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"Promiscuous" redirects here. For other uses, see Promiscuous (disambiguation).

Promiscuity is the practice of making relatively casual and indiscriminate choices. The term is most commonly applied to sexual behavior, where it refers to a person who does not limit their sex life to the cultural norm, typically one partner, or to the framework of a long term monogamous sexual relationship. Because of the popularity of this usage, the remainder of this article discusses sexual promiscuity. It is worth noting that people who are called "promiscuous" under this usage, may in fact be quite selective in their choice of sexual partners.

Promiscuity is discouraged by conservative modern day religions. However, some sects, cults, and religious orders have a place for promiscuous behavior. For example, there were special examples of religious prostitution in ancient Mesopotamia, Greece and Rome.

Human promiscuity

What is considered socially acceptable sexual behavior, and what behavior is regarded as "promiscuous", varies widely among different cultures. In some contexts, a woman who has sex with any man other than her husband is considered promiscuous, while the term may not be applied to a man from the same culture likewise having extramarital sex. In other cultures, the term may be applied to anyone who has more than one lover at the same time. In some sections of industrialized societies, it is likely to be used only when describing people, usually women, who have large numbers of sexual partners with a seeming lack of discrimination. In those cases, there is no set number of partners that would be considered excessive, meaning that what some might consider to be a high number of sexual partners, others might not.

It is difficult to accurately assess people's sexual behavior, since there are strong social and personal motivations to either minimize or exaggerate reported sexual activity, depending on social sanctions and taboos. The best statistics of human sexual behavior are derived from research into sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Extensive research has been conducted to study different mathematical models of sexual behavior and to compare the results generated with the observed prevalence of STDs to try to estimate the probable actual sexual behavior of the population.

People's numbers of sexual partners, both over their lifetime and concurrently, varies widely within any population. Studies of the spread of STDs have consistently shown that a small minority of the population have more partners than the average, and a small minority have less than the average[How to reference and link to summary or text]. One important question in STD epidemiology is whether these groups have sex mostly within their groups (so-called assortative mixing) or at random.

In the United States

Increasingly, teenage sexual encounters in the United States do not occur in the context of a romantic relationship, but in an impersonal, merely sexual "hook up."[1] One thing "nearly everyone agrees on is that STDs and risky 'anything but intercourse' behaviors are rampant among teens."[2] The "impersonality of twenty-first-century adolescent sex victimizes girls" and "plenty of harm" is done to boys as well.[3] When taking part in hookups "the kids don't even look at each other. It's mechanical, dehumanizing. The fallout is that later in life they have trouble forming relationships. They're jaded."[4] This is a "profound shift in the culture of high school dating and sex."[5]

Between 1991 and 2001 the number of high school seniors in the United States who reported that they have had sexual intercourse dropped from 54% to 46%.[6] However, the "dominant form of teenage sexuality has changed" in that time period. "It is not penile-vaginal intercourse anymore. It's oral sex."[7] It is usually boys who receive oral sex, and the girls who give it. When girls provide oral sex "they do so without pleasure, usually to please their boyfriend or to avoid the possibility of pregnancy."[8] This is the "heterosexual script that entitles boys and disables girls."[9]

In 2002 the doctors who run the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health reported a "dramatic trend toward the early initiation of sex."[10] According to the American Academy of Pediatrics "early sexual intercourse among American adolescents represents a major public health problem. Although early sexual activity may be caused by a variety of factors, the media are believed to play a significant role. In film, television, and music, sexual messages are becoming more explicit in dialogue, lyrics, and behavior. In addition, these messages contain unrealistic, inaccurate, and misleading information that young people accept as fact. Teens rank the media second only to school sex education programs as a leading source of information about sex."[11] Research has "found a direct relationship between the amount of sexual content children see and their level of sexual activity or their intentions to have sex in the future.... The study found that films, TV programmes, music and magazines usually portrayed sex as 'risk-free'. Sex was usually between unmarried couples and examples of using condoms or other contraception were 'extremely rare'."[12]

In a 2003 study, 89% of girls reported feeling pressured by boys to have sex.[13] Before "age 15, a majority of first intercourse experiences among females are reported to be non-voluntary."[14] When teens become sexually active at 15 years of age or younger they are six times more likely to drink alcohol once a week or more, four times more likely to have smoked marijuana and three times more likely to be regular smokers of cigarettes.[15] Other research also shows that "risk behaviors often appear in clusters; parents who detect their children engaging in one risk behavior should be alert to the possibility that there may be others. For example, many teens are either using drugs or alcohol at the time of their experience with first sexual intercourse."[16]

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services early sexual experiences are a problem for several reasons.

First, the younger the age of first sexual intercourse, the more likely that the experience was coercive, and forced sexual intercourse is related to long lasting negative effects. Secondly, the younger the age of first sexual intercourse, the greater the risk of unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. This is because those who begin having sex at young ages are generally exposed to risk for a longer time, are less likely to use contraception, generally have more sexual partners, and tend to engage in higher risk sexual behaviors such as alcohol or drug use prior to sexual intercourse and having multiple concurrent sexual partners. It must be recognized as well that early intercourse is frequently not voluntary. Among females, as noted above, the majority of initial sexual experiences that occur at age 14 or younger are non-voluntary.[17]

Girls will often become intoxicated before engaging in sexual activities because it "numbs the experience for them, making it less embarrassing and less emotionally painful."[18] A girl is "far more likely to feel used and abused after a typical" hook up.[19] Girls who date or hang out with older boys are "more likely to be pressured into having sex, more likely to get a sexually transmitted disease, and more likely to experience an unwanted pregnancy."[20] Girls who participate in girls-only activities are far less likely to experience a teenage pregnancy and less likely to be sexually active in general.[21] Participating in competitive sports has also shown to have a positive effect for girls. The "more involved a girl is in competitive sports the less likely she is to be sexually active and the less likely she is to get pregnant."[22]

Boys are less likely to see sex as connected to an emotional relationship than girls. However, by the time a young man is "in his early twenties, he will rely on his girlfriend or wife to be his primary emotional caregiver."[23] If he can not establish an emotional relationship with a woman, who does view sex as connected to intimacy, then he is more likely to become depressed, commit suicide or die from illness.[24] With all the issues and problems relating to adolescent sex, according to the Medical College of Wisconsin, "Ideally, [teens] won’t be having sex."[25]

Of US teens aged 15-19 that are having sexual intercourse almost all (98%) use at least one form of contraception. The most popular form, at 94% usage, are condoms and the birth control pill is second at 61%.[26] Teen pregnancies in the United States decreased 28% between 1990 and 2000 from 117 pregnancies per every 1,000 teens to 84 per 1,000.[27] Research in the United States has shown that pregnancy and STD transmission in sexually active teens has gone down over the past 10 years.[How to reference and link to summary or text] Contraceptives lower the risk of conceiving a child, and if condoms are the method chosen they help prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, but they are not 100% effective.[28] Condoms provide little protection against the human papillomavirus (HPV), which may lead to certain types of cancer and genital warts.[29]

In the animal world

Main article: Animal sexuality

In the animal world, some species of animals, including birds such as swans, once believed monogamous, are now known to engage in extra-pair copulations. Although social monogamy occurs in about 90 percent of avian species and about 3 percent of mammalian species, investigators estimate that 90 percent of socially monogamous species exhibit individual promiscuity in the form of extra-pair copulations.[30][31][32]


  1. Why Gender Matters, Leonard Sax, M.D., Ph.D., 2005, Doubleday books, p. 132.
  2. Anna Mulrine. Risky Business. U.S. News & World Report (May 27, 2002).
  3. Why Gender Matters, Leonard Sax, M.D., Ph.D., 2005, Doubleday books
  4. Dr. Marsha Levy-Warren, as quoted in Anne Jarrell. The Teenage Face of Sex Grows Younger. New York Times (April 2, 2000).
  5. Alexandra Hall. The Mating Habits of the Suburban High School Teenager. Boston Magazine (May 2003).
  6. Trends in Sexual Risk Behaviors Among High School Students --- United States, 1991--2001, Center for Disease Control, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 2002]
  7. Why Gender Matters, Leonard Sax, M.D., Ph.D., 2005, Doubleday books, p. 121.
  8. The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls, Joan Brumberg, Random House, 1997, p. 190.
  9. Anne Jarrell. The Teenage Face of Sex Grows Younger. New York Times (April 2, 2000).
  10. Adolescent Sexual Behavior and Sexual Health, Renee E. Sieving, Jennifer A. Oliphant, and Robert Wm. Blum, Pediatrics in Review 2002 23: 407-416.
  11. Sexuality, Contraception, and the Media, PEDIATRICS Vol. 107 No. 1 January 2001, pp. 191-194
  12. Sam Jones (March 22, 2006). Media 'influence' adolescent sex. The Guardian.
  13. Kaiser Family Foundation
  15. National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, 14 and Younger: The Sexual Behavior of Adolescents, 2003
  16. Ponton, Lynn (1997). The Romance of Risk, 97, New York: HarperCollins.
  18. Why Gender Matters, Leonard Sax, M.D., Ph.D., 2005, Doubleday books, p. 128. See also comments made by Dr. Drew Pinsky on NPR's Fresh Air, September 23, 2003.
  19. Why Gender Matters, Leonard Sax, M.D., Ph.D., 2005, Doubleday books
  20. Why Gender Matters, Leonard Sax, M.D., Ph.D., 2005, Doubleday books, page 136. See also Mike Males, Adult Liaison in the Epidemic of Teenage Birth, Pregnancy and Venereal Disease, Journal of Sex Research, 29:525-45, 1992.
  21. [Les, et al] (1999). Early adolescent sexual activity : A developmental study. Journal of marriage and the family 61 (4).
  22. Why Gender Matters, Leonard Sax, M.D., Ph.D., 2005, Doubleday books, page 136. see also Sabo, Donald, et al (1999). High school athletic participation, sexual behavior and adolescent pregnancy: a regional study.. Journal of Adolescent Health 25 (3).
  23. Why Gender Matters, Leonard Sax, M.D., Ph.D., 2005, Doubleday books, page 131. See also Wyndol Furman and Elizabeth Wehner, "Adolescent Romantic Relationships: A developmental Perspective," in Romantic Relationships in Adolescence: Developmental Perspectives, ed. Shmuel Shulman and Andrew Collins (San Francisco: Wiley/Jossey-Bass, 1997), p. 21-36.
  24. Becoming Married and Mental Health: A Longitudinal Study of a Cohort of Young Adults, Journal of Marriage and the Family, vol. 58, 1996
  25. Close Parental Relationships Could Delay Adolescent Sex, HealthLink, MCW Health News, 09-13-2002
  30. Reichard, U.H. (2002). Monogamy—A variable relationship. Max Planck Research, 3, 62-67.
  31. Barash, D.P. & Lipton, J.E. (2001). The Myth of Monogamy. New York, NY: W.H. Freeman and Company.
  32. Research conducted by Patricia Adair Gowaty. Reported by Morell, V. (1998). Evolution of sex: A new look at monogamy. Science, 281, 1982-1983.

See also

External links


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