How Many Sex Partners Makes a Woman Promiscuous?

AskMen’s Great Male Survey brings a lot of interesting insights to light about the way men really think and feel about dating and sex, from how likely they are to cheat if they know their partner will never find out to if they would dump their girlfriend if she got fat to if they really think they know when a woman is faking an orgasm. The question that seems to be making the most waves, however, is how many partners it takes for a woman to be considered sexually promiscuous.

According to this year’s survey results, the number is 5. That’s right — if a woman sleeps with 5 or more partners, men consider her to be sexually promiscuous. Take a look at the results:

Survey results - at what point are women considered promiscuous

Without some sort of context for how women are reaching their 5 or more sex partners, that number is just flat out ridiculous. Okay, if a woman reaches 5 or more sex partners by having one-night stands or by jumping into bed with these men on the first date, then I can see where that might be considered promiscuous. But what about the women who have achieved these numbers over time with men they have built relationships with? Take, for example, a woman in her late twenties. She’s unmarried and has slept with 5 men. Is she promiscuous? What if I told you she was in long-term relationships with each of those men, with long-term being defined as two years or longer? Is she still promiscuous?

Despite how far we’ve come in terms of gender equality, women still face an unequal playing field when it comes to sex. Our culture still believes women should not want and/or have sex as much as men. In fact, I don’t think it’s a far stretch to say this survey illustrates that men still believe sex is primarily for their pleasure. After all, I suspect men do not consider themselves promiscuous if they’ve slept with 5 or more women.

Think of it this way, male readers: the next time you’re enjoying an evening of passionate sex with your girlfriend or wife, realize there is a large group of men out there who consider her slutty because of what she’s doing with you. It doesn’t matter if you’re monogamous or in love; if you’re her 5th or greater sex partner, she’s promiscuous. End of story.

Food for thought.

Love and years-long one-night stands,

The Slasher Chick

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15 thoughts on “How Many Sex Partners Makes a Woman Promiscuous?

  1. M says:

    Actually, I consider men promiscuous at partner #2. Same for women; no double standard from me. Please notice also that if I were asked that question on the survey, the best-fitting answer would still be the 5th partner, even though it’s way off my standard. The question has a built-in bias that I find disturbing.
    But knowing the meaning of ‘monogamy’ is from [monos “single, alone”] + [gamos “marriage, sexual union”], I don’t think anyone can consider that slutty, like you said.

  2. mindfraud says:

    I don’t think it has to do with how many partners a person has had. It’s more about their attitude to sex. Is it purely for pleasure, or does it have to do with those strange human emotions? I consider myself promiscuous. I considered myself promiscuous when I had sex with my second partner. I don’t consider it to be a bad thing..

  3. Tricia says:

    Mindfraud’s comment makes me want to write a thesis on his/her viewpoint. It’s a really thought-provoking survey…thanks for sharing it, Mika.

  4. The Slasher Chick says:

    I find it interesting that 2 commenters so far see even 5 as a high number of sexual partners. Out of curiosity, how did you both arrive at 2 as the number of partners that makes one promiscuous? And does context matter (like a one-night stand vs. a monogamous, long-term relationship), or is it just the number that makes you promiscuous?

    • mindfraud says:

      The number is definitely not what makes someone promiscuous. It’s the attitude towards sex. I have an acquaintance who, by a stroke of bad luck has had to move 3 times over the past 5 years. In each place she has had 1-2 sexual partners who were mostly in a romantic relationship with her at the time. She has had more sexual partners than I, and I don’t consider her to be promiscuous. She always waits 1-2 months before sleeping with her partner. I, on the other hand, have had 10 sexual partners. The number doesn’t mean anything. I am promiscuous without the number. Even if I had only slept with one person in my life, I would still be a promiscuous person.

      I arrived at the conclusion that I was promiscuous after 2 partners, because personally, that’s the point where I changed my attitude towards sex. I no longer saw it as a connection between two people, but rather physical need and want.

      • The Slasher Chick says:

        Well said. The absence of this kind of context in the AskMen survey is exactly what makes those results seem so outlandish to me. Context and (as you said) attitude are huge contributing factors to how people handle their sex lives. It’s not as simple as how many people you’ve slept with. Looking at the time frame of these sexual encounters, the reason for them (carnal pleasure or intimate connection?), and the situations in which they are taking place all contribute to whether you can label someone as promiscuous. To say there’s a black and white answer to that question is just outrageous to me.

        • M says:

          Along the spectrum of “carnal pleasure [to] intimate connection” as reasons for having sex, my opinion is that anything short of seeking intimacy qualifies as promiscuity. (You & Mindfraud seems to less-or-more agree on that, despite how much you’ll disagree with the following.)
          But if your reasons *are* for finding that intimate connection, then the black-and-white answer to me is that more than 1 is promiscuous. Maybe my standard for sex being intimate is more telling. To me ‘intimate’ refers to my deepest, inner-most being. And I don’t share that with several, occasional, romantic relationships, only to go through a break-up that leaves my innermost self flapping in the wind. My ex-girlfriends never shared that deepest part of me (deeper than sex), and now that they’re exes, I’m glad. I’d feel exposed, knowing that someone out there who doesn’t have a firm bond with me anymore still knows such deep, telling stuff about me.
          I don’t believe in casual intimacy. The apparent reasons for casual sex may be to find that intimacy, but they’re more guided by carnality under the illusion of intimacy, in my opinion. And that makes a mockery of true intimacy, which is worth far more than sex.

  5. Blake says:

    I think promiscuity is an antiquated concept that’s steeped in bias and drenched in misogynistic judgment. We all know there has long been a double standard between the sexes when it comes to sexual activity. When women express their sexuality, they are labeled promiscuous (which, again, I maintain is a loaded word filled with negative subtext) or sluts while men are simply considered to be sowing their wild oats.

    For a confirmation of this bias, look at the differing reactions the general public displays when it comes to teacher/student sex abuse cases. When an adult male teacher has sexual contact with a female high school student, everyone is aghast. Oddly, in most cases, they are not horrified because of the long-term psychological effects it will have on the student, but because the qualities of chastity, innocence, and naïveté that society deems as precious and necessary to well-adjusted women have been “taken” from her. She’s now somehow impure, unclean, sullied. They are not empathizing with her pain, but rather shaking their head in pity because she will never be able to attain the chaste womanhood society holds so dear. It’s important to remember that pity is not the same as empathy. To pity is to judge, to empathize is to care.

    On the other hand, when a female teacher abuses a high school boy, there is some perfunctory chatter about how it’s an awful situation, but the conversation invariably begins to change course. Some permutation of “I wish a teacher like that wanted to bang me when I was that age!” usually rears its ugly head. You see, there is no chastity litmus test for men in our society. They can be sexual with an older woman, and it’s just written off as one of those sexual experiences on the way to manhood. It’s a wink-and-a-nod moment. But I have news for you; both of these teenagers will suffer the same amount psychic trauma as they grow up. Sexual abuse is not about gender roles, it’s about forcing a human being into a sexual situation that their brain is not yet equipped to handle. When adolescents prematurely participate in sexual activity with an adult, they nearly always manifest issues with trust and boundaries as they enter adulthood. I think it’s important to ask ourselves why we pity the high school girl, and dismiss the boy. Once we can wrap our heads around that, I think we’ll better understand the overwhelming gender bias present in the AskMen survey.

    And why are we asking the readership of a men’s magazine about what they feel is appropriate behavior for women? The magazine is, essentially, asking men to judge the whole of the female gender and give them an arbitrary score of ‘slut’ or ‘saint.’ I don’t know about you, but very few women I’ve met fit neatly into either category. You might as well ask 1,000 children what it’s like to ride a tiger through the Serengeti. The quality of the results would be exactly the same because the frame of reference is so ridiculously wide that the data collected can’t possibly be remotely valid.

    By the way, when did we start letting men declare what is right and wrong when it comes to a woman’s choices? Would you ask men what the best brand of tampon is? Would you ask them whether a woman should douche? Even if you did, would you ascribe any credence to the results? I reject the entire notion that this type of poll can produce any worthwhile data — even as a curiosity. It’s like asking a thousand people what the best flavor of ice cream is and then declaring the flavor with the most votes as the flavor everyone likes best. Additionally, if you happen to be one of those people who DOESN’T like the agreed upon flavor, then you’re judged as lacking and immoral. I don’t care how many people vote for chocolate, if I prefer strawberry, then the poll is moot. The same goes for this ridiculous AskMen survey.

    I am also surprised at the strict binary thinking exhibited in the various comments to this post. It seems that if you have sex for pleasure outside a committed relationship, then somehow you deserve the label of “promiscuous.” But, if you have it within the context of “a loving, monogamous relationship” then you’ve somehow met the minimum requirements to escape being judged. I would argue that the number of partners you’ve been intimate with is the wrong metric. I think it’s all about the healthy sexual experiences you’ve had in your life. That number is different for every single individual, and no poll will accurately chart the data.

    Sexual trauma survivors often seek out multiple partners in order to subconsciously re-enact their trauma. Sex for them is empty and sometimes compulsive. I would say anyone who has participated even once in that damaging, horrible type of sexual experience should want to seek help and healing because the inability to connect to another human being is one of the worst hells one can experience. On the other hand, there are people who have had many sexual partners (either within the context of a relationship or as a one night stand) who are healthy, well-adjusted people who simply enjoy sex. The latter may have had partners, but the former is engaging in unhealthy compulsion. I’d rather be in the latter category any day of the week. If that makes me “promiscuous” then so be it.

    At the end of the day, the number of sexual partners you’ve had tells next to nothing about your sexuality. A high number may be an indicator that you have some issues to work out, or it may mean that you really enjoy sex. Furthermore, determining whether a person was exercising their sexuality within the context of a monogamous relationship also reveals very little. Manipulative, compulsive, unhealthy sex can happen within a committed relationship just as loving, healthy sex can occur in the course of a one night stand. At the end of the day, should we be more concerned with the number or the quality/healthiness of someone’s sexual experiences? I would say the latter is paramount, and there is no correlation between it and the former.

    Sexuality shouldn’t be about the past anyway; it should be about the present. If you’ve met someone you fancy, only YOU can decide what YOUR parameters for healthy, good sex are. You may feel most comfortable being in a monogamous relationship before you engage in sexual activity. Alternatively, you may find that you can have great sex after three dates. NO ONE, let alone a bunch of men guys that read AskMen, has the right to tell YOU what is healthy and/or appropriate for your sexual relations. That decision is between you and your partner.

    I’ve never had a partner directly ask me what my “number” was, but if one did, I would probably try to steer the conversation toward why she felt that particular bit of information was so important. Hopefully that would lead to a discussion much like the one we’re having here. It’s important not to fall prey to gloss and statistics that we’re fed on a daily basis. We are more than numbers. We are more than labels. We are human beings who seek out the company of other human beings — each one of us wonderfully different. How great is that! Don’t let a ridiculous survey con you into believing that you are anything but a unique individual who is capable of giving love and deserving of receiving it!

    • The Slasher Chick says:

      There are a lot of valid points in your comment, Blake. What stood out to me the most was your assertion that promiscuity should not be determined by whether or not a sexual encounter took place within a monogamous relationship. This got me thinking, so I actually looked up the word “promiscuous” in the dictionary, and here’s what I got:

      Definition of PROMISCUOUS

      1
      : composed of all sorts of persons or things
      2
      : not restricted to one class, sort, or person : indiscriminate
      3
      : not restricted to one sexual partner
      4
      : casual, irregular

      As you can see by the third definition, promiscuity is defined by having sexual relationships outside of a monogamous relationship. Keep in mind, this is just a linguistic analysis of the subject. What this doesn’t touch on is the negative connotation society has placed on this definition, and I think (correct me if I’m wrong) this is where you take issue. In other words, by definition you cannot “label” someone as promiscuous by counting their sexual partners, but they are by definition promiscuous if they are having sexual encounters outside of a monogamous relationship. Again, linguistically speaking.

      Does that make this right? No, not necessarily. And for me, this begs yet another question: Why do we care? I can speak for myself on that one — I care only for the women in my life who are important to me. I just want them to be happy AND healthy. If they are promiscuous but, as you assert is possible, are still having healthy casual sexual encounters, all the power to them. But if they are not healthy, and at this point in my life I have yet to meet a woman who has been able to have emotionally healthy casual sexual encounters, then there is cause for concern.

      Unrelated side: Thanks for taking the time to write such a well-thought out comment. That’s just flat out awesome.

      • Blake says:

        Thanks for taking the time to reply to my (admittedly rambling) thoughts. I am also grateful that your reply was civil and based in logic! You have no idea how rare that can be on a blog. I appreciate that.

        The dictionary definitions of promiscuity do seem to cover a large spectrum. Interestingly, I think I may interpret the third definition you cite differently than you might. “Not restricted to one sexual partner” doesn’t necessarily translate to “not restricted to one sexual partner at a time.” The way I read it (acknowledging the caveat that all dictionary definitions are subject to myriad interpretations), it simply means that someone has had more than one sexual partner at some point in their life. In other words, by the dictionary definition, someone who has been in two sequential monogamous relationships could also be considered promiscuous because they are “not restricted to one sexual partner.” However, we are probably splitting linguistic hairs and as you say, the academic side of the discussion probably isn’t as germane to your blog post as is the cultural angle.

        Promiscuity, at least in our culture, is never considered a positive quality. The word has never been used as a compliment in relation to a woman’s sexual proclivities. The term definitely carries a negative connotation as is evidenced by the context in which it was invoked by AskMen. After all, if we go by the dictionary definition, 100% of men would say a woman becomes promiscuous once she’s been sexually active with her second partner. However, that’s not the type of answer the survey question is designed to solicit. I think the question would be better stated like this:

        At what point does a woman become too slutty?

        That’s a more accurate portrayal of the salacious nature of the question. They’re not looking for men to answer with the dispassionate, dictionary definition of promiscuity; they’re looking for men to judge women on their sexual history and decide when THEY think women cross the line from acceptably amorous to carnally contaminated. The question reeks of sexism and, once again, asks men to define what is sexually acceptable for women. AskMen isn’t querying their readers for clinical, unbiased answers about the cultural role of female sexuality; they’re asking men to decide when it’s acceptable to call a woman a slut. I think there’s an important difference there.

        I get it. I’ve subscribed to Maxim, FHM, Details, and numerous other “men’s magazines” that offer the perfect paradigm of male-centric viewpoints. I’m not saying these magazines shouldn’t exist or even that men shouldn’t read them. I am saying that it’s difficult to have academic discourse about the information published in the pages of those magazines because the provenance of the data can never be extricated from the data itself. The findings of such polls are always tainted by the bias and coloration of their context.

        You and I are probably not that far apart on this particular topic. I too hope that the women in my life are able to engage in healthy, satisfying sexual encounters. And I’m even willing to admit that, in my personal experience, men AND women seem to have more satisfying sex within the context of a relationship. That’s not necessarily because of any biological imperative or hormonal cocktail, but because our culture (informed by our Judeo-Christian history) places a very high value on monogamy. Other cultures don’t have the same value system and, therefore, their populations have a lower rate of monogamous sexual interactions. Who’s to say they are more or less healthy and happy when it comes to their sexuality? But, that discussion is for another time! Let’s just focus on our own culture since that’s where the AskMen poll found its survey respondents.

        I guess at this point I would echo what I said above which is to say that other than being a great springboard for a discussion such as this, the AskMen poll is completely without merit. Anyone who chooses to assign a number (whether it be 1 or 100) is participating in a process that is both flawed and built on fallacy. By accepting the rigid, inflexible framework AskMen requires you to operate within, you’ve already lost your shot at coming to any sort of truth.

        We all love statistics and charts because we infuse them with the magical power to quantify infinitely complex concepts as bite-sized chunks of trivia. But human sexuality is an extremely complicated confluence of many different variables. It can’t be expressed as a three page expose in a men’s magazine. AskMen is asking you to sum up the entirety of a woman’s sexuality by assigning her a number. That’s ridiculous. You wouldn’t expect a biologist to sum up Darwin’s theories on evolution by answering one question. You wouldn’t expect a physicist to explain string theory in one sentence or less. So why are we willing to not only define whether or not a woman is a slut, but judge her on whether she is sexually healthy, simply by assigning her a number? It seems rather ridiculous doesn’t it? We are willing to armchair indict millions of women we’ve never met simply because they exceed an arbitrary number we’ve assigned them. That’s not only lunacy, it borders on hubristic condescension.

        Think of all the women you are condemning as unhealthy and unhappy when you assign a number (and by proxy, credence) to this poll. Every woman who has participated in sex work is a slut. Every woman who experimented once too often in college is a slut. Every woman who grew up in a family that didn’t put the same emphasis on monogamy that the rest of society does is a slut. It adds up. Before you know it, you’ve diagnosed hundreds of thousands of women as being unhealthy, unhappy, and promiscuous without ever having met them. That’s quack science.

        You mentioned that in your experience, among your close female friends, none of them have been happy and/or felt healthy with they’ve engaged in casual sexual encounters. Have you considered that this phenomenon has less to do with your assumption that your friends are an accurate microcosm of women in general, and more to do with the fact that we all tend to choose friends who share similar backgrounds and value similar mores? We tend to bond with people who have congruent ideas on social issues, which include politics, ethics, and mores (among others). It may be that you’re finding similarities in how women in your life react to non-monogamous behavior because you’ve surrounded yourself with women who feel the same as you do about those encounters. Please don’t take that as a dig at you because we ALL do it (myself included). I just think it’s important to expand beyond what we’re familiar with in our everyday life and realize that there are many other people who live very different lifestyles than we do. It is possible that there are women who enjoy healthy, consensual sexual dalliances without adverse effects. It would be a disservice to those women to label them as sluts just because they exceed a number that AskMen has asked us to assign them.

        Furthermore, I guarantee that any married man who answered that question with a number of “5” has a special exception for his wife if she has exceeded five partners. That’s the really interesting thing about these types of polls. When people are asked to answer questions about large, nameless, faceless groups (such as “all women”) they tend to answer more harshly. When they are asked about specific, smaller, targeted groups of people or individuals (particularly if they are familiar with them), they tend to be more lenient. For example, we saw that 34% of men said that a woman becomes promiscuous after five partners. Now statistically speaking, we know that at least some of those men are either married to or in long term relationships with women who have had more than five partners. So, while they may be willing to answer “5” on AskMen’s poll, they may answer differently is they were asked this question:

        Would you consider your wife/long term partner promiscuous?

        Again, I have to believe that none of them would answer “yes” to this question even though, in a separate poll, they said “5” was their magic number. This because when a faceless group (“all women”) becomes personal (“my wife”), attitudes change. They are willing to say “all women” are promiscuous after five partners, but not “my wife” (who has had more than five partners). This is an amazingly widespread form of bias that can’t be corrected for in these types of polls.

        I think it all comes down to this: it’s impossible to use a numbering system to categorize the billions of sexual experiences millions of women have across the thousands of miles of country. We are so much more complicated than that. Every woman in the United States could write VOLUMES about her sexual identity, sexual proclivities, and sexual behaviors. Even after reading hundreds of pages about a SINGLE woman, you still would not have scratched the surface of her sexual motivations.

        I’ll wrap this up by saying that I have a lot of respect for you, Mika. This is a great blog and I feel like it is a privilege to have a forum where I can express these opinions. I have an amazing amount of respect for you, and I hope you keep up the great work. You bring a lot to the table and I look forward to reading future posts!

  6. Sid says:

    I had sex with fifty women before I was married. Disease free. I wish I could have added the other fifty I didn’t have sex with, but could have.

  7. SlitBanger says:

    In todays society its ok for women to fuck like sluts. Why? It all comes down to our physiological differences. Men do not have an object, in the case a penis, inserted into them. Men see the act of sex as making the woman “theirs.” Most men are repulsed at the thought of another guy inside his girl. So the fewer dicks she’s taken the better. Now the manginas above need to grow a pair and quit trying to be feminazis. Men stop hating men!!!

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