Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Who is Lying on Sex Surveys and Why?

A recent Federal survey reported that men had a median seven sex partners while women had a median four sex partners. Mathematicians quickly responded to the survey, pointing out the gap between men and women was too great for the survey results to be creditable. If there's that much of a gap between men's and women's median partners, then someone is lying. But who? And why?

The Federal survey is by no means alone in reporting an implausible gap between men and women: "In study after study and in country after country, men report more, often many more, sexual partners than women." So it's pretty common worldwide for folks to lie on sex surveys when asked how many partners they've had. But exactly who is lying and why are they lying? Are men doing most of the lying? Are women? Or, are both men and women lying about their number of sex partners?

Perhaps the answer to those questions was discovered four years ago. In 2003, Terri Fisher at Ohio State University and Michele Alexander at the University of Maine performed a perfectly ingenious experiment that found when men and women are told they have been hooked up to a lie detector, and are then asked how many sex partners they've had, the women report having had substantially more sex partners than they would otherwise report. On the other hand, the men who have been told they are hooked up to a lie detector pretty much report the same number of sex partners as they reported before. In other words, the women are the ones who are lying on these sex surveys, and they are lying by under-reporting how many sex partners they've had.

But why are the women lying? Well, Fisher and Alexander speculate that women under-report the actual number of sex partners they've had because they do not want to appear to be sexually promiscuous.


Webs said...

I agree absolutely with the last paragraph. I was actually going to post the same thing until I read it.

Again, in our society, sexual promiscuity in woman in our society is looked down upon. But when a man has lots of sex suddenly he is a "MAN"!


It could be that or it could be that they'd just rather forget some of their partners.

Priyank said...

Is this per year?
But when women understate the number, what are they thinking? How much is 'too much' in North America? It must be cultural thing really :) Because once such a survey was conducted among young adults (<30) in Mumbai and one of the questions asked was something like 'In your opinion, having how many partners is considered acceptable?' Men said 3, women said 2.

Isabella LeCour said...

Just don't ask me that question. I won't be under reporting anything. I just won't be answering.

Yea, there is a social stigma for a woman to be active sexually and having many partners.
It's fear of the "S" word and it's an imbalance within socity. I don't think things are going to change any time soon.

Gary said...

Define sex? Maybe men and women have different ideas on this you know what I'm saying?

Jim said...

Hya Paul, just popping by :)

McGregor :) YIC ;)

Paul said...

Webs, you are so right that an ugly double standard exists!

LOL Bongo, that's a good one!

Priyank, welcome to my blog! I was under the impression the figures were lifetime to date. In other words, "How many lovers have you had so far?"

You ask a very good question: Do these things vary that much by culture? I wonder where we might find an answer to that -- I'll look around a bit.

Isabella, I have always hated the word "slut" and have almost always refused to use it. From what I've seen, people who call others "slut" are usually pretty messed up people. Good to see you again!

Gary, that's a good point, but I think the survey would have made clear they were talking about intercourse. Maybe I'm wrong though.

Hi Jim! Welcome to my blog! I hope you can find the time to drop by for more than to just say "Hello".

jamie said...

I was actually surprised to read the part about the ingenious experiement that showed an increase in encounters reported by women but no change in numbers from men.

I was going to postulate that perhaps both men and women were lying to some degree based on the double standard on promiscuity. Men are portrayed as hero-like when they are promiscuous, so I would imagine men would want to brag and inflate the number. Women are portrayed as villain-like if they are promiscuous, so I would imagine women would want to show discretion and deflate the number.

Personally I think the double standard is ridiculous and feel we should all be comfortable with and accepting of differing hungers for sex.

Paul said...

Great post, Jamie! It turns out, though, that men did exaggerate -- but only a little bit. Almost all of the discrepancy could be attributed to women under-reporting the number of their sex partners. I should have pointed that out in the original post, but I was distracted by the six dancing girls I was entertaining at the time I wrote the post.

amuirin said...

lol paul

....and they say it takes two to tango. Show's what they know.

Jonathan Blake said...

The big news in this, to me anyway, is that the men weren't exaggerating very much. I wonder why that is. I doubt that it's because men are inherently more honest. It would be interesting to explore that.

Mahendra Palsule said...

I agree with Webs and Isabella!

Paul said...

That's an excellent question, Jonathan. Fisher and Alexander speculated the men told the truth because they felt little or no social pressure to lie either way.