I have had sex with 37 men. Whether or not this qualifies as being promiscuous in the modern age is up for debate, but suffice it to say that I’ve had enough sex with enough men that I’ve forgotten some of their names (assuming I ever knew them).
American culture is chock full of flattering words and metaphors for men who openly and notoriously practice this kind of sexual behavior: “ladies’ man,” “skirt-chaser,” “Lothario,” “playboy,” “stud””¦all commonly used in a jocular context to celebrate said man’s sexual prowess and potency. By contrast, words used to describe women with a prodigious posse of sex partners are tinged with allusions to danger or immorality: “siren,” “temptress,” “Jezebel,” “whore,” and “slut.” While attitudes towards female sexuality have become increasingly liberal over time, they still tend towards a conveniently chauvinistic dynamic in which women are only encouraged to be sexual to the extent they are willing to be passively engaged with (and implicitly coerced by) a virile, dominant man. The concept of women being assertive, even ambitious, in cultivating fulfilling sex lives is still often looked upon as a vice or an aberration.
Since the mid-20th century, American Feminists have vigorously opposed this unequal characterization of female sexuality, often taking it to the opposite extreme. By railing raucously against any judgment regarding female sexual behavior ““ practical or moral ““ imposed by a male-dominated society, they have seemingly attempted to shift the paradigm instead to one in which all sex is value-neutral and the presumed validity of individual impulses is paramount. While encouraging (sometimes insisting upon) uninhibited expressions of female sexuality, they sometimes eschew attempts to actually analyze and understand women’s sexual choices and behaviors.
To me what is most conspicuously missing from prevailing conceptualizations of female sexuality – including from a lot of typically reactionary Feminist discourse – is a frank acknowledgment of the ways in which having multiple sex partners benefits women.
Having strolled around the block a few times, I would detail them thusly:
Most of us remember the first time we had sex as one of the more awkward and confusing experiences of our lives. And that’s only if we remember learning to walk, otherwise it’s probably at the top of the list. No matter how many resources we consult prior to the act ““ books on sexual anthropology, detailed descriptions from friends and older relatives, pornography furtively studied in basement family rooms ““ there is little that can prepare us for learning how to use body parts that have been largely ignored from birth through the better part of two decades. What’s more, we are rarely prepared for the psychological and emotional reactions we will have to using them or for the highly intimate level of interaction it requires having with the person on the other side of the bed/couch/back seat/hay loft.
It is nearly impossible to develop a true appreciation for how one’s mind and body will react to a given stimulus purely through abstract reflection. In order for a person to properly gauge the relative risks and rewards of any potential sexual encounter ““ or really any decision at all ““ one must be able to answer two questions as precisely as possible: How good could it be? How bad could it be?
As with most decisions we must learn to make as adults, there is little that can substitute for personal experience. The more limited ones frame of reference, the more difficult it is to answer those questions with any kind of meaningful accuracy. When I was first wrestling with the decision to lose my virginity I recall my father telling me sagely, “Sex can be the most significant connection two people can share”¦and sometimes it’s as simple as a handshake between friends.” Since then I have indeed had sex that made me question whether God himself had designed mine and my lover’s bodies for that very purpose in fulfillment of some sacred Universal imperative. I’ve also had sex that made me question when I’d last changed the battery in my smoke alarm and if perhaps it wouldn’t be better to use 45 watt bulbs in the bedroom. I have learned to recognize the difference between compliments and coercion. I’ve learned the telltale signs of selfish, ineffectual and belligerent lovers. I’ve learned that I am incapable of reaching orgasm in an environment that is below 65 degrees Fahrenheit. I have learned how to decline oral sex gracefully (both giving and receiving) and exactly how nauseatingly lonely and embarrassing it feels to offer up affection that is unreciprocated.
One best learns to appreciate one’s boundaries by testing them. A woman who has had many lovers is not only likely to be more aware of her own deal-breakers and desires, but as a result she is better attuned to whether a given sexual opportunity presents promise or peril.
The ability to size a man up quickly ““ and yes, you eventually get pretty good at predicting that too ““ also provides an unparalleled source of confidence for a woman operating in a male-dominated culture. For starters, once a woman has been with a handful of men intimately she begins to understand precisely how little meaning dominant standards of beauty have in the forgiving and enchanting light of the boudoir. That is to say: ain’t too many men on Earth gonna turn down a titty, whether it’s big, small, perky, floppy or plaid.
While there is something to be said for the modest blush of inexperience (something, it should be noted, that can always be faked and even re-summoned in earnest later down the road) most of us who have passed the point of much caring whether our stomachs look flabby from certain angles would never go back. We’ve had the satisfaction of watching a man rush eagerly between our dimpled thighs as if they were the Pearly Gates themselves. We’ve laughed while lovers have happily tapped out playful rhythms on our backsides, whether they’re more snare drum or timpani. We’ve accepted the fact that the better the sex, the more we will begin to resemble Donkey from Shrek“¦ and frankly it’s a small price to pay.
Knowing you have the ability to enthrall a man even at your sweatiest and wobbliest, stripped bare of all external defenses, is nothing less than transformative. It allows a woman to shed some of the psychic weight of constant self-doubt about her attractiveness (both personal and physical). As it becomes easier and easier to please a man ““ having learned their common kinks, how to tease out their individual tastes and built up a solid stable of go-to tricks ““ a woman is able to dedicate less energy trying to appeal to potential sex partners and more energy to actively pursuing things that appeal to her.
There is a two-fold benefit to this. The first and most obvious is that the more time one spends focused on securing one’s own happiness the happier one tends to be. The second benefit, oft-overlooked when discussing the risks intrinsic to promiscuity, is that a strong aura of confidence is the single most effective repellent against the type of men who look to exploit women’s insecurities for sexual advantage. A woman who knows damn well what she wants and that she can get it is less likely to be taken in by flattery, less likely to be swayed by the threat of losing a man’s affections and harder to control with abusive, belittling language. Manipulative men will recognize this, sometimes instantaneously, and won’t waste much time before moving on to easier targets.
A woman who is unable to be controlled or easily influenced is a terrifying thing for some men! Feminists often accuse the male-dominated culture of hating women who enjoy sex. I think this is lacking both in nuance and appropriate cynicism. Most men who aren’t rapists in fact eagerly rely on the hope that women ultimately want sex as much as they do. What many dread, however, is that a sexually assured woman, armed with an awareness of her own needs and limitations and confident in her allure, will be able to outmaneuver them to demand sex solely on her own terms. Moreover, they know they will likely be all but powerless to resist.
If practice makes perfect then repeatedly practicing communication, negotiation, release and restraint (along with other more”¦ technical skills) in the bedroom should allow a person to have a sex life that more perfectly reflects their best interests and desires. And it does. This is true whether you are male or female, gay or straight, and whether you have multiple partners or just a select few. But with the experience of multiple partners comes the ability to exercise these skills in numerous contexts and to predict and manipulate outcomes in a wider variety of circumstances, all with greater ease and certainty.
And the ability to manifest that ease and certainty even in non-sexual contexts – also known as “swag” – is something that women are not only capable of… but honey, it could bring this whole damn Patriarchy to its knees.