s the interpretation of those acts that get us into these arguments of semantics. The definition is clear, but it’s the moral interpretation of what “random” and “casual” mean that have you asking your question. Semantics, my friend, are indeed a bitch.

But what do you think of promiscuity? What do you think of my two cents?

1. (I’ve been asked in the past what I think of polyamory, and perhaps the above gives those askers a little perspective on my response, but I will likely do an entire posting on that at some point as well, because it’s an interesting topic, and one that I feel is largely misunderstood, though not quite my cup of tea.)
2. (And in regards to the posting below, yes, I’m still broke, yes, I’m still scared a little since my financial safety net has disappeared, and yes, I could still use help. Feel free to pitch in, at any amount. Thanks!)
3. (How come I never saw that episode of Warner Bros.’ Saturday morning cartoons, hmm? I guess that was before TiVo.)