Is having simultaneous multiple sex partners a mental illness?

Is having simultaneous multiple sex partners a mental illness? One Jamaican psychiatrist certainly thinks so. Dr. Frederick Hickling, speaking at a mental health campaign launch at the Caribbean Institute of Media and Communication (CARIMAC), called this behavior a “pathology.” He continues saying, “I think that in this culture we are enticed by transgression and we condone transgressive behaviour. We more condone transgression than we condone normality. When somebody comes to you and asks for a ‘bly’ they are really saying ‘allow me to do something that is wrong instead of doing something for myself’. I think that is absolutely wrong and I think it is abnormal and I think it is a form of psychological denial about things that we know we ought not to be doing”.

Dr. Frederick also took to task the often-cited links between polygamy in Africa and Jamaican (and by extension Caribbean) men’s multiple sexual partnerships, noting that the African links are used as an excuse for transgressive behavior.

As evidence for his mental illness theory, Dr. Frederick also cited the numerous musical examples glorifying such behavior. Among the ones mentioned was Beenie Man’s “Nuff Gyal” below.

Reflecting on the music and on men having simultaneous multiple sex partners, Dr. Frederick also said this “reflects the kind of attitude we have in the Caribbean towards transgression. That’s a very male, chauvinistic position where the man believes he can do what he wants, and when he wants. This is neither a pandemic, nor is it soft. It is an epidemic and it is hard”. To be sure, he also said this behavior is not a male only phenomenon, but it is male dominated.

So, is this a mental illness? I need much more evidence before coming a solid conclusion as such. And considering that these statements were made at the launching of a mental health awareness campaign, Dr. Frederick made every attempt to include cultural, sociological and psychosocial explanations for considering this a mental illness. Nevertheless, before we call it a metal illness or jump to how such behavior is (re)presented in music, we should look at how males are socialized across the Caribbean region. From young, men are often asked to prove their maleness by being with women. We make it very difficult for a young man to choose to abstain from sex or to choose to be with one person. Oftentimes, our parents or other adults nearest and dearest to us were engaged in this behavior and although we are not told to ‘do this’, we are also often not told the opposite.

Although I am not convinced this is a mental illness, it is a societal ill. It is reflected in the many single-parent or grand-parent headed households across the region. It is reflected in the rising HIV and other STI cases, particularly among Caribbean women. It is reflected in rising violent crime committed by young men. It is reflected by the number teen pregnancies.

This is actually an important conversation to have. We should be talking more about mental health across the region. We should also be talking more about the impact of simultaneous multiple sex partners not only from a mental health standpoint, but also from a public health and sociological standpoint. I’m just not sure if the two belong in the same conversation in then vein of Dr. Frederick.

The full article is available at the Jamaica Observer website here

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