Friday, May 9, 2014

A Better Conversation about Homosexuality (Part 4): Not about Promiscuity

   The stereotype is that gay men are extremely promiscuous.  This aura of promiscuity plays into many Christian conversations about homosexuality explicitly or implicitly.  The idea seems to be that if we accept homosexuality in any form, then we are accepting wide-scale promiscuity: "Just go out and have sex with whoever you want in whatever bathroom you want." 

Photo Credit: Gary Bridgman

However, the promiscuity argument is fallacious.

First of all, quite a few studies flatly contradict this argument.  This list of six scientific studies finds that a minority of gay men are extremely promiscuous (18% with more than 20 partners, compared to 6% of straight men).  However, outside that very active minority, the rest of the homosexual population tends to mirror very closely the promiscuity and fidelity rates of the heterosexual population.

Second, many of the articles claiming gay promiscuity are flawed.  Reports (such as this one) indicating higher rates of homosexual promiscuity and infidelity are missing a few key points of logic.  Until the past 15 years or so, marital commitment has not been a social option in the USA.  Without the social restrictions of marriage and covenant, it makes sense that homosexual partnerships would experience more infidelity and dissolve more quickly.  If people don't make a "till death do us part" commitment, parting is easier.  Most studies say nothing about how gay marriage fidelity rates might compare with straight marriage fidelity rates because marriage was not even an option for the gay people studied.
   Also, as Lewis Smedes argues in his well-respected book Sex for Christians, if all homosexual sexual activity is socially illicit, then gay people have no moral motivation to choose monogamy.  Why impose limits if everything you want is already out of bounds?  Stepping way out into dangerous territory for his time (1994), Smedes argues that gay marriage should be accepted simply to promote healthy monogamy.  I don't agree with everything Smedes says, but he has an important logical point here.

Third, promiscuity is not even the issue at hand.  Sex outside of marriage is always out of bounds for Christians - whether gay or straight.  Straight promiscuity is just as bad/harmful/sinful as gay promiscuity.  That is not what this debate is about.  Christians are currently debating whether same sex couples can faithfully marry, not whether it's OK to cruise for one-night stands. 

So whatever you think about gay marriage, please don't pollute the conversation with the red herring of promiscuity.  That is disrespectful to everyone in the room and probably to a whole lot of people who aren't in the room.

For more on the "Better Conversation about Homosexuality" series, check out the intro, why we need to talk, and why it's not about the orientation.
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