I’m really tired of hearing men talk about promiscuity as if it’s a concept that only women practice and as if having sex with multiple partners is somehow immoral.
Last night I went to a comedy show in a suburb of Minneapolis. One of the amateur comics of the night spent his entire set making jokes about so-called sluts and the history of sluts. While many of the jokes last night were what some might have called offensive, most were funny. Race, gender and sex are all relatively fair game when it comes to comedy. The best comedians are often those who are equal opportunity mockers. That being said, this particular man was not funny. Some things just aren’t funny.
1. (of a person) Having many sexual relationships, esp. transient ones.
2. (of sexual behavior or society) Characterized by such relationships.
Maddeningly, the man only ever referred to women as sluts or as promiscuous. There are a lot of things that bother me about this societal practice of criticizing women’s sexual practices while ignoring identical practices by men. I will start with the most obvious.
Promiscuity is not limited to what was formerly called “the fairer sex.” Men are just as apt to have “many sexual relationships.” To constantly refer to women as sluts and act as if men don’t do the same thing as these so-called sluts is horribly unfair and unequal. In fact, it’s flat out spreading falsity. Lying.
The man’s jokes about “the history of sluts” focused around women who could only be described as prostitutes. I’m not sure of the time periods for all the women mentioned, but they were mostly prostitutes over 100 years ago. That society so failed these women that their only resource was having sex for money apparently doesn’t matter. That being a promiscuous prostitute actually meant you were successful at your career doesn’t apparently mean a thing. That men during the same time period (1800s) who were promiscuous were assisting in the spreading of STIs, often to their naive and comparatively (to the men) innocent, virtuous wives, were not showing success in any fiscal endeavor and were not acting in a manner considered moral or virtuous at the time does not, apparently, signify in the slightest.These women were dirty sluts, and this and the imaginary sexual moves the comic made up for them are supposed to be funny.
The history of sluts should not be about prostitutes or geisha or women with “loose morals” because they enjoyed a sexual relationship outside of marriage. The history of sluts, if we’re going to stick with the negative connotation of the word, should be about men of all classes who spread disease and behaved abominably toward women, including the prostitutes they had sex with. I think royal princes dying of syphilis after first becoming raving mad because they couldn’t control their sexual appetites and used their power to force themselves on countless women is a heck of a lot funnier than prostitutes having sex and learning how to give pleasurable experiences.
Such jokes as this man made are problematic for another reason. He is spreading a negative view of sex, especially of females having sex. Plenty of the comics last night had a positive view of sex. Although it was at times vulgar, rarely was there a suggestion or implication that women should be demure and chaste. Rarely was there a suggestion that sex was a bad thing. This comic, however, managed to suggest all of that while still managing to make it seem far worse for a woman to have sex than for a man to do so. As if there wasn’t enough anti-sex rhetoric out there already!*
Promiscuity, while not always the best choice, is not inherently a bad thing. There are many people who are responsible, consenting adults who have many sexual partners. When proper precautions are taken, having multiple sex partners lacks any condemning characteristics. When condoms and other forms of birth control/protection are used, when people are forthcoming about sexual experience, and when people regularly get tested for STIs (and act on those test results when necessary), promiscuity or multiple sex partners is not a morally bad thing. Furthermore, you can hardly point to a difference between male promiscuity and female promiscuity (unless you want to go the evolution route, but then you’re more likely to agree with me on my above conclusion anyway. Alternatively, you could mention the whole women-can-get-pregnant thing, but in order to get pregnant from sex, you need a male so it’s a non-starter).**
You could certainly try to argue that promiscuity causes emotional issues, but I don’t see that as a valid argument. Everyone’s emotions are different – while a promiscuous lifestyle wouldn’t be right for me personally, I can by no means judge if it is emotionally a good idea for most other people.
Sex is not inherently a bad thing. Whether in a long-term, committed relationship, a marriage, a passing fling, an unorthodox relationship (such as polyamory, something I don’t entirely get, but whatever) or what have you, sex in itself is actually pretty great. At its best consensual, safe sex creates a physical bond that goes with the emotional bond in a relationship while also feeling really good, and at its worst it just feels really good.
I wish the house lights hadn’t been dimmed last night so the comic on the stage would’ve noticed the dagger eyes I was shooting at him. He almost ruined my night. If it hadn’t been for Nick Piontek’s set immediately after, the night wouldn’t have recovered!
*Rush Limbaugh, anyone?
**Thanks to Greta Christina in her “Truth Is Not Boring” post for reminding me what JT Eberhard says about the moral imperative we have to care about reality. If the reality of promiscuity is that it, by itself, causes no inherent evils, we cannot morally condemn it.