Thursday, April 30, 2009

Doc Queen Sexversates

Dr. Carol Queen recently spoke to a group at the Oxford Union debate society about promiscuity (read about it on her blog) and we’re glad she took time to join our Sexversation® too! Here's what what Dr. Queen had to say about say about promiscuity-

What constitutes a woman as being promiscuous? What about a man?

As a sexologist and a sex-positive feminist, I'm very uncomfortable about the notion that promiscuity would be defined differently based on someone's gender. But I know, of course, that society does just that. So let me tackle my gender-neutral definition first, with some commentary, then go on to gendered ways of looking at it.

A pretty value-neutral definition of a promiscuous person would be one who has sex with various partners, not one sole monogamous relationship. (Over the lifespan, of course, since few of us are life-long monogamists any more, you could say even more of us are promiscuous than might otherwise identify that way!) Within this definition you'd need to consider people who are polyamorous (have multiple partners, but consider themselves to have committed relationships with all of them); people who have a circle of "sexual friendships" (gay men sometimes call these relationships "fuckbuddies"); people who have sex with many people for a specific reason, like prostitutes having sex for money (they may think of this as work as distinct from other sexual and relationship choices they make); and people who will have sex with anybody they feel like having sex with.

Generally how gender plays into this is that women are culturally allowed less freedom in this realm than men before they're accused of being "sluts" or other disparaging terms. When guys sleep around, they're "players," "studs," or "sowing their wild oats." When women do it, the "boys will be boys" tone is gone. People of any gender might choose to have multiple, casual sexual connections for many reasons -- curiosity, arousal, and seeking to enhance personal connection and relationship are three pretty positive reasons to do so, and there are also problematic ways this can play out in someone's life, like having poor boundaries and low self-esteem and seeking validation only through sex (not to mention the way drugs and alcohol sometimes make sexual decisions less true choices).

So women's promiscuity tends to be defined around whether or not she's having sex to foster a relationship; culturally, women's sexual experience is best accepted within a relationship context. Just wanting to exercise sexual freedom and curiosity is less accepted for women, though there are certainly subcultures where this is more accepted today -- my community in San Francisco, for one. Historically, women's sexual exploration has been more controversial and punished than men's: two examples are the furor over 19th century feminist Victoria Woodhull's call for sexual freedom, and the mid-20th century controversy over Kinsey's report on female sexuality, which was much more damning than the one he did about men (and basically led to the end of his career). But my perception is that people of any gender are attracted to the idea of sex with multiple partners, if they ARE attracted to it in the first place, for similar reasons: they're attracted, they're curious, they want variety. As I point out in my post below, promiscuity is the best sex education many of us ever get in a society that does not choose to give its youth really good, useful sex education.

No comments: