More and more people are keen to know more and more about promiscuity, polyamory and pan-sexuality – but rather than lifestyle choices that could be frowned upon by the morally high-browed, they have become celebrated in the mainstream. So, ‘If you’re all safe and consenting, why the hell not?’
The song from the 1934 hit musical goes: “In olden days a glimpse of stocking was looked on as something shocking but now God knows… anything goes.”
Really? Things really have changed a lot since then haven’t they? In 1934 it was illegal to be gay in the UK, there were no contraceptive pills and magazine articles advised people: “Don't drink too much as a man expects you to keep your dignity all evening” or ''Don't be familiar with your escort by caressing him in public.”
Now anything really does go.
I am very proud and glad we live in a country where people are free to explore their sexuality and find the right relationships for them – whether fleeting, long term or multiple. It’s important that we don’t judge people for their choices and having a healthy and informed conversation can help everyone feel more comfortable and confident.
I think it’s really helpful to get the facts right around the definitions.
• Polyamory is a philosophy and lifestyle based around the forming and sustaining of relationships with multiple partners in an open, honest and non-possessive way.
• Swinging comprises couples in committed relationships, who occasionally or regularly swap sexual partners, indulge in group sex or visit sex clubs for couples.
• Promiscuity is the practice of casual sex frequently with different partners or being indiscriminate about who you have sex with.
• Pansexuality describes people that are non-discriminate about the sexuality of those they have sex with – men, women and / or those that do not define themselves as either male or female (intersex people or androgynous people for example). People who define themselves as pansexual are, of course, not by definition polyamorous or promiscuous.
It’s virtually impossible to get figures of how many people put themselves into these loose brackets.
There are no reliable estimates of how many people are swingers but experts think there are significant numbers. One in 100 couples are active swingers or have some other form of open relationship and it’s thought one in four couples dabble in an open relationship of some type, whether it’s swinging, polyamory, a threesome once in a while or something else. In terms of polyamory, there aren’t any figures for the UK but it’s thought there about five million people who are openly polyamorous in the US. It’s also estimated that nowadays as much as 30% of sex takes place without any romance, dating or relationship – but what goes on behind closed doors is notoriously difficult to measure.
So, in a world where open mindedness is on the increase, things that would have been shocking back in the 20th century are now completely normal.
But this normality comes at a price. According to a study by Dutch sexual health experts, it found partner-swapping swingers could be bringing sexually transmitted infections into the general population.
Of the 9,000 sexual health clinic patient consultations in this study, 12% classed themselves as swingers, with an average age of 43. Putting this into context - combined rates of chlamydia and gonorrhoea were just over 10% among straight people, 14% among gay men, just under 5% in female prostitutes and 10.4% among swingers.
More than half (55%) of all diagnoses in the over 45s were made in swingers, compared with around a third (31%) in gay men. One in 10 older swingers had chlamydia and around one in 20 (4%) had gonorrhea. And in a massive news story before Christmas, actor Charlie Sheen publically blamed his own promiscuity for his contracting HIV.
My thoughts: If you and your partner (or partners) want to experiment with other people, if you don’t want a partner and want to have sex with loads of people - or if you want to be in a loving open relationship with several lovers – that’s completely your decision.
It takes a lot to be open about your sexuality and know what makes you happy. Information and understanding can help to build confidence and make informed choices
Just remember a few things.
1. Talk to all of your sexual partners. Be really clear about what you want and make sure you’re honest with them, it’s important they understand, support and agree with your position. If they’re not on the same page as you, feelings could be hurt in one or both parties and it’s a lot easier not to put yourself into that position.
2. Take precautions. Sex between consenting adults can be exactly what you both want it to be, but the more people involved, the higher the chance of sexually transmitted infections. Make sure you use protection – condoms are the only sure fire way to prevent pregnancy and STIs.
3. Get tested. If you’ve had a lot of sex with various partners (especially if you don’t know them very well) then it makes sense to get regular STI checks. There are loads of options and you can find out more here
I’m a massive supporter of sexual liberation. I think we should be more open about what we think and feel, breaking stigma and taboo to eradicate judgement and bigotry, but as sexually transmitted infections are on the increase, we have a responsibility to both ourselves and our partners to be safe and confident. Remember – it’s your body, your life and your choice.