Most of us recognize this as the coded term for how many sexual partners an individual has had, but the emergence of TikTok users posting their body counts for millions of strangers to view and evaluate is once again reigniting our cultural debate on promiscuity.
Promiscuity, like beliefs on politics and religion, should be included in our list of metrics we use to gauge how well or how poorly we engage with a prospective mate. Though we may not realize it at first, dating someone with an abnormal amount of sexual experience could put a wrench in the works for a number of reasons.
Many women liberated by third-wave, postmodern feminism – among the majority of those falling into the TikTok trend seeking to “normalize” high body counts – would be quick to say that while they themselves hold no judgment for what other men or women do with their bodies, they’re unjustly condemned, usually by men, for their own histories. There might be some truth to this in a way. After all, we have a slew of disapproving terms we can use to describe promiscuous women (slut, skank, whore, etc.), but a man with an equal if not greater number of partners is often seen as admirable or fulfilling a masculine predisposition for casual flings.
We can debate the merits and disadvantages of promiscuity with both men and women and receive different responses from both sides, but we still might be left with the age-old question – who’s more judgemental of promiscuous behavior, men or women?
Sexual Double Standards
Society may be unkind to promiscuous women, but unfortunately, biology is too. Compared to a man, a woman is more susceptible to the difficult, but in some cases inevitable, consequences of a sexually casual lifestyle.
Men and women love differently, but on a fundamental basis, we also connect differently. This is meant to work toward our own benefit, but in most cases, it ends up backfiring and shooting us in the foot, especially when we examine these distinctions through the lens of casual sex. Men can have what we see as the quintessential “strings-free” sexual experience, while women are more prone to forming emotional attachments. One survey found that men reported that they felt “happier and confident” after a casual hookup, while the women who were surveyed said they felt “lonely, unhappy, rejected, and regretful.”
If a woman gets attached to a casual sexual partner, she bears the emotional burden of the fallout that might happen between them, as well as the possibility of an unplanned pregnancy. While both men and women can develop sexually transmitted infections, some left untreated in women can result in loss of fertility and other lifelong chronic health problems. Even though we have been trying for the last half-century to prove otherwise, women can’t have sex the same way men can.
Women have a higher disgust sensitivity than men, which plays a role in how we choose mates.
It’s only through calling for the dissolution of these double standards that we’ve magnified them, almost in a Streisand effect-like way. By bringing attention to how far we will go to prove ourselves equal or similar to men, even in our sexual habits, we’ve directly pointed out that hookup culture has negatively impacted women far more than it has men. Yet those who gain nothing from this lifestyle still remain some of its biggest proponents.
How Men and Women See Promiscuity
Women may still believe that we can have sex like a man – with the body count trend as a visible manifestation of that delusion – but that misguided assumption has only widened the gap between men and women and how we relate to one another, especially single men and women currently looking for wives and husbands.
A man may not want a sexually promiscuous woman for his wife, and vice versa, and as an individual he’s completely within his rights to seek out a careful and selective woman. It’s more challenging to see things from a male perspective, but as a woman, isn’t it difficult to date or fall in love with someone knowing they have an extensive history? What if he compares me to them? What if one of his past flings shows up again? Both of these are normal and even expected considerations when we’re dating an individual with a history of promiscuity.
Promiscuous women would argue that it’s men or the patriarchy who are punishing them for their casually sexual lifestyles. But several publications of scientific literature have found that it’s women, and not men, who are the most judgmental of promiscuity. Not only that, but women also punish both sexes more for promiscuous behavior. In one study, photos labeled “sexually available” and “sexually restrictive” were given to both male and female participants. Though both sexes regarded the sexually available subjects unfavorably, the female participants punished those subjects.
Women, compared to men, also have a higher disgust sensitivity. This difference plays a role in how we choose mates and even how we choose the food we eat. But this innate response within us also motivates us to judge promiscuity more harshly than we might think. Disgust sensitivity is thereby intrinsically related to our conceptualizations of sex, causing us to judge both promiscuous men and women more than men judge them.
The Bottom Line
When it comes down to it, it’s ourselves and not the patriarchy who’s supposedly setting women’s liberation back decades by condemning promiscuity. In most scientific literature, it appears that men don’t feel too strongly one way or another compared to women – but perhaps our perception of this is flipped because we hear male vocal opponents of it more than we hear vocal female opponents.
Selectiveness is a strength, not a weakness.
Promiscuity, or an individual’s inclination to give unrestricted sexual access of themselves to basically anyone, is a no-go for many individuals, and for good reason. Though the rallying call in this day and age is to normalize the abnormal and destigmatize the stigma around sexual indiscrimination, being sexually selective protects us, both physically and emotionally.
Selectiveness is a strength, not a weakness. Openness and willingness to engage in a profoundly intimate act with what amounts over time to hordes of strangers will be as debilitating to our sense of self as it will be in our search to find someone who truly accepts us. If we communicate that we’re willing to share that part of ourselves with any individual, how would the person we finally choose to be with feel any different?
Women are the most judgmental when it comes to promiscuity, perhaps because despite all the lies to ourselves and actions that indicate otherwise, we know the truth, deep down. Casual sex, hookup culture, promiscuity…call it whatever you want to, but it hurts us and damages us much more in the long run than being discerning and fastidious, and when we see other women flaunt or promote this broken logic, we innately know that it’s time to call BS.
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