Is there a link between promiscuity and the spread of sexually transmitted infections? Strictly speaking, the answer is no. This can be demonstrated in the following way:
Let’s take a couple who are mutually monogamous, i.e. they neither have other sexual partners. Can we assume that they will not infect each other? Yes, but only if neither has been infected before their marriage and if neither has acquired or acquires an infection in any other (non-sexual) way, such as blood transfusion. If these conditions are met, this couple can have all the sex in the world without running any risk of being infected.
Now let’s take another couple under the same conditions. They too, are mutually monogamous and both are free from any infection. They, too, can have all the sex they like without any risk of sexual infection.
Now let’s take these two couples and bring them together. There is no denying that the four of them can have all the sex in the world without any chance of infection. Yet now they are no longer monogamous. And nothing prevents us from introducing more couples of the same kind. There could be a hundred couples and they could have all the sex in the world with each other and not run any risk of infection. Each could have 199 partners. If that’s not promiscuity, what is? Yet none of them would have even the smallest chance of being infected.
Now why should the link between promiscuity and sexual infections be made by so many educators, health workers, government agencies, family planning campaigners, doctors, preachers of all kinds, the media and by most people in general? There are at least two reasons for this:
The main reason is that people object to promiscuity. They are afraid of sexual freedom in themselves as well as in others, so they call it ‘bad’, and they want to forbid it or punish it. Sexual infection seems a fitting punishment for ‘bad’ sexual behaviour.
So this is why most ‘moraliSTIc’ sex education stresses that monogamy is a protection against sexually transmitted infection. Unfortunately, in spite of its good intentions, it has the effect of increasing the number of infections, because it does not remove but increase ignorance, fear and irrationality.
The second reason why even sensible people think monogamy is a good thing to combat sexual infections is that many sexual contacts in the world are not safe. Viruses and bacteria of all kinds are present in a number of individuals in any population. This has in fact always been the case. After all, most viruses and bacteria have been around much longer than we have. Now viruses and bacteria spread under certain conditions and are contained under other conditions. Poor hygiene, undernourishment, closeness, for instance, help to spread viruses and bacteria, whereas good hygiene, a healthy condition and little contact with others all work against them.
So, all other things being equal, the number of unprotected sexual contacts is obviously a factor in the spread of sexual infections. The more unprotected sexual contacts anyone has, the more likely they are to be infected. But note the word ‘unprotected’. If the sexual contact was protected, no infection would occur.
The reality is that hundreds of millions of unsafe sexual contacts occur every day as part of the normal life of normal people, who want sex but are uninformed, unskillful, unfree or unwise. Large numbers of young adults, for instance go through a partner-seeking process which involves sexual contacts without the absolute certainties that we have theoretically assumed in our example. If they would protect themselves consistently against infection, they could have all the sex in the world and not be infected.
This is why the best kind of information and education about sexual infections stresses the use of condoms and other rational behaviour, teaching the skills that are required to enjoy sexual lovemaking, and promote sexual pleasure, equality and freedom.