Is promiscuity linked to infidelity?

Promiscuity, defined as having casual sex with multiple partners, is a complex topic that has been studied extensively by researchers interested in human sexuality and relationships. The question of whether being promiscuous predicts future infidelity touches on important issues around morality, gender differences, and relationship dynamics. While promiscuity does not automatically lead to cheating, research has uncovered some connections between the two behaviors that are worth exploring further.

What is promiscuity?

Promiscuity refers to having casual sex with multiple partners outside of a committed relationship. Researchers typically define promiscuity based on the number of sexual partners a person has had. Some studies set thresholds like having 10 or more partners to be considered promiscuous, while others simply compare those with relatively higher numbers of partners to those with fewer. Promiscuity does not necessarily imply risky sexual behaviors – someone can have multiple partners but practice safe sex by using condoms, for example. However, promiscuity does involve a detached, recreational view of sex rather than an intimate act between two committed partners.

How common is promiscuity?

Estimates of how many people are promiscuous vary widely depending on the definition used. According to a nationally representative survey from 2020, 14% of women and 27% of men ages 25-44 reported having 10 or more opposite sex partners in their lifetime so far.[1] Looking just at the past year, 5% of partnered men and 3% of partnered women said they had sex with someone other than their partner.[2] Rates tend to be higher among certain demographics like college students and the unmarried. But overall, having multiple sexual partners is practiced by a minority of adults at any given time.

Does promiscuity predict infidelity?

Research has found links between promiscuity and infidelity, suggesting that having more past partners may in fact increase the odds of cheating. For example, a 2012 study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior followed nearly 500 newlywed couples over several years.[3] Men who had more lifetime sexual partners prior to marriage were more likely to cheat during the marriage. Specifically, men with 16-20 partners were twice as likely to be unfaithful as those with 2-5 partners. For women, having 6-10 lifetime partners predicted higher odds of infidelity compared to women with 2-5 partners.

Other characteristics related to promiscuity also correlate with cheating. Having sex early in a relationship and certain attitudes about sex have been tied to infidelity. A 2004 study found that people who first had sex within the first month of dating were more likely to cheat in their next relationship.[4] And people who view sex as primarily physical and casual tend to cheat more than those who see it as a more meaningful act of love and commitment.[5]

So while promiscuity alone does not determine infidelity, it often coincides with other factors that do increase cheating risk like permissive sexual values and a detached view of sex.

Why are promiscuity and infidelity linked?

There are several potential explanations for why promiscuity may be associated with higher infidelity:

Personality traits

Certain personality traits that draw people towards promiscuity like sensation-seeking, impulsivity, and low empathy may also predispose them to cheating.[6] These traits likely underlie both behaviors.

Attitudes about sex

People who treat sex casually tend to have more permissive attitudes about sex outside a relationship. They are less likely to consider it wrong since they do not view sex as intrinsically bonding.

Lack of inhibition

Those who act on sexual urges frequently with multiple partners have lower inhibition that may also make them more open to cheating opportunities.


For some, promiscuity stems from relationship dissatisfaction and insecure attachment. These same factors also increase cheating behaviors.[7]


Having a large sexual network provides more opportunities to cheat compared to those with fewer prior partners.

So while promiscuity does not always directly cause infidelity, many of the factors underlying promiscuity also facilitate cheating.

Does gender and context matter?

The link between promiscuity and infidelity may depend on gender and context. Research suggests:

Men vs. women

Men’s rather than women’s promiscuity tends to predict future infidelity.[3] Social double standards that judge female promiscuity more harshly may deter women from having multiple partners in the first place. And women may have more incentive to stay faithful in order to preserve relationship security.

Short vs. long-term

Promiscuity predicts cheating better in more committed, long-term contexts like marriage compared to casual dating.[8] This indicates that promiscuous people may curtail cheating behavior if not locked into a monogamous relationship.


Younger adults tend to be more promiscuous and also cheat more than older adults. So promiscuity may predict infidelity better at younger ages.

In summary, the association seems strongest for men, in marital relationships, and at younger ages. Promiscuity may interact with gender, context, and life stage when it comes to infidelity.

Are there any benefits to promiscuity?

Research on the effects of promiscuity have focused on the downsides like divor
ce and depression.[9] But are there any potential upsides? A few benefits that have been proposed:

Sexual skill

Having many partners can provide more opportunities to improve sexual skills like communication, emotional connection, and creativity.


Exploring sex with different people may help someone discover their likes, dislikes, orientation, and needs.

Short-term fulfillment

For some people, it can be exciting in the moment and provide validation, adventure, pleasure, and confidence.

However, experts debate whether these supposed benefits outweigh the risks, especially for young people. Responsible, committed relationships may offer better contexts for gaining sexual experience and fulfillment.

Tips for healthy relationships

If you want to foster intimacy and trust in relationships, consider the following tips:

Examine your motivations

Understand what drives your sexual choices. Seeking intimacy, pleasure, or validation through promiscuity can backfire.

Choose partners carefully

Don’t just hook up with random people. Carefully select partners with values similar to yours.

Slow things down

Take time to really get to know someone before getting sexually involved. Rushing intimacy can sabotage relationships.

Prioritize communication

Discuss sexual health, history, boundaries, and relationship goals openly with partners.

Focus on quality over quantity

Having multiple partners does not necessarily mean better sex or relationships. Aim for meaningful connections.

Consider therapy

If past traumas, attachment issues, or self-esteem problems underlie promiscuity, counseling can help overcome these.

Making wise sexual choices and having open, honest partner communication can help strengthen intimacy and fidelity in relationships.


Research has uncovered links between having a promiscuous past and increased likelihoods of cheating in a relationship. While promiscuity is practiced by a minority of adults, it is more common in certain demographics like the unmarried and college students. Personality traits, sexual attitudes, lack of inhibition, dissatisfaction, and sheer opportunity help explain why promiscuity and infidelity often coincide. However, gender, life stage, and relationship context affect the strength of association. Men’s promiscuity, especially in marital relationships and at younger ages, most strongly predicts future infidelity. While purported benefits like sexual skill and self-knowledge exist, responsible, committed relationships offer better contexts for intimacy. Examining motivations, choosing partners carefully, slowing down, communicating openly, and seeking therapy if need be can help strengthen relationships despite a promiscuous past.

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