What Is Promiscuity?

Two men embracing while laying in bed together after meeting up using a dating app

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What Is Promiscuity?

Promiscuity is the act of engaging in sexual relationships with numerous people or of being indiscriminate about who you have sexual relationships with. A person who participates in promiscuity is known as promiscuous or behaving promiscuously.

In recent years, promiscuity has come to be used as a word to describe a person who fits a variety of different situations: They may rotate regularly through numerous sexual partners, and/or have one-night stands with partners they never see again, and/or sleep with people of various genders, just to name a few examples.

When someone describes themself or another person as promiscuous, you can discern that multiple sexual partners are involved in their life.

History of "Promiscuous" As a Label

The word "promiscuity" has been in our vocabulary in relation to sex since the year 1834, and "promiscuous" has been in use since 1857. When the sexual revolution, which was also known as the "free love" movement, occurred in the 1960s, it changed our attitudes about sex and partnership.

While it began as early as the 1800s, it wasn't publicly acceptable to have sex outside of monogamous marriage until that time.

Reasons for Promiscuity

There are many reasons someone might behave in a promiscuous manner, and it's perfectly normal for people to have periods of promiscuity throughout their life. Being promiscuous isn't a be-all, end-all identity, but rather, something you can resonate with at one period of life and not another.

There are both emotionally healthy and emotionally unhealthy reasons a person may be promiscuous. We will examine the differences between the reasons below. But first, these are some common ones.

  • You enjoy sex, feel powerful and free in your body, and enjoy sharing your body with others
  • You're questioning your sexual identity and want to explore different bodies
  • You feel physically dissatisfied having only one sexual partner
  • You recently got out of a monogamous relationship and want to capitalize on a period of being single
  • You've suffered sexual trauma, and sex with different people helps you reclaim your sexuality
  • You conflate being desired physically with being loved emotionally, and use sex as a substitute for love
  • You feel lacking in affection or love from your immediate family or partnership(s), and use sex with others to fight that feeling
  • You experience sexual addiction related to a mental health diagnosis

The Empowerment of Promiscuity

If you act promiscuously because you love sex, want to explore your or others' bodies or want to feel free and powerful in how you use your body, being promiscuous can be perfectly healthy. Even though society often places judgment on people who have casual sex, it is possible to do so in an emotionally healthy way, just like it's possible to have multiple sexual partners at once in a healthy way.

People also may desire to have multiple partners after experiencing life-changing events as a way to feel they're using their bodies for joy and pleasure. Examples of this can include the act of transitioning genders, changing body shape or size, recovering from chronic illness, leaving an oppressive relationship, or healing from a significant injury, whether physical or psychological.

Provided you're acting promiscuously as a way of celebrating your body and your freedom, and all parties involved are aware and consensual, there is nothing to be ashamed of about your behavior.

Promiscuity As a Coping Mechanism

Inasmuch as being promiscuous can be perfectly healthy emotionally, it can also be unhealthy. It all depends on your reasons for acting this way. If you're using sex with multiple people to feel loved, to get back at a partner or loved one, or as a result of a mental illness diagnosis, you could be putting yourself in harm's way.

After experiencing sexual assault, some survivors turn to alcohol as a coping mechanism. In turn, those survivors experience higher rates of sexual promiscuity. Because alcohol can lead to risky behavior, one study notes that "this maladaptive coping mechanism could help to account for some instances of revictimization."

Although a survivor may not look to be victimized again, using substances and sex as coping mechanisms could lead them to a dangerous situation.

If you're behaving promiscuously for reasons that seem emotionally unhealthy to you, it's worth taking the time to pause and consider your behavior. Some questions to ask yourself include:

  • Are you feeling stuck, or in need of help?
  • Is your promiscuity making you feel better, or worse?
  • Are you experiencing shame about your actions?
  • Do you feel high before or during sex, and low after?
  • Does the situation feel out of control to you?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, you would be well-served to look into getting some professional assistance. While any therapist is capable of discussing emotions, a trauma-informed therapist or a sex therapist will be particularly able to guide you through this time.

If you are a survivor of sexual assault, you can contact the RAINN National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to receive confidential support from a trained staff member at a local RAINN affiliate.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

The Importance of Exercising Caution With Partners

If you choose to act promiscuously and you're comfortable and happy with your motives, there is no reason for you to stop. That said if you're having a sexual relationship with more than one person, and they are also having relations with more than one person, your chances of contracting a sexually transmitted infection increase significantly.

The best thing you can do to keep yourself and your partners safe is to engage in safer sex. No matter what gender you are, and no matter what gender(s) your partners are, there are methods available to minimize the risk of passing STDs to one another. It's referred to as safer sex, rather than safe sex, because there's no way to remove risk completely when you're being intimate.

Be forthright with your partners about any other partners, and request the same of them. Get tested regularly, and engage in safer sex to reduce your risk of acquiring or passing along an infection or disease. Promiscuity can be conducted in an adult manner so that all parties are satisfied and made as safe as possible.

A Word From Verywell

You know what choices are best for you and your body. If you're feeling uncomfortable around your promiscuity only because you're being made to feel ashamed of your actions by others, know that you don't have to accept that behavior.

"Slut shaming" is the term for criticizing people (especially female-presenting ones) for being free with their sexuality, and you aren't obligated to listen to them. You have every right to draw boundaries around how others talk about your body and what you do with it.

3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Online Etymology Dictionary. Promiscuous | etymology, origin and meaning of promiscuous by etymonline.

  2. History Department, Princeton University. The origins of sex: a history of the first sexual revolution.

  3. Deliramich AN, Gray MJ. Changes in women’s sexual behavior following sexual assault. Behav Modif. 2008 Sep;32(5):611–21.

By Ariane Resnick, CNC
Ariane Resnick, CNC is a mental health writer, certified nutritionist, and wellness author who advocates for accessibility and inclusivity.