We need to recognize there is both a healthy promiscuity and a deeply unhealthy sluttiness in today’s society.
Yes there is such a thing as “too slutty” but that line is actually way farther and different than where people traditionally have drawn it. Too often it has been drawn with fragile male egos punishing female sexuality. This creates a binary of “stud/slut” because men envy men getting laid more and despise women who get laid more than they do.
We need a better binary than “stud/slut” or “Madonna/whore” or “pure/slutty”. We need to strive for a balance between a healthy determination of multiple partners and knowing when our sexual urges are being given too much influence in our behaviour. And we need to stop shaming people for exploring that. It’s hypocritical, and leads to a ton of unhappiness in both men and women.
Let’s understand that binaries are tempting because they simplify the world into manageable camps, but boiling things down can be both unscientific and dangerous.
We all get on some level that things are often more complex than we can know or appreciate, and when we look at what we’ve been given it starts to make sense. There is a. Ton. Of. Bullshit to life that gets collapsed into a Kafkaesque hellscape of ridiculous social dances and nonsensical rules. And most of the time we carry on because it’s what we learned.
We can’t live without some sort of making sense of the world. We do this either automatically with knowledge we’ve received or we choose, on multiple levels, how to view the world in order to navigate it in a way that provides some kind of comfort, to at least not be buckled by the weight of the nonsense. It’s how we decide our codes and personal policies to live by. We reduce life, and often to the number of hands we have.
But we can do a lot of damage if we simplify things too much, or too little, or over to the Left or Right too far. We don’t ever seem to want to appreciate life as a complex spectrum or a range of experiences. We’ve developed whole cultures around simplifying life around the wrong things, the unhealthy things, British cuisine, misogyny and honour killing, consumerism, you get the idea.
This extends to sex too. Our ideas about promiscuity are informed by about 10,000 years of agriculture. Agriculture gave us property, and property gave us misogyny because in order to pass down property it required knowing who the father was and that required policing a woman’s sexuality. Women became property. In the Bible one of the commandments goes “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
Women were property, and for thousands of years there was extreme punishment for a woman being unfaithful. Yet, in spite of these thousands of conditioning, humans are still unfaithful. Humans like to fuck. Why is that?
Because for the majority of human existence, humans have been non-monogamous. This didn’t mean they didn’t have a husband or wife, since attachment can often be felt strongest for individuals we know, but that sex didn’t have the same attachments we give it today.
Or more appropriately, sex didn’t have the same punishments it does today.
Prehistoric humans, which make up the 99% of human existence from 10,000 BCE back to 5 million BCE when we split off from bonobos and chimpanzees, did not mate in monogamous relationships. In small bands it didn’t make sense to treat others as “your own” because that cultivated a selfishness that increased risk to the collective.
There have been things we have learned about human life that we take on face value, things like jealousy in a relationship. In the book “Sex at Dawn” by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha, jealousy and possessiveness, traits that indeed are universally felt and traditionally seen as the major emotional barriers to non-monogamy, are ultimately still traits that can be culturally exaggerated or minimized.
Some pre-agricultural societies actually go to great lengths to shame someone if they feel jealous of their lover’s multiple partners, which is the complete opposite for the modern world. What we’ve understood as universally felt we’ve culturally imposed on everyone everywhere else what we feel now, blinding us to our own biological history.
In many pre-agricultural societies, people could be coupled off, and there may have been an emotional bond bordering on what we call monogamy, but there was not an expectation of sexual monogamy. Sharing partners, or having sex with more than one person strengthened the bonds of the group because there was meaning behind it. These people grew up together, knew one another for many years, would hunt and gather together. “Meaningless sex” as we know it would be impossible. It wouldn’t even be casual because these are such close-knit groups that relied on one another for survival that sexual experiences would strengthen bonds and make them work that much harder for one another.
This isn’t even confined to pre-history. The ancient Greek city-state of Thebes had an elite group of warriors called the Sacred Band, made up of 150 male couples. These 300 crack soldiers were effective because their devotion to each other made them fight ferociously.
So there’s a group-strengthening component to sex. But wait, it’s about to get weirder.
We know from their contemporaries in primitive tribes all over the world with little to no interaction with modern Western civilization that sex in prehistoric humans was a semi-private affair at best.
Maybe people weren’t just having sex in front of each other but you can’t imagine that burlap curtain or wattle and daub wall did much to barrier the noises and sights. Apparently also, in prehistoric humans, there may have been an evolutionary function that was served by semi and public sex.
According to some experts, primate females would have loud cries during sex not only because it increases the pleasure of the experience for the parties, but also because loud sex noises attracted other males, who being turned on by the calls and watching the copulation would also engage in sex with the female, given her blessing ostensibly. It was an invitation to orgy that promoted a disgusting phenomenon called “sperm competition”.
This theory explains that both the number of orgasms a female can have and the typical duration before ejaculation that a male can have is based on an evolution that was typified by multiple sex partners that promoted evolutionary and social advantages. The male, whose orgasm comes all too soon, did his job adding sperm inside her. According to the theory, other males getting involved increased chances of better sperm.
This concept of “sperm competition” actually explains why gangbang and cuckolding porn ranks among Internet porn searches, and a study showed that the sperm of a man who ejaculated to gangbang porn is actually more “motile” (meaning active) than the sperm of a man who watched lesbian or just one-on-one porn.
Many men and one woman made for healthier offspring.
Ain’t that nuts?
In today’s world women are scorned for wanting sex with numerous men, let alone numerous men in one session. That’s why it’s in our pornography.
She’d be called a whore for forgoing her goodly woman function of bearing children and singing hymns or something. Yet our biology strongly suggests that what our culture prizes is in deep contradiction. And our happiness suffers for it.
A woman having sex with multiple men had at least two functions in prehistoric humans. Firstly, the lack of paternity meant everyone would have at least some part in raising the child. This is known as partible paternity. There are many parts of the world where kids roam freely, visiting others’ houses, referring to elders as “Auntie” and “Uncle”, and for many places of the world without paternity tests, the paternal father matters less than the people who raise the child.
In some pre-agricultural societies, there also held a belief that all women were, in a sense, born pregnant, that is, they already are a little bit pregnant, and the belief was the more sex they had the more the child inside grew, absorbing the qualities of the different men. Sex throughout pregnancy was not uncommon.
We know now that it only takes one orgasm from one man inside a woman to get her pregnant, but for how much of human history and prehistory and for how many communities did that take? Some groups may have had domesticated animals where they observed that one copulation could equal one litter or baby, but was that peer-reviewed and published far and wide in 15,000 BCE?
The second function was just as important: sex is bonding. A small group well-sexed can now concentrate on the other parts of life needing attention like hunting and gathering and wicker basket-making or whatever the hell.
Learning all this blew my mind.
The reason Chris Ryan and his wife Cacilda wrote their book “Sex at Dawn” was to make sense of the research that strongly indicated we humans evolved from promiscuous ancestors, and making the case that our living against our biology is what is driving so much unhappiness in relationships and sex.
I’m sad to say I was a world-class slut-shamer at one point, and a hypocrite about it. I had been supremely jealous (and envious) of previous partners’ sexual histories. I cringe now, but I did indeed shame a couple for it. Deep down I had classic FOMO (fear of missing out) and that if I couldn’t attain what they did, then they must be on the wrong side of things. In my mind, they and their behaviour, their conduct, must be rejected, for it was wicked, and alien to me.
It also made me feel less special, to think that this person whom I care for so deeply could possibly have had previous people in their bed that they didn’t care about. Was I getting the leftovers after they had all their fun? Will they cheat on me? Will they cheat on me with some fit Adonis that I could only imagine is my superior in every way?
I used to hate sluts. I thought my boyfriend was a slut, and that was a bad thing because, ultimately, it made me feel less special. Then after our breakup I loved sluts. Couldn’t get enough of them the doctors said.
Then I found religion. Or rather, slowly accepted that life is more complex than what received wisdom instructs, and that no matter who you are with, there is no one perfect sexual history, or sexual makeup. I slowly accepted that we are all alone in this world, despite our clawing at one another looking for “The One” hoping against hope that they will be everything you could want and desire, and that they would cap off or make whole the loose ends of your life. Tie the loose ends. Whatever.
There are PLENTY of people out there who have a deeply unhealthy attitude toward sex and promiscuity. There’s millions of guys who don’t know what they want but negotiate some fantasy in their heads. Maybe she’ll be slutty without being a slut? A good girl with a nasty freak side in bed? How common has that wish been? For the good girl with a freak deep inside her, begging to come out only when she’s found her white knight? That exists.
But since this girl only becomes hypersexual to the satisfaction of the male after he’s snagged her, we’re not dealing with reality anymore. There is intense misogyny of women exercising sexual agency. And it speaks more to the fragile male ego than it does for her.
But looking up synonyms for the word promiscuous you’ll find “fallen”, “whorish”, “slutty”. This is unfortunate, men who slut-shame have an attitude that is against human nature, and worse, are likely shooting themselves out of fun and fulfilment.
When “The Ethical Slut” came out, the authors Dossie Easton and Catherine Liszt tried to take back the word “slut” to mean “a person of any gender who has the courage to lead life according to the radical proposition that sex is nice and pleasure is good for you.”
Gays have already been living like this for many years. Our community is intrepid like that. Meanwhile straights are coming much later to the party. Christopher Ryan cites the fact that gay men have to reconcile their sexuality and come out, which is a process that by default would make the individual more sexually enlightened, or at least put them a little further along a spectrum of sexual intelligence that straights avoided by being given zero sex education and grew up with the expectation of being straight.
As much as I respect the work Easton and Liszt did, and all the other academics and sexual activists I think we need a word for dirty and reckless. I think we need the word “slut”.
Plus when a guy is on his knees I don’t want to call him “courageous for leading a life according to a radical proposition that sex is nice and pleasure is good for you.” That would be silly.
I abide by making the distinction between a healthy promiscuity and unhealthy sluttiness. Being promiscuous means you are still discerning a partner, short, medium, or long-term based on your Range of Compatibilities, possibly with one or two knowingly lacking.
Being a slut means you’re horny and want to fuck a vaguely moist hole or have some rando’s load inside you.
Rather than the binary of being somehow “pure” or “totally slutty”, we need to strive for a balance between a healthy determination of multiple partners and knowing when our sexual urges are being given a little too much influence in our behaviour.
I’ve met healthy promiscuous men. Men who were in a happy relationship where the couple was not totally sexually compatible, and they agreed he could pursue a friends with benefits situation outside of that relationship. I’ve met men who were not in a relationship because they were only in town for a few months, or had just got out of a relationship and still needed time to grow, or who were just happy being alone. They wanted to get to know you before sleeping with you. They wanted chemistry, and trust, and compatibility.
That is healthy promiscuity.
I’ve also been greeted by pictures of someone’s gaping asshole on Grindr and Scruff.
What I did to deserve this I don’t know, I must be cute as shit or something but the weirdest part is that it wasn’t meant to shock, but to tantalize and invite: a sly wink of a gesture.
I’ve had guys who just wanted you to “drop loads” in them. Fill them up with semen, front to back.
This is where the binary is hurting gay people especially. It makes us mistake that because we reject one side for being overly prude that the other side must be the liberating one. And that’s just not true.
We devolve other men into para-sexual experiences, that is, we boil sexuality down to the thrills of specific acts: Gay men who want cum on their faces, or to swallow a load, or to get fucked by a big dick, or fuck a tight hole, or get bred, and then they go looking for a “good enough” option for that day. Maybe, just maybe, that person will be good enough to stick around, become an ongoing arrangement, a lover, and eventually some sort of partner.
If this is fulfilling and liberating to you, then God bless. Is it sustainable? Science and common sense would say no. I am arguing that our culture needs a positive shift in how we approach sex because it takes years for cultural shifts to happen, and because there are real consequences, both emotional and physical, for continuing reckless practices for ourselves and our community. Reckless practices like unhealthy sluttiness and slut-shaming.