On Promiscuity and self esteem

Untangling the issues.

Do poor self-image and promiscuity go hand in hand, it's an excellent yet unfortunate question. The easy answer of course is yes, however I believe there are serious and strong societal factors that have led many of us to this belief. Here is my view.


First and foremost, let's be very clear about the terms I will be using.

Mirriam-Webster defines promiscuity as:

1 : miscellaneous mingling or selection of persons or things : indiscriminateness
2 : promiscuous sexual behavior

In this instance, indiscriminate is defined as follows:

a: not marked by careful distinction : deficient in discrimination and discernment

Here is the first problem with how this particular issue is discussed. There is often the assumption that a woman who has multiple sexual partners must not be discriminating in choosing those partners most likely because she has issues.

In this conversation I take serious issue with the assumption that a woman who has multiple sexual partners is assumed to be suffering from a low self image or that she cannot make smart and healthy decisions to keep herself from contracting STI's or having unwanted pregnancies.

In my mind this discussion needs to be reframed without the slut shaming and with a different vocabulary.

Instead of assuming that the woman with mulitple sexual partners is in fact being (as the dictionary defines it) promiscuious, I believe it would be far more valuable to simply state that someone has made the decision to have multiple sexual partners.

In and of itself, having multiple sexual partners can be done in a smart and healthy way. If someone is educated about safer sex, committed to regular STI screenings, and has the ability to establish for themselves what is right is just fine. All too often the issue of how many partners someone may or may not has, gets tangled with the bigger issue of how they are choosing those partners, whether or not they are engaging in safer sex and what their motives may be.

I believe that we have to untie that particular knot to really get to the heart of the issue which is, women who engage in unsafe behaviors because they have a poor self image.

Personally I believe that a poor self image is the larger and more pressing issue.

When it comes to women who are engaging in unsafe behaviours due to low self esteem, I very firmly believe that education is the key. Women need more than ever these days to love themselves.

Everywhere we go in (I'm using American society as I am an American) our society, it's right there. You are not good enough. Perhaps you're too fat, you're breasts aren't big enough, your skin isn't right, you don't drive the right car etc etc. Until we can start making a serious and concentrated effort to reject those messages and start realizing that we are valuable and capable, then we will start repairing the damage.

Many women once they figure out that they are worth respect and love, sexual choices become clearer.

I also believe that for women to feel better about their sexual choices and decisions, we need education. We all need to learn that regardless of what sexual choices we make those do not devalue us as human beings. If you make a choice, and that choice is not shamed or judged to be incorrect, I will bet money you're next choices are going to be ones that are good for you.

As the adage goes, knowledge is power.

When we have knowledge we can make informed decisions. When we know our worth, we can make good decisions. Unfortunately it's not just an inward process. Society is not working with us on this, we're not working with each other as autonomous human beings on this.

After all that, I do believe that some women think so low of themselves that they will allow anyone to do anything to them, that they believe that their self worth is wrapped up in who will sleep with them and this is a tragedy. I think women who's self image has led them to this place don't need to carry around words like promiscuity and indiscrinateness on their backs. I think they need help.

Being that too often things like therapy are not within the reach of many people for economic or cultural reasons, I think it's important that we share resources. I think instead of just shaking our heads when someone is doing something we might not do, we should talk. We (when I say we I mean men, women, those in-between and neither) should start teaching each other. 

To sum up, yes I believe there can be a correlation between low self image and promiscuity as framed by the original question.

I also believe that promiscuity as framed here can be a small part of what's going on with someone and that it's far more important to deal with their low self esteem rather than who they are having sex with.

And I also believe that if a woman makes a conscious decision to have multiple sexual partners that there is nothing inherently wrong with that.

Low self esteem can drive us to do many terrible things. Eating disorders, plastic surgery addictions, bad relationships, self harm, depression just to name a few. And we have to help each other, we have to learn how to love ourselves enough to make those good decisions no matter what they may be.

Comments 22 comments

S Lynn Mitchell profile image

S Lynn Mitchell 7 years ago from Las Vegas

Excellent, thorough, and informative answer! This is exactly what I was getting at.

You said, "All too often the issue of how many partners someone may or may not has, gets tangled with the bigger issue of how they are choosing those partners, whether or not they are engaging in safer sex and what their motives may be." Excellent point!!! As I stated in my original retort, I was not talking about people with multiple partners--I was talking about women who randomly give themselves to anyone who shows attention (and yes, I have seen this). Your illustration was perfect. Consenting adults are free to have as many partners as they wish--what is important is that they act responsibly.

My question DID ask "am I missing the mark" and there is always another point of view that I could be missing. I thank you, whole-heartedly, for your response/hub that expanded the thought process from its original fishbowl. You both confirmed my statement/conclusions AND elaborated on a valid point of view that could very well dispute it. It's all a matter of perception as well as the motive behind the participants. Thank you for expanding MY horizons.

I must also compliment you on your presentation of the point of view. It was very well written/spoken and brought to light several of the other effects of low self-esteem. THIS was the conversation I was hoping to invoke. Again, thank you very much. I must say you hit the nail right on the head!


Shannon Said profile image

Shannon Said 7 years ago from Seattle Author

Thanks for putting the question up. I enjoyed putting some of my thoughts down. And thank you for being open to a differeng point of view. I really appreciate that.


Karraline profile image

Karraline 7 years ago

That was really pretty good! thank you. I got the feeling that you were very objective about it all.


Tom 6 years ago

What about the woman that sets up a primary partner to provide the material support and then passes herself around on the sly, essentially taking the "bill payer" as a fool?


Shannon Said profile image

Shannon Said 6 years ago from Seattle Author

Tom I approved your comment however, what you bring up is an entirely separate issue. Using someone for monetary gain and being promiscuous are two different things. If that is something you'd like to discuss I'd suggest starting your own topic thank you.


Jessica 6 years ago

i absolutely love you you are a respectful and beautiful woman


Sterling Sage profile image

Sterling Sage 6 years ago from California

Excellent; I was going to write a response but you expressed my own point of view beautifully.

Thank you for your thoughtful and respectful hub.


Pagoda99 6 years ago

For women, there is no difference between consciously having multiple partners and being promiscuous. Women and men are hooked up differently and any attempt to equate them in terms of sexual promiscuity is pure rubbish. Here is the real deal:

According to men, there are two types of women in this world - those who you have casual sex with and those you marry, settle down and raise a family with. The promiscuous ones either change their wandering ways or risk being picked last, usually by a guy who is a loser and has no other choice. If this happens, the relationship is usually marred by disrespect and distaste especially if the man is aware of the woman's past. Good solid men just don't marry sluts. And, for those of you who think the same thing applies to men, you are dreaming. Men are pigs - they are able to disassociate sex and intimacy, they can have multiple sex partners and this is revered by their men peers. A men psyche, in general, is not damaged by this. A woman's psyche, unfortunately, is.

A woman who is promiscous is most definitely suffering from low self-esteem. They want attention, they want to feel loved and this the way it manifests themselves. They often end up in unsuccessful relationships because they have no choice, only losers want them, or they reject so-called good guys because they don't feel worthy of their love. Also, if they continue to have sex and act like they are men, the sex act for them becomes routine or a release and loses its' intimacy making successive relationships far less likely to work.

The moral of this story: Don't marry a woman with these issues. She will exhibit self-sabotaging behaviour eventually and it will ruin her future relationships. This behaviour may even be subconscious in nature. I once knew a woman who was very slutty and had cheated on her husband with a guy who played on her ball team. After a ball game, they had drinks at this guy's place and every one left, she returned and slept with him. I asked her why she did this and she couldn't tell me. She asked herself the same question. She felt guilt after but she still did it, knowing it was wrong.

That is it folks. The unabashed truth of it. I welcome commments over course.


Shannon Said profile image

Shannon Said 6 years ago from Seattle Author

Pagoda I approved your comment however, I find your tone and apparent lack of having read what I actually said repellent.

If you had paid attention to what I said, you'd note that I did not mention the biological differences between women and men but that I was talking about the differences between making healthy sexual decisions and non healthy sexual decisions. Your comment is an example of my issue with how female sexuality is framed in our society and treated with ignorance and disrespect.

Additionally the discussion of societies double standards about the treatment of promiscuity is an entirely separate thing that has nothing to do with the topic at hand. If you want to discuss that I suggest you write your own article on the subject.


Sterling Sage profile image

Sterling Sage 6 years ago from California

Shannon, re pagoda's comment, I agree with the sentiment of your response. I would like to add that the comment shows how men's sexuality is "framed in our society and treated with ignorance and disrespect," just as women's sexuality is.

Sexist stereotypes of both genders live in the minds of both men and women. They are complementary illnesses in our collective psyche. I think we need to treat sexism as sexism in every case, whether directed at a man or at a woman, and whether expressed by a man or by a woman.


Pagoda99 6 years ago

Shannon, I assure you I did read your article and I am of the belief that you simply cannot separate the biological issues out of the discussion of promiscuity and self-esteem. It is necessary to discuss gender differences to fully understand how promiscuity affects male/female self-esteem differently.

Sterling: Do you not acknowledge that some stereotypes are framed by some past events that hold some truth? Is it not a truth and a "stereotype", that young men who sleep around are considered "studs" by their peers and young women who do the same are called "tramps"? Is it not a truth and a stereotype to say that most men are able to separate the sex act from love on some level, while most women find the sex act more linked to intimacy and emotional connection? Let's be real here. Don't ignore what is happening, yes work to change it, but don't turn a blind eye to what actually occurs. We don't live in Utopia. This is a judgement laden society we live in and you need to understand that sexism exists. Should we work toward reducing it? Yes of course, but it will ever completely go away. I prefer to have a discussion that is grounded in reality.

In the meantime, I would encourage parents to make sure their daughters are raised to respect themselves and their bodies and not go about sharing themselves with multitudes of men. This type of behavior, for women in particular, is psychologically damaging, will determine who they attract as a life partner and play a pivotal role in the success of their future relationships. Now you can bash me for not being politicaly correct, but let's remember that our children are not growing up in fantasy land.


Shannon Said profile image

Shannon Said 6 years ago from Seattle Author

Actually Pagoda you did not appear to comprehend the thrust of what I'm saying. You'll notice I was not talking about biological differences between men and women nor did I discuss male self esteem because I am not male and can't speak from that perspective. Also, the discussion of male self esteem and promiscuity is an entirely separate discussion from this one in this context.

Promiscuity can be damaging, but that damage is mitigated entirely by a woman having a solid foundation of sexual knowledge, self worth and agency.

Regarding the double standard, it would go away if people like you could separate your own personal feelings about sexuality from sexuality at large and that of other people. If we gave children solid knowledge based knowledge about their sexuality without judgment. If we taught children how to respect other human beings more effectively, if we taught our children that this double standard is wrong yes it would go away.

Unfortunately though, our society is as yet still so fearful about sexuality it's going to take a miracle.

I would encourage parents to become knowledgeable about sexuality in as far as understanding that sexuality is not a binary thing, in understanding that no matter what they decide they cannot decide how their child's sexuality is going to play out as they get older. I would encourage parents to create an open and honest dialogue about sex and sexuality without judgment.I would encourage parents to make sure their female children grow up with a strong sense of self, sense of agency, understanding of how their bodies work.

I would encourage parents to understand that the only way anything in society is going to change is if our children learn different things than we did. The only way any of these things is going to change is that people who are parents or of the age to be parents, realize that we are not always correct and that we set an example by continuing to educate ourselves and show the next generations that things can change via dialogue and action.


Pagoda 5 years ago

"Promiscuity can be damaging, but that damage is mitigated entirely by a woman having a solid foundation of sexual knowledge, self worth and agency."

Seventy-five percent of female sex trade workers - pornography, prostitutes, etc. - have some form of sexual abuse in there past. How can you possibly say that promiscuity is not damaging and a product of a destructive, abusive chldhood? You gloss over promiscuity like it is no big deal when it is clearly a product of something horrific especially in women.

And you can never ignore biological differences when discussing sex because biology is behind everything with regards to male, female sexuality. It forms a basis, a constant.

We all need to stop living in a fantasyland. The world is harsh and judgemental and it isn't going away in our lifetime. Don't let you daughters be judged adversely by their behavior. Don't limit their ability to find a good man to marry and raise children. Teach them not to be promiscuous.


Shannon Said profile image

Shannon Said 5 years ago from Seattle Author

Pagoda I approved this comment however given that you are clearly displaying a lack of interest in what I'm actually saying I'm going to disengage from talking to you about this.


Cartoonella 5 years ago

The one piece that got left out of this discussion - societal imperatives in a culture run by men. Men control the culture, and as pagoda said, they punish women who express their sexuality in any way that goes against the script. Having multiple sexual partners doesn't mean a woman has issues - in fact much research indicates that women have the potential biologically to be as promiscuous as men. It's men who punish women for this behavior, however, and since women want to survive in this culture, they buy into the notion that sex is only permisable inside a context of intimacy and a committed relationship. It's been more important for women to avoid censure than to express themselves sexually. To continue to claim that there's a fundamental biological imperative at work is mistaken. There might be, but no one has been able to prove that this is so. Humans are endlessly mysterious, and the relationships between men and women are too. This is an area to be approached with care, objectivity, even wonder. Shannon gets closer to that approach than Pagoda, but I was interested to hear both viewpoints.


Kat 4 years ago

Hmm, what troubles me about pagoda's comments is the sweeping generalisations. They simply do not work in reality. People who believe in these sweeping generalisations often think they do e.g. Oh well a women who displays "male" sexual behaviour characteristics is an exception who has a "male type" personality and vice versa.


Marie Minton 4 years ago

Wow. So glad to read this article - we NEED conversations about this; they are too rare. Conversation is exactly what I have been asking for around this issue...please read my blog: Post-Promiscuous and Low Self-Esteem? It Get Better @ http://marieannminton.blogspot.com/


Goober 4 years ago

Maybe someone has said this before: You are a lot less credible as an author when you misspell knowledge.


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