Promiscuity  

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 This page Promiscuity is part of the human sexuality series Illustration: Fashionable Contrasts (1792) by James Gillray
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This page Promiscuity is part of the human sexuality series
Illustration: Fashionable Contrasts (1792) by James Gillray

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

In human sexual behavior, promiscuity denotes sex with relatively many partners. In polygamy it is distinguished from promiscuity.

Promiscuity is common in many animal species. Some species have promiscuous mating systems, ranging from polyandry and polygyny to mating systems with no stable relationships where mating between two individuals is a one-time event. Many species form stable pair bonds but still mate with other individuals outside the pair. In biology, incidents of promiscuity in species that form pair bonds are usually called extra-pair copulations.

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.

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Human promiscuity

What sexual behavior is considered socially acceptable, and what behavior is "promiscuous", varies much among different cultures, and within a culture different standards are often applied to people of different gender and civil status. In many cultures, while male promiscuity previously had glamorous connotations that acted as an affirmation of masculinity, female promiscuity was seen as a sign of emotional instability and loose morals in women.

These standards are not universal. Indeed, in some Germanic tribes in the first century BC (according to Julius Caesar in his Commentarii de Bello Gallico), it was scandalous for a man to have sexual relations before his twentieth birthday.

Accurately assessing people's sexual behavior is difficult, since there are strong social and personal motivations, depending on social sanctions and taboos, for either minimizing or exaggerating reported sexual activity. Extensive research has produced mathematical models of sexual behavior comparing the results generated with the observed prevalence of sexually transmitted illnesses (STIs) to statistically estimate the probable sexual behavior of the studied population.

The number of sexual partners an individual has varies within a lifetime, and varies widely within a population. In the U.S., a 2007 national survey had the following results: the median number of lifetime female sexual partners reported by men was seven; the median number of male partners reported by women was four. It is possible that men exaggerated their reported number of partners, women reported a number lower than the actual number, and/or a minority of women had a sufficiently larger number than most other women to create a mean significantly higher than the median. Twenty-nine percent of men and nine percent of women reported to have had more than 15 sexual partners in their lifetimes. Studies of the spread of STIs consistently demonstrate that a small percentage of the studied population have more partners than the average man or woman, and a smaller number of people have fewer than the statistical average. An important question in the epidemiology of sexually transmitted infections is whether or not these groups copulate mostly at random (with sexual partners from throughout a population) or within their social groups (assortative mixing).

A 2006 comprehensive global study (analyzing data from 59 countries worldwide) found no firm link between promiscuity and STIs, with poverty and mobility being more important factors. This contradicts other studies.

Global promiscuity

A 2008 US university study of international promiscuity found that British people are the most promiscuous in the industrialized world. The study measured one-night stands, attitudes to casual sex, and number of sexual partners.

Researchers said Britain's position on the international index "may be linked to increasing social acceptance of promiscuity among women as well as men". Britain’s ranking was "ascribed to factors such as the decline of religious scruples about extramarital sex, the growth of equal pay and equal rights for women and a highly sexualised popular culture". (telegraph.co.uk)

The top 10 ranking OECD nations with a population over 10 million on the study's promiscuity index, in descending order, were the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Australia, the USA, France, Turkey, Mexico, and Canada.

Another study that looked at promiscuity based on total number of sex partners found that Austrian men were the most promiscuous males in the world with 29.3 sexual partners on average, while New Zealand women were the most promiscuous females in the world with an average of 20.4 sexual partners. New Zealand was the only country studied where women averaged a higher number of sex partners than men.

One study found that people from developed Western countries were more promiscuous than people from developing countries in general, while the rate of STIs was higher in developing countries.

Male promiscuity

male promiscuity

A 1994 study in the United States looking at the number of sexual partners in a lifetime found that 20% of heterosexual men had 1, 55% had 2-20, and 25% had 20 or more. Early studies found men with homosexual contact were more likely to have a very large number of sexual partners, but a 1989 study found a very high number of partners (over 100) to be present but rare in that demographic. The difference was attributed to sampling problems with earlier studies, and the influence of AIDS.

The words "womanizer", "playboy", "stud", "player", "ladies' man" and "rake" may be used in reference to a man who has love affairs with women and will not marry or commit to a relationship. The names of real and fictional seducers have become eponymous for such promiscuous men. The most famous are the historical Giacomo Casanova (1725–1798), and the fictional Don Juan, who first appeared in the 17th century, and Lothario from Nicholas Rowe's 1703 play The Fair Penitent. James Bond and Captain James T. Kirk are famous fictional characters that can be considered womanizers.

During the English Restoration period (1660–1688), the term rake was used glamorously: the Restoration rake is a carefree, witty, sexually irresistible aristocrat typified by Charles II's courtiers, the Earl of Rochester and the Earl of Dorset, who combined riotous living with intellectual pursuits and patronage of the arts. The Restoration rake is celebrated in the Restoration comedy of the 1660s and the 1670s. After the reign of Charles II, and especially after the Glorious Revolution of 1688, the rake was perceived negatively and became the butt of moralistic tales in which his typical fate was debtor's prison, permanent venereal disease, and, in the case of William Hogarth's A Rake's Progress, syphilis-induced insanity and internment in Bedlam.

Female promiscuity

female promiscuity

A 1994 study in the United States found that almost all married (heterosexual) women reported having sexual contact only with their husbands, and unmarried women almost always reported having no more than one sexual partner in the past three months. Lesbians who had a long-term partner reported having fewer outside partners than heterosexual women.

Since at least 1450, the word "slut" has been used, usually pejoratively, to describe a sexually promiscuous woman. In and before the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras, terms like "strumpet" and "whore" were used to describe women deemed promiscuous, as seen for example in John Webster's 1612 play The White Devil.

Promiscuity privilege of female nobility

In some tribes of Sierra Leone, "A woman who is a Paramount Chief may have sexual intercourse with as many men as she pleases."

Nature versus nurture controversy

Evolutionary psychologists propose that a conditional human tendency for promiscuity is inherited from hunter-gatherer ancestors. Male promiscuity, they say, was advantageous because it allowed males to father more children.

Primitive promiscuity

Primitive promiscuity or original promiscuity, is the 19th century hypothesis that humans originally lived in a state of promiscuity or "hetaerism".

Extra-pair copulation in animals

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.

Two examples of promiscuous animals are the primates chimpanzees and bonobos. These species live in social groups consisting of several males and several females. Each male copulates with many females, and vice-versa. In bonobos, the amount of promiscuity is particularly striking because bonobos use sex to alleviate social conflict as well as to reproduce.

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Promiscuity" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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