WARNING: The following post speaks of traditionally 18+ matters in a philosophical light and examines whether or not promiscuity is morally wrong. By going ‘read more’ you accept that the author (aka me) is not responsible for any offence he may cause you.
We all live life in different ways. Some ways may be less desirable than others but if one is making an informed decision on what it is that they want to do, then we cannot condemn that behaviour if it does not harm any other being that matters. I am going to argue that promiscuity is morally acceptable, and, therefore, that it would be morally wrong to condemn such behaviour. I am going to argue this on the grounds of the belief that freedom is indeed a good thing and that we really do act under some notion of the will. If it should be proven that either of these assumptions are false, then we need to seriously reconsider more than just that which shall be discussed here. Before we dive in, we need to make clear the terms that shall be used. Terms like, ‘promiscuity’, ‘love’, ‘intimacy’, and ‘sex’.
Frederick A. Elliston (Elliston, 1998) notes that the definitions of promiscuity as given by the available literature as unsatisfactory, he thus concludes its definition to be ‘sex with a series of other adults, not directly related through marriage, with no commitments.’ (Elliston, 1998). This definition is certainly closer to what we think of when we think of promiscuity. And I find no flaw in it apart from the age limitation it places. But that is cause for another essay as its outcomes do not affect our aim. Love is perhaps a trickier term to pin down as there are so many different takes on what it actually is. For ease of argument and in light of space, I shall define love as ‘the reluctance to leave another but the resolution to do so if that is what is best’. Love has a certain air of permanency, and very often, un explainability. This definition does not define love as being able to be directed at only one person. Nor does it demand that we understand the reasons for why we term that emotion ‘love’. What it does demand, however, is selflessness. When we truly love someone, we must be fully willing to sacrifice our own desires for theirs if that is what is needed. What we must do, is make clear the distinction between ‘love’ and obsession’. The latter of which can often be interpreted as the first but can be separated out due to its destructive potential. Love is necessarily constructive. How does this affect what we think about sex with another that you don’t love?
Love and sex do not have to overlap at all. They are independent factors that can be brought together by the intimate nature of the act but it is not necessary that they are. Intimacy here need only be defined as a sense of closeness to another person. It need not be physical, but it is, by its very nature, emotional. But not everyone places importance on intimacy and as they are free agents, we cannot condemn them for that. When I read a book or paper, I feel as if I can understand its author better. I become closer to them through the act of reading their work. Through an embrace with a friend, I am brought physically close to them and we strengthen our bond. Through intellectual discourse, we can be brought mentally closer to a person. What we can see from the act of reading, is that intimacy can be completely one sided. In an intimate act, two people are brought closer together but they need not feel any closeness, nor need that closeness be felt by both individuals if at all. And it is the exact same with sexual intercourse. There are multiple different forms of sex, it would be foolish t simplify it all into one lump category. Oral, anal, and vaginal are the ones most commonly heard of. So what is sex and what does it entail?
To my understanding, it is the stimulation of sexual organs by another. But perhaps this definition is too broad. Should it be refined to ‘the interaction of sexual organs?’ This limits the act of sex to be only penile-vaginal and according to the data found by Sanders (Sanders, 2010) is not the case. What Sanders found was that although oral contact with genitals was thought to be sex by 40.2% of participants, penile-anal intercourse was thought to be sex 81.0% of the time (Sanders, 2010). So both definitions seem to be missing something. Yet, for our purposes, we need only to conclude that not all types of genital stimulation can be regarded as ‘sex’. What this tells us is that promiscuity is a two-way process. The feeling needs to be mutual. So if one person were to remove emotional intimacy from the act of sex, then they must be up front about it and inform the other, ensuring that it is mutual.
If not every type of intercourse is classified as sex then we may need to refine on the definition of promiscuity a bit more. Implicit in the argument laid forth by Elliston (Elliston, 1998) is the idea that promiscuity is a life choice. In so far as it is good to allow people to make their own decisions, we should not restrict them to choices that they do not desire so long as any harm to others is consented (where it can be) and minimalized (if at all possible). Such a topic would not be complete without a mention of J. S. Mill’s ‘Harm Principle’ (Mill, 1869). In so far as it is debated, what I think we cannot disagree with is that causing harm to another is a morally bad thing to do. Without going into too much detail all I shall say is that if someone wants to inflict harm onto themselves (e.g. smoking), we are not obliged to stop them. If someone wishes to inflict harm onto another and they give their informed consent (e.g. boxing) then we are not obliged to stop them. There are several cases in which we may harm others and ourselves and the case of promiscuity is no different. Therefore, no one can claim on these grounds that promiscuity is morally wrong.
Intuitively, we think that sex for pleasure is morally okay as we do not scorn those who take preventative measures. But there is a stance somewhat counter to the utilitarian morality of harm. Vincent Punzo (Punzo, 1992), for example, argues for a morality of aspiration. He argues that non-committal sex depersonalises ones ‘bodily existence’ and that this is a form of debasement of intimacy. Therefore, if intimacy is something we should value, then the debasement of that is not something we should want. Furthermore, sex outside a commitment like marriage is not something we should aspire to. His point cannot stand. If we are going to accept a morality of aspiration then we cannot prescribe to people what they should aspire to be without limiting their freedom. If they then wish to be promiscuous, in so far as they do as discussed earlier, then we cannot make the claim that promiscuity is bad because it debases their intimacy. On the contrary, it has the potential to make some acts even more intimate and, therefore, more valuable, if we differentiate between different levels of sexual intercourse as one can assume we already do, looking at the results of Sanders’ study (Sanders, 2010). The less intimate an act, the less valuable it would be. All that this says is that promiscuity is a less valuable lifestyle but, nonetheless, a perfectly acceptable one provided that those who wish to partake in such a lifestyle make enough effort to prevent the wide array of harms that could incur from their choices.
We should only restrict ones’ choices when there is significant harm that could be done to others. There is not enough justification for the harm principle to allow us to call promiscuity morally unacceptable. And, as it would be wrong of us to prescribe to someone else what their desires are, we must accept promiscuity and sex with another whom one does not love as morally acceptable. If both (or all) parties give full disclosure as to their intention of non-commitment unless a child is produced (as one should do to share the responsibility of a child), if there also be no deceit involved as well as satisfactory measures for pregnancy prevention, then and only then, is promiscuity a morally acceptable lifestyle – granted that any harm is consented to is within acceptable limits (i.e. not murder).
Elliston, F., 1998. In Defense of Promiscuity. In: Philosophy and Sex. s.l.:Prometheus Books.
Mill, J., 1869. On Liberty. s.l.:Longmans, Green, Reader, and Dyer.
Punzo, V., 1992. Morality and Human Sexuality. In: Social Ethics: Morality and Social Policy. s.l.:McGraw-Hill Companies.
Sanders, S. H. B. Y. W. G. C. C. R. a. M. R., 2010. Misclassification bias: diversity in conceptualisations about having’had sex’. Sexual Health, Issue 7(1), pp.31-34..