I’ve been reading the thoughtful, non-puritanical writing of Dan Savage for years now, both in his weekly sex-advice column “Savage Love” and in his nonfiction books like Skipping Towards Gomorrah: The Seven Deadly Sins and the Pursuit of Happiness in America (2002).
What I admire about Savage is his reasoned, articulate (albeit polemical) perspective on gay politics, sexuality, and morality. In the clip below, he responds to an audience member’s question, “How many partners is too many?”
Savage’s thoughts on promiscuity catches my interest because it aligns with some other thinking I’ve been doing on promiscuity in other cultures, namely in Africa. I’m just begun to advise a solidarity trip to Uganda with twelve B.C. undergraduates, and one of the books we will be reading is Helen Epstein’s The Invisible Cure. Though many have chimed in on public health policy in African countries, Epstein argues that most Westerners approach HIV/AIDS in Africa as a problem to be solved: through abstinence, or condom use, or better sexual health education.
However, in The Invisible Cure, Epstein argues for a paradigm shift: an empathetic approach to Afrocentric solutions to health crises, and a challenge to understand a way of life foreign to Westerners: a culture, in some African countries, in which a man may have several wives or sexual partners. Here is an interview with Epstein on the HIV/AIDS crisis in Africa, as well as her understanding of promiscuity in this culture:
Promiscuity. In the U.S., we discuss sex and sexuality most often through a moral lens. Are we sex-positive? What should be allowed and forbidden? How do we achieve gay rights and breakdown a heteronormative society?
In African nations like Uganda, we discuss sex through a lens of public health. How do we reduce the HIV/AIDS crisis? What is the best method of prevention? Who is being infected, and how is the disease transmitted?
Hard to get out of a Western mindset, but always food for thought.