Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Master's Thesis

Degree Name




Committee Chair

Gagne, Patricia L.

Author's Keywords

Sociology; Promiscuity; Promiscuous; Sexual behavior; Sexual double standard; Labeling theory; Biopower


Promiscuity; Deviant behavior--Labeling theory; Sex--Social aspects; Semantics--Social aspects


The term "promiscuity" is often used in academic literature and pejoratively proliferated among society at large. The definition of promiscuity has not been clearly and consistently defined within research and varies significantly from person to person. However, both research and society continue to utilize this term with the assumption of a universal meaning. This study investigated how individuals construct their personal definition of promiscuity and how the subsequent label is applied to others. This thesis also examined how the definition of promiscuity is constructed within the collective conscience and how social institutions influence that definition. The relationship between the collective conscience and social institutions is analyzed using concepts from labeling theory and Foucault's biopower. An extensive online survey was used to collect data from 210 respondents in the Louisville Metro area. The survey employed a quantitative and qualitative mixed methods approach, incorporating fixed answer and open-ended formatted questions. Five elements of promiscuity emerged from the qualitative analysis of the data: Number of Sexual Partners, Personal Connection, Time, Casual Attitude, and Unsafe Sex Practices. The quantitative analysis of these five elements indicated Relationship Status interacted with Casual Attitude; those not in a partnership were more likely to refer to casual attitudes on sex as an element of promiscuity. Two factors, Age and Sexual Double Standard Scale score, interacted with Unsafe Sex Practices. Younger respondents and those with lesser adherence to the sexual double standard were more likely to refer to unsafe sex practices in their definition of promiscuity. Additional analyses were conducted to examine the interactions between the same factors and how an individual quantifies promiscuity in relationship to number of sexual partners. Respondents provided a numeric threshold for the promiscuity of a woman and a man. The analysis found three factors - Race, Sexuality, and Religiosity, affected the thresholds provided by respondents. Overall, the results of this study confirm the notion that promiscuity is a nebulous concept and provides support for challenging the use of this term in both future research and society alike.