The morality of promiscuity – the obvious answer: there is none. Morality is not limited to religious morality alone, it is also generated by socio-cultural factors. Across cultures in general, promiscuity has been denounced. Except in matrilineal cultures in some tribes, most commonly in South West Africa.
In primitive times there was no morality attached to sex. It made economic sense in patriarchal societies. For women, if her mate was sure of his parentage, he would be involved in raising the child. For men, if they were sure of parentage, they could be assured of property staying with their descendants, thus placing a negative value on being promiscuous for women.
Evolutionary biology has also tried to answer the question with the Darwin- Bateman paradigm. Basically, it states that a man can fertilise any number of women in his lifetime while a woman has a limited number of eggs in her lifetime thus she is choosier about a potential mate, wanting the best she can get. However lately it has been criticised due to experimental design and the fact that among animals, males are more sex-selective.
Most religions have a strict conduct of sexual ethics. The industrial revolution and subsequent colonization of the world led to the spread of Victorian morality. Victorian morality refers to the sudden change in social morals, ethics and values during Queen Victoria’s rule in England. It was a time of repression, ignorance and unscientific conduct. When young people suffered ailments, it was thought to be due to desire and indulgence in sexual acts outside of marriage. Victorian morality is simple enough to understand (but not to follow). Monogamy good. Promiscuity, adultery and homosexuality bad. A lady is expected to sit crossing her legs at knees or ankles, metaphorically crossing her desires as well.
This version of sexual morality has had a lasting impact on our society. The British amended Indian laws, especially criminal laws, as per these values. Section 377 is the most famous example of this imposition. Another is section 497 which criminalises adultery. Under this, a man can be punished for sex with another man’s wife, if done without the consent of that man (the husband). The problem with this is threefold. First, it criminalises adultery which is arguably not a wrong against society. Secondly, it deems irrelevant the consent of the women because a man can give permission to another man to sleep with his wife. That doesn’t amount to adultery.
Indian society traditionally did not place rigid constraints on sexual desires, their expression and education. Kamasutra, sculptures of Khajuraho and ancient literature provide ample evidence of a more liberal society. Restrictions were placed but sex as such was never looked down upon or considered sinful. Sexual activity was encouraged at the right age and remedies given for sexual disorders. Even temples were not spared erotica. Today, wildly different. Not only do we discourage the expression of desire, but we deny its very existence.
It’s not like Indians don’t have sex. How do you think our population reached a billion plus more? We simply don’t talk about it, giving rise to misconceptions and ignorance. At the same time, teenagers are exposed to sexually explicit content at a younger age. They are learning not just about sex but about sexuality thanks to the internet. This isn’t limited to young boys secretly watching porn. Sex is everywhere on social media and streaming apps like Netflix. It is impossible to shelter children in this day and age. It amuses me that CBFC is still trying to shelter adults.
In recent years there has been an increase in unintended pregnancies and abortions. Promiscuity is morality neutral and there is a responsible way to enjoy sex which is what needs to be discussed within homes without inhibitions. A 2015 study published in Lancet found that about half of all pregnancies in India were unintended and one third ended up in abortions.
That is the problem and that should be the focus of primetime debates, not how long kisses last in James Bond movies.