published Friday, March 2nd, 2012

Leber: Myths and motivations surrounding promiscuity

Here's a tip for all you aspiring relationships columnists out there: When you ask women to talk about their experiences with being a little bit, shall we say, overly friendly, you don't get a whole lot of response.

A reader, age 76, who calls herself a gray-haired grandmother, wrote in asking me "how and why young ladies (maybe I use that term incorrectly) think it is necessary to 'sleep around.' "

For the purposes of this article, I'm going to acknowledge and then set aside the gender-driven double standard of promiscuity.

Going back to the grandmother's question: Typical conjecture includes ideas like insecurity, societal double standards, desire to be popular. I've also heard "why not?" or "sex is fun."

Sometimes we're just given bad advice by well-intentioned people. One woman, to whom I'm quite close, once told me that men would not want to be my friend if they didn't at least think they would have a chance to sleep with me.

I'm not sure if the advice there was to be more of teaser or a pleaser, but I didn't really care for that particular line of counsel, thank you very much. A male friend advised me that to be affectionate, but not sexual, would earn me the label of "tease."

I'd like to think that, in my single days, I would have been called nothing worse than a "flirt."

I could have spent time trying to chase down psychologists and gender- studies experts to give me the academic perspective on promiscuity, but I was really more interested in getting information straight from the horse's mouth.

Like I said, not easy. Fortunately, one of my friends was brave enough to open up about a rather wild time in her life.

A horrible relationship in her early 20s lead to a period of promiscuity, in which she treated sex simply as an activity, or a game, she said, sometimes even using it to anger her ex by sleeping with his friends.

"Sex became less about showing love," she said. "Once you take the emotion out of sex, it's just an activity."

She said she felt good sometimes, because she was receiving a lot of attention from men, a phenomenon to which she was not accustomed. With a couple of her partners, she said, she ended up feeling "dirty."

"I slept with them for horrible reasons," she noted. "I regret it 100 percent."

In total, she ended up going to bed with about 20 different men in the course of eight years, she said.

My friend is a mom now. Her promiscuous phase ended about five years ago, when she began dating her child's father. The relationship didn't ultimately work, she said, and while she's dated three men since then, her sleeping around days are over.

"My life became about my kid and less about me," she said. "I don't have sex anymore. I'm not in a relationship right now, so there's no need. For me, it came down to it being an awful lot to risk for some mediocre sex."

about Holly Leber ...

Holly Leber is a reporter and columnist for the Life section. She has worked at the Times Free Press since March 2008. Holly covers “everything but the kitchen sink" when it comes to features: the arts, young adults, classical music, art, fitness, home, gardening and food. She writes the popular and sometimes-controversial column Love and Other Indoor Sports. Holly calls both New York City and Saratoga Springs, NY home. She earned a bachelor of arts ...

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