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In human sexual behavior, promiscuity refers to casually between many partners.[1] Behavior includes sex with partners that are not one's spouse. Promiscuity is usually considered ethically incorrect. It is common in some animal species. It should not be confused with polygamy. Human male heterosexual promiscuity is often referred as womanizing.

In biology, incidents of promiscuity are usually called extra-pair copulations.

Human promiscuity[]

What sexual behavior is considered socially acceptable, and what behavior is "promiscuous", varies much among different cultures. Behavior that is considered promiscuous for a married or unmarried individual in one culture may be considered acceptable in another culture. Within a culture, men and women are not necessarily held to the same standards. For example, a man may or may not be considered promiscuous for engaging in sexual activity with someone he was not married to, even in cultures where a woman would be considered promiscuous for the same behavior.

Accurately assessing people's sexual behavior is difficult, since there are strong social and personal motivations, depending on social sanctions and taboos, for either minimizing or exaggerating reported sexual activity. Extensive research has produced mathematical models of sexual behavior comparing the results generated with the observed prevalence of STDs to statistically estimate the probable sexual behavior of the studied population.

The number of sexual partners an individual has varies within a lifetime, and varies widely within a population. In the U.S., a 2007 national survey had the following results: the median number of lifetime female sexual partners reported by men was seven; the median number of male partners reported by women was four. Twenty-nine percent of men and nine percent of women reported to have had more than 15 sexual partners in their lifetimes.[2] Studies of the spread of STDs consistently demonstrate that a small percentage of the studied population have more partners than the average man or woman, and a smaller number of people have fewer than the statistical average. An important question in the epidemiology of venereal diseases is whether or not these groups copulate mostly at random (with sexual partners from throughout a population) or within their social groups (assortative mixing).

A 2006 comprehensive global study (analysing data from 59 countries worldwide) found no firm link between promiscuity and sexually transmitted diseases.[3] This contradicts other studies.[4][5]

Male promiscuity[]

The words "womanizer", "player", "skirt-chaser" and "rake" may be used in reference to a man who has love affairs with women and will not marry or commit to a relationship. The names of real and fictional seducers have become eponyms for such promiscuous men. The most famous are the historical Casanova (1725-1798),[6] and the fictional Don Juan who first appeared in the 17th century, Lothario from Nicholas Rowe's 1703 play The Fair Penitent. James Bond is also a fictional character that can be considered a womanizer.

During the English Restoration period (1660-1688), the term rake was used glamorously: the Restoration rake is a carefree, witty, sexually irresistible aristocrat typified by Charles II's courtiers, the Earl of Rochester and the Earl of Dorset, who combined riotous living with intellectual pursuits and patronage of the arts. The Restoration rake is celebrated in the Restoration comedy of the 1660s and the 1670s. After the reign of Charles II, and especially after the Glorious Revolution of 1688, the rake was perceived as negative and became the butt of moralistic tales in which his typical fate was debtor's prison, permanent venereal disease, and, in the case of William Hogarth's A Rake's Progress, venereally-caused insanity and internment to Bedlam.

Female promiscuity[]

Since at least 1450, the word "slut" has been used, usually pejoratively, to describe a sexually promiscuous woman.[How to reference and link to summary or text] The terms "slag", "trollop", "skank", "ho", and "slapper" are also used across the English-speaking-world to describe sexual promiscuity in a woman.

In German, the word Schlampe is roughly equivalent in to the English term, slut, in describing a promiscuous woman.

Nature versus nurture controversy[]

Main article: Nature versus nurture

Evolutionary psychologists propose that a conditional tendency for promiscuity is inherited from our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Male promiscuity, they say, was advantageous because it allowed males to father more children. Female promiscuity, on the other hand, is said to have allowed female ancestors to have children with superior genetic potential.

Primitive promiscuity[]

Primitive promiscuity or original promiscuity, is the hypothesis that human race originally lived in a state of promiscuity.[7][8][9][10][11]

Extra-pair copulation in animals[]

Further information: Animal sexual behavior

In the animal world, some species of animals, including birds such as swans, once believed monogamous, are now known to engage in extra-pair copulations. Although social monogamy occurs in about 90 percent of avian species and about 3 percent of mammalian species, investigators estimate that 90 percent of socially monogamous species exhibit individual promiscuity in the form of extra-pair copulations.[12][13][14]

Two examples of promiscuous animals are the primates chimpanzees and bonobos. These species live in social groups consisting of several males and several females. Each male copulates with many females, and vice versa. In bonobos, the amount of promiscuity is particularly striking because bonobos use sex to alleviate social conflict as well as to reproduce.

See also[]


  2. New survey quantifies the sex we’re having MSNBC
  3. Wellings K, Collumbien M, Slaymaker E, et al (2006). Sexual behaviour in context: a global perspective. Lancet 368 (9548): 1706–28.
  4. Promiscuity fuels spread of HIV/AIDS BBC
  5. Relation between sexual promiscuity, drugs abuse and HIV infection in Buenos Aires, Argentina. study available at National Library of Medicine
  6. Julie Coleman (1999). Love, Sex and Marriage: A Historical Thesaurus, Rodopi. ISBN 9042004339.
  7. Westermarck, chap. 3 p. 103-4
  8. Bachofen, Das Mutterrecht, pp. xix-xx, 10
  9. Bachofen, Antiquarische Briefe pp.20-
  10. McLennan, Morgan, Lord Avebury, Giraud-Teulon, Lippert, Kohler, Post, Wilken, Kropotkin, Wilutzky
  11. Bloch, Iwan Sexual Life of Our Time, pp. 188-194
  12. Reichard, U.H. (2002). Monogamy—A variable relationship. Max Planck Research, 3, 62-67.
  13. Lipton, Judith Eve; Barash, David P. (2001). The Myth of Monogamy: Fidelity and Infidelity in Animals and People, San Francisco: W.H. Freeman and Company.
  14. Research conducted by Patricia Adair Gowaty. Reported by Morell, V. (1998). Evolution of sex: A new look at monogamy. Science 281 (5385): 1982–1983.
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