Toronto
3 min

Taking the pizzazz out of promiscuity

I was in the middle of sex with a stranger when I had a bizarre thought. Everyone, I thought, thinks gay men are having all kinds of wild and outré sex, poking great tools up each other’s butts, and here we are just lying around in the nude, like a couple of spoiled toddlers having a nap.

It was a typical gay scene: a case of beer on the kitchen floor, Armistead Maupin on the dining table, a laptop blinking in the corner and not much going on in the bed.

He was tired and I was rapidly losing interest. What had started out not so many hours before as a fairly hot little adventure had fizzled out into companionable cuddling. Different tastes, inclinations and energies had all conspired to produce an encounter not that much more exciting than afternoon tea in the church hall following Sunday service.

And that was fine. Not all encounters have to be fireworks and ecstasy and, sex aside, this one was particularly interesting. I met someone I would not otherwise have met — different culture, career, country, the works — and, for a curious little bugger like myself, that was more than enough to make it fulfilling.

I think the banality of the encounter, and others like it, needs to be emphasized. A bizarre but large part of the world, after all — let’s call them the Palinites — still thinks of sex as either apocalyptic ecstasy or dispensable duty, when really it’s just one of those things people do, as common and varied as walking. Like walking, people do it for a lot of different reasons and with a lot of different intensities. Sometimes you walk to a party and sometimes you walk to the grocery store but either way you’re still walking.

So here’s my idea: Let’s take the orgasm out of orgy, the pizzazz out of promiscuity.

Promiscuity has always got a bad rap, mostly because “promiscuous” is a nasty little word. Technically it doesn’t mean much more than to mix things up without too much regard for the component parts. It’s from the Latin for “to mix.”

Mainstream dictionaries try to keep the judgment out of their voices when they suggest it means only having more than one sexual partner, or “having frequent and diverse sexual relationships, especially transient ones” (according to Oxford Canadian), which is not too far from the truth.

But other more populist engines of definition reveal the snotty subtext that underpins so much puritan hand-wringing. “Sexually indiscriminate: having many indiscriminate or casual sexual relationships,” says Encarta. “Indiscriminate in the choice of sexual partners…. Lacking standards of selection,” says Answers.com.

Well, pardon me. I’ve screwed around a lot and I’ve never been indiscriminate in my life. If anything, I’m far too picky. I know my type and I go for it.

Sometimes the most indiscriminate people of all are those who don’t screw around at all. A married straight character in one John Updike novel muses that in some sense almost any woman would do for a wife and it’s a view that’s supported by a lot of successful couples. They know hubby’s not perfect or even terribly unique, but they’re not going to discriminate. They know what they want and they’re not too fussy who supplies it. As long as the other person is reasonably kind, considerate and — most important of all — inclined to stick around, they’re happy. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact it’s a pretty sensible approach to life. But don’t tell me it’s any more discriminating that what your average slut does.

There are people who are genuinely promiscuous, in the sense of indiscriminate. You see them hanging around parks and bathhouses, waiting for a blowjob or whatever and not particularly inclined to question who’s giving it. There are people who for one reason or another deliberately keep their involvements short and sweet.

But most people, I suspect, go into sex with a slightly more open mind. It may turn into a casual one-night stand but often these things start out quite differently.

Perhaps I’m being romantic but I think a lot of people screw around not with any intention of screwing around forever but because they’re looking for something and it doesn’t quite work out. They’re open to the possibility of more but resigned to the idea that it may not happen and, in the meantime, they’ve got an adventure and sex.

But whatever they’re up to the act is generally kinder and more forgiving than the label applied. Like life itself it’s mostly mistakes, diminished expectations and making-do.

What this means is that most gay sex is far more boring than the porn propaganda might suggest, and we need to reclaim that boredom as our own because otherwise people are going to get this bizarre idea that gay life is a non-stop orgy. Maybe it is, but only if your orgy includes Kraft Dinner.