Sex + Love Advice

Ask a Sexologist: Are Women “Less Promiscuous” than Men because of Biology, or Societal Oppression?

July 19, 2017

It’s a common assumption: gay men fuck the most and lesbians fuck the least, with straight people falling somewhere in the middle. But is that true, and if so, why? Dulcinea Pitagora—sexologist and the creator of Kink Doctor—goes deep on this one!

Did you know there’s such a thing as a kink doctor? Me neither! Dulcinea Pitagora is a practicing sex therapist, doctoral candidate in clinical sexology, former professional dominatrix, and out kinky person. Goals? She’s also the creator and host of the new web series Kink Doctor, where she discuses stuff like coming out of the kink closet, good versus bad shame, and myths about BDSM. It’s funny and insightful—you should watch it! We’re happy to have Dulcinea as our guest expert on Ask Slutever today. Read and learn :)

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Dulcinea Pitagora; photo by Andrew Kist

Dear Slutever: I just read the article on Slutever, “Unraveling Female Promiscuity.” Recently, I had a chat with a group of friends about this topic—it was a mix of white straight people, gay men and lesbians. According to our limited empirical experience and our perception biases, lesbians were the least promiscuous, followed by straight couples, and then gay men. I wonder: are women less promiscuous as a consequence of female sexual oppression, or does it have an evolutionary explanation? Also, do you have any book recommendations on the subject? Thanks! Anna 

Kink Doctor: That was a great article!  But I have to say, I always have an adverse reaction to the word “promiscuity.” I feel the same when I hear phrases like “low sex drive” and “high sex drive” too—basically any word(s) used to describe sexual behavior that implies there’s a correct norm for sexuality.  So, just to clear the air, I’d like to say that whatever frequency or style of sex people have, it’s all good, as long as it feels good for everyone involved and everyone involved has consented to it.

To answer your question: I’m the type of sexologist that believes there are no easy answers to sexuality. There is not a simple evolutionary explanation. Evolution doesn’t happen in a vacuum, it’s contextual and subject to social influence, hence dynamic systems theory—in other words, the way humans develop is influenced by a combination of biological and social forces, not just one or the other.

You brought up something very important about bias, and I want to address that. You mentioned that the group having the conversation was all white, but mixed in terms of gender and sexual orientation. That particular mix of people is going to have a particular way of defining what promiscuity is, or even what counts as sex. Though I’m assuming you are a relatively progressive group that defines sex more broadly than classic penetration, another group with similar demographics might not. Oftentimes, people engaging in casual conversation won’t think to define such common yet potentially ambiguous words like “sex,” or wonder whether someone they’re talking to has a different understanding of something, though frequently people do. (For example, when I say the word sex, you can be pretty sure I’m referring to a range of activities than many people might not immediately imagine.) Also, if a given group is more the same or more mixed in terms of socioeconomic status and age, those factors would affect the conversation as well. And, oftentimes conversations happen with monogamy and binary genders as default assumptions running in the background, all of which can change how people might define promiscuity, and define what sex is. All of this to say, there are soooo many ways to have biases about things.

One more back track to my reaction to the word promiscuity, and your question about the sexual oppression of women—the reason I have such a strong reaction to that word is because it is loaded with an entire history of sexual oppression. Because of that, when most people hear the word promiscuous, they’ll subconsciously associate it with a woman, and it will have a negative connotation. Even the most sex positive slut-affirming person has been conditioned to experience language in this way, and it takes a hell of a lot of intentional work to undo. If the word promiscuous happens to be used for men (which it’s usually not), it’s often accompanied with a laugh and a shrug, like “Yeah of course they’re having a lot of sex, so what?!” Which is why there’s an assumption that gay men would be having the most sex—because more men must mean more sex, right?

Basically, language can be loaded with phallocentric oppression. For instance, sex has also traditionally been taken more seriously when a penis is involved, especially when the penis in question is penetrating something. So if we’re wondering who has the most sex, it’s almost impossible not to assume it’s gay men, since they ostensibly have the most penises (one per person but you get the idea). So when you talk about empirical experience and bias, it’s often buried so deeply in culturally curated definitions of sex that we usually don’t even realize where the bias came from.

Even that’s a bit reductive, because it’s not just the meso level of social and cultural influence that affects people’s actual frequency and style of sexual activity. There are micro level influences on sexuality that are biological, hormonal, and neurochemical.  There are still other macro level influences that are systemic and institutionalized—for example, men make more money than women, and this may or may not impact how frequently they have sex (def a conversation for another day).

Hopefully I’ve confused everyone just enough to want to have more conversations that deconstruct the typical way we think about sexuality. As for book recommendations, I’d say to check out Michael Aaron’s Modern Sexuality, Meg John Barker’s Rewriting the Rules, and Pat Califia’s Public Sex: The Culture of Radical Sex.

Check out Kink Doctor, and you can find their Indiegogo here :)

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