Promiscuous sex can be born of despair or of youthful experimentation. For teenagers, it is often a phase before they settle down and commit themselves to one special person.
The last few decades have seen an astonishing increase in sexually permissive attitudes in the West. More widely available contraception and more explicit discussion of sexual matters in the media have been accompanied by a marked increase in pre-marital and extra-marital sex.
Promiscuity can best be defined as fairly frequent casual sex and distinguished from ‘standard’ sex in that it is relatively indiscriminate. It can take place without love and even without friendship. Its goal lies either in sexual release or in the notching up of a new conquest, not in the beginning of a serious relationship.
A passing phase
Many young people go through a promiscuous phase in their lives. Youth is a time when young men and women tend to experiment with a number of different partners. Sexual expression is new to them and there is so much to learn.
But in the normal course of events, as adolescents grow into young men and women, they begin to look for more stable and longer-lasting relationships.
Only a small minority of people choose to remain promiscuous throughout their adult lives. In the transition period between promiscuity and fidelity, people may practise what is known as ‘serial monogamy’ – several partners but only one at a time.
Fear of commitment
Relationships take time to establish. If they are to succeed, they demand a degree of caring and commitment from each partner and a mutual appreciation of each other’s qualities. It is often the person who is unable to make this sort of commitment, either because they are too young, too bruised emotionally or too anxious about proving something about themselves, who is likely to behave in a promiscuous fashion.
The reasons for promiscuous behaviour are as varied as the people who do it. For some people, it may simply be the search for sexual experience and confidence. For others, the attraction lies in the excitement of discovering different people’s bodies and pleasures – and promiscuity affords them a means of satisfying their strong sexual urges.
As a refuge
Sometimes, however, motives are more complex and unconscious; promiscuous behaviour can then result in confusion and despondency.
There are those, for example, who, because of unhappy experiences in childhood, are searching for the affection they feel they missed. Sex affords them a temporary release from loneliness, a sense of being close to another human being, but it is never enough. They turn from one partner to another, but the encounters just reinforce their basic feelings of emptiness.
Of all activities, promiscuous sex is one of the least likely to provide the kind of reassurance unhappy people need. It may well leave them feeling even more lost and unloved.
Among older people, the motives for bouts of promiscuity may be different. Occasionally quite conservative people who have always been ‘monogamous’ find themselves seeking comfort in a stranger’s arms. It may be that something drastic has happened in their lives, such as bereavement or divorce, which has left them aching for solace.
Often, apparently strong and stable people reach a point where they suddenly feel unable to handle emotions. They need to be reassured that someone cares, even if only for a night.
For a change
In a lighter vein, a promiscuous relationship may simply occur because the opportunity presents itself, perhaps away on a business trip or on holiday.
At times people feel ‘stuck in a rut’ and want to do something radically different to break out of it. At such times, it may be that, for them, a short promiscuous phase may herald changes in different directions.
There are always the sadder cases of those men or women who embark on an endless succession of sexual encounters, not because it brings them pleasure, but because they are anxious about their own sexuality and popularity.
Such anxieties about sexuality are far better sorted out with the help of a trained counsellor or therapist or within the context of a loving relationship.