Posted by: mzbitca | February 28, 2009

Mental Health and Promiscuity

I currently work within a community mental health center.  My area focuses on Alcohol and Drug Counseling (which is needed seeing as how where I work is in the Top Ten of  Heroin Deaths per Capita in the Nation).  There are many things that I enjoy about my work.  I believe it gives me perspective.  I have learned to be grateful for many basic things and I also have been able to put issues in perspective a lot better.  When you hear about a mother who is struggling to make ends meet while dealing with a nine year old child who self harms themselves to the point of permanent damage, the annoying neighbors really aren’t a big deal.  Also,  due to the services we provide I am usually surrounded by pretty liberal and socially conscious people.

However, even in this environment there is one area that has always troubled me and that revolves around the concept of promiscuity as diagnositic criteria.

My first and biggest problem with this is that I have NEVER heard this brought up as a symptom of mental illness when discussing a male.  It is always something that is brought up about a female.  I can’t help but assume that this is linked to the belief that “excessive” sexual activity is normal for a man and not a symptom of mental illness while no “healthy” woman would engage in or enjoy casual or alternative styles of sex.  I also think it is linked to the belief that women are the only ones that have sex with other people due to low self esteem or possibly in a reckless manner because they have some self-destruct tendencies.  See, sex is damaging to women, they can’t just enjoy casual encounters or engage in sex purely for self-satisfaction: they must be wounded in some way or they must be wrongly searching for the intimacy they so desire.

The second issue  that bothers me is who decides promiscuity?   Is there a specific number, types of activities, the way they describe it?  Or are there just assumptions that must be made on the part of the therapist as to what they consider “healthy”.  I do agree that some type of mental conditions may lead people to engage in unsafe/unhealthy sexual behavior.  But I am reluctant to qualify that as promiscuity.  Intentionally forgoing contraception or admitting that sex is not done for enjoyment can be something to talk about and work on in therapy but, in this case, the client is the one admitting and owning the problematic behavior.  My issue focuses around a client talking about sexual behavior and the therapist deciding it is improper.

The basis for my discomfort is that I don’t believe we live in a society where women are truly viewed as sexual beings with all the autonomy and desires as men.  I am afraid that the internalization of woman as searching for intimacy and relationships will color too many minds from seeing that sometimes women just like sex and that it has little or nothing to do with their mental illness.  Also, there are issues of race that must be taken into consideration.  Any stereotypes the therapist may or may not hold can affect the way they view the women in front of them and how they describe their sex life.  Also, any possible views about alternative sexual lifestyles can skew the necessary objectivity that’s required in therapy.  Understanding the appeal and functionality of BDSM relationships would be necessary to fully understand what may be going on in the sex life of a bottom or top that comes in for therapy.  All in all, I would be more comfortable with the concept of promiscuous behavior not being  a valid criteria for a mental health diagnosis.



  1. […] original post here: Mental Health and Promiscuity « What a crazy random happenstance Categories : Mental […]

  2. Ah I so agree with you! Are we women ever going to be able to just go out and have enjoyable non-committed sex when we want to without being judged and stereotyped? I agree that sometimes this behavior is unhealthy and damaging to women but that should certainly be looked at on a case-by-case basis. There are also men who are out there having dangerous, unhealthy sex (on both emotional and physical levels) but no one thinks anything about this. God forbid a woman should do it though. Thank you so much for this article. I’m going to share it with my friends.

  3. […] See the strange post:  Mental Health as well as Promiscuity « What the funny pointless happenstance […]

  4. […] See the rest here:  Mental Health as well as Promiscuity « What the funny pointless happenstance […]

  5. A better diagnostic criterion would be something like “compulsive promiscuity”. I have known a few individuals who participated repeatedly in sexual acts with various partners even though they were not deriving pleasure from it. It was the compulsiveness of the act, not the nature of the act itself, that made it problematic.

    • I don’t have an issue with qualifying it as another aspect of compulsive behavior or risk-taking behaviors. My biggest issue is that promiscuity is a term that requires the therapist to make an assessment on what is “more” than normal. If a client admits that they have sex not because they want to or enjoy it but because they feel compelled too, that’s an issue to talk about. My concern is when I hear therapists respond that a client is promiscuous because they talk about having a new sexual partner or they have one night stands, and also that it’s often times used to describe women.

  6. There are also men who are out there having dangerous, unhealthy sex (on both emotional and physical levels) but no one thinks anything about this. God forbid a woman should do it though. Thank you so much for this article.

  7. Yes, thank you for this article indeed.
    Good to hear this from a healthcare professional.

    To blurt out some personal experience: Ive always had lot sof sex, sometimes random, often without any intimacy.

    In my teens, that was definitely unhealthy; I got myself into stupid, murky situations, I had sex I didn’t really want, once or twice even unprotected. And that was an issue, one of many I had.

    Now, at 30, I’m still having lots of sex, sometimes random, often without any intimacy, and I take good care of myself. I negotiate well, I’m always, safe.
    And that’s just good clean fun.

    Mental or not, I’m just a very sexual person, and most of the time that’s a good thing.

  8. […] Mental Health and Promescuity. […]

  9. My first and biggest problem with this is that I have NEVER heard this brought up as a symptom of mental illness when discussing a male. It is always something that is brought up about a female.

    I’ve never even heard the word applied to a man, ever!

    (Good reading, thanks.)

  10. […] Mental Health and Promiscuity « What a crazy random happenstance However, even in this environment there is one area that has always troubled me and that revolves around the concept of promiscuity as diagnositic criteria. […]

  11. I’m not sure what the man-bashing is for — it is clear that there is a correlation between promiscuous behavior, or having lots of sex, and mental issues. that is not to say that there aren’t people who are more sexual than others, it is merely to say that there is a higher cross incidence of people who are hypersexual and have mental illness. and yes that goes for men too. if there’s an issue with this only being applied to women then that is its own separate issue.

    • J

      I’m not sure where you’re getting man bashing? I also state right away that my biggest issue with this is that it’s often NOT applied to males and that is why I have an issue with it. How can it be relevant to a diagnosis if it’s only applied to one sex. I am not denying that there can be increased sexual activity due to mental illness. However, I am not comfortable having that be a symptom as I feel that is something that is hard to qualify and separate a therapist’s own views about sexuality

  12. Here via FWD. This really strikes home for me—I’ve had to fight tooth & nail to make my mental health professionals understand that being non-monogamous, queer, not having their definition of “sex”, etc., is NOT pathological. In their minds, there are only a few very narrow models of sexuality that are “normal”, acceptable, and healthy, and anything outside of that must be proof that you are broken and must be fixed.

  13. […] What a crazy random happenstance * Mental Health and Promiscuity […]

  14. Thank you for this article! I have read a few articles about “promiscuous” behavior being an indicator of BiPolar Disorder and didn’t consider that the term promiscuity can be very subjective. The more I consider this, I think making a determination about whether someone’s sexual activity is normal and healthy is not only skewed by gender, but can also be skewed by age and cognitive development. Teenagers, for instance, while having the drive for sexual activity, don’t have the cognitive and emotional maturity to make good decisions about sex. In terms of development, a teen’s impulsivity wouldn’t be so much an indicator of mental illness, as it would be an indicator of incomplete brain development in the area of impulse control. What’s sad about this is that many girls who engage in sexual activity have preconceived notions that their sexual desires are “bad” and that it makes them bad and out of that notion, they cut themselves off from talking about it and sorting through their experiences to even discern what is healthy vs. nonhealthy for themselves.

  15. Its when people do it even though they dont really enjoy it when they use it like a antidepressent and not just as a plesurable normal sexual behaviour. Its about the emotions that are behind it such as doing it too boost self esteem even though it actually makes people start to feel less value for themselves

  16. When you talk about promiscuity it really depends on the numbers of sex partners and the circumstances. If you’re having large numbers of random partners in risky situations with no protection there is no way that is healthy for you and I find it hard to believe people can really enjoy that lifestyle for a long period. I believe it is unhealthy for women or men, however many women tend to bond more with sexual activity due to hormones and they also tend to feel a need for emotional connection, so they are usually more harmed by this type of sex activity if they pursue it. There is still definitely a double standard for women who have more sex partners.

    Many people who have high numbers and risky behaviors do have sexual abuse history, other abuse issues and bipolar and other mental disorders. I know something about this from observing the behavior patterns of my x who I believe from things he said to me was abused by men as a child/teen and who after being monogamous with me for a long period, and lying to me about his desire to have multiple partners, has abandoned me and is now pursuing a polyamorous lifestyle with random partners and no protection as far as I know. He is in an open relationship with a woman who he had sex with the first night they met and who also has a desire for random sex partners.

    I will never become involved with anyone who leads this lifestyle as I believe it is unhealthy for so many reasons. I can only hope that he was faithful to me and that he didn’t infect me with something as I have had chronic problems since our sexual relationship. The damage done to me by an unstable polyamorous person desiring a random sex life may never be fully repaired. I have severe trust issues and ptsd from what he has done to me emotionally.

    As Katie said, I believe my x uses random sex which he equates with “love” for thrills and as a bandaid for emotional pain.

  17. This article sounds like a throwback to the nineteen seventies. Anthropologically women and men are different . . . all the talk in the world won’t change that . . . and why would we want to? Promiscuity isn’t good for people, men women, gay, straight–it indicates a lack of value for oneself. The desire, the feeling is neutral, acting on one’s impulses, regardless of any potential consequences is not neutral, it’s wrong–not morally, not legally, not any of that, but wrong because it doesn’t ultimately make people feel good. In particular for teens, they view sex the way they view going to the bathroom, eating lunch–they have said to me “it’s normal, if I feel it, I do it.” Anyone who uses sex to soothe, to distract, because he or she is bored, because they give in to an impulse will ultimately see that they are on a downward slope to self loathing. It’s not a male female issue, it’s a human issue. Get with it and stop the bra burning stupid rhetoric.

  18. Thank you so much for writing this. There is so much writing on the web about the evils of promiscuity and how women who engage in non-monogamous sex must be damaged (and for that matter, damaged goods). It’s nice to find a rational article that doesn’t push toward hysterical morality.

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