The Question of Promiscuity, OR Ain’t Gonna Shame Ya

The stigma of having multiple partners is ubiquitous. It’s especially obvious in “normal” society with the standard tradition of monogamy or at least serial monogamy where people are expected to have only one sexual partner in any given time span. Sex positivity has been in my life (as I’m sure it has been in many others) a constant struggle to connect with and accept my own sexuality, to be true to that, to take it wherever it led me, and to stop shaming myself. “Slut shaming” is a term I hear a lot in feminist circles to refer to the negativity directed at women who claim their own sexuality, who are sexually liberated and confident about their bodies. For many years, there was a radical double standard where promiscuous men were “studs” and promiscuous women “sluts” – hardly breaking news, I know. The gap has closed. Unfortunately, it’s by shaming everyone, male and female alike.

I’ve even encountered this in non-monogamous circles (online and not), people with multiple crushes and interests (let alone actual sexual partners) being looked down upon and judged for it, the closed polyfidelitous sneering at those in fluctuating webs claiming that they are practicing “real polyamory” as if they alone get to define what this label should mean in an extrapersonal sense. Granted there aren’t many poly people where I’m currently living, but I do know some and have witnessed the sanctimonious dismissal (by individuals with 2 partners) of a mutual friend who has 7 partners. He’s clearly dirty and disease ridden, they say. And how can those connections be anything but superficial?

I’m still trying to figure out how I feel about these things. On one hand, judging a person harshly solely based on the fact that they have more partners than I do seems patently absurd. After all by this logic, my relationships are crap compared to the relationship of any monogamous person on the street as I at this moment have 4 partners by stricter definitions and would consider myself to have anywhere from 5 to 7 if you include people I consider romantically significant to me that I feel would be at least inappropriate friendships by monogamous metrics of such things. On the other hand, as much as it pains me to admit, time is limited. Money is limited. For some people (not me), libido is limited, so there is definitely a quantity issue, which can lead to a quality issue in certain circumstances and in certain hands. Not only that but it takes a lot of mental energy to really focus on people… I could see how juggling a lot of partners could lead to impersonal interactions. These are all pragmatics. And of course, sexually transmitted infections.

Of course there is risk involved in being sexual with other people. There is also risk involved in riding in a car or being exposed to secondhand smoke. We all determine what level of risk we’re comfortable with and act accordingly to minimize it in any way we can that jibes with our goals. In the way that you can decide not to date someone based on the fact that they smoke, you can veto someone for having too many partners. In the way that you can date a smoker but request they don’t smoke in your presence, you can request your partner take certain precautions with others or conform to certain rules. In either case, there’s no need to shame the individual. You’re just not comfortable with accepting that level of risk. They are, and it’s their right.

I wish I knew all the answers. Trouble is, sometimes I’m not even sure what the question is.

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