August 13, 2007

Maybe Men Are More Forgettable

Surveys taken around the world about sexual habits of men and women all have one thing in common: men claim to have more sex partners over a lifetime than women. Supposedly, this reflects a primal urge for procreation. Men act promiscuously while women act more to provide a family unit for children.

There's only one problem with this explanation. It doesn't add up -- literally:

One survey, recently reported by the federal government, concluded that men had a median of seven female sex partners. Women had a median of four male sex partners. Another study, by British researchers, stated that men had 12.7 heterosexual partners in their lifetimes and women had 6.5.

But there is just one problem, mathematicians say. It is logically impossible for heterosexual men to have more partners on average than heterosexual women. Those survey results cannot be correct. ...

Sex survey researchers say they know that Dr. Gale is correct. Men and women in a population must have roughly equal numbers of partners. So, when men report many more than women, what is going on and what is to be believed?

The New York Times reports on four possibilities. One is that men go outside the population to add sex partners, but that seems highly unlikely given the disparity. If men on average have to have twice the number of women in a population for sex, wouldn't tourist companies have discovered this market by now?

Another is prostitution. These surveys deliberately exclude sex workers as they would skew the statistics, but even if one granted that each prostitute had 1000 different partners, one would need 100,000 prostitutes to service 100 million men for just one extra sex partner. Possible, but not a serious explanation.

That leaves us with the obvious. Men exaggerate and women underestimate. That's also a cultural norm; men with lots of partners are called alpha males, studs, and ladies' men. Women with lots of partners get less attractive labels, like sluts, whores, and hotel heiresses. You think either can be trusted to be honest, even with the kind of privacy afforded by such surveys?

Or, it might just be that men are more forgettable. Not male CQ readers, mind you, who all could have challenged for the role of James Bond before Daniel Craig won the role, but the rest of the male population.

In any case, the problem with this logical conundrum is that it makes all of the data suspect from these surveys. Either the sample was bad or the respondents dishonest. When one finds this level of false answers in a survey, it automatically calls into question the veracity of the answers on other questions. And since this is seen in practically every sex survey conducted, it means that all of the data we've seen may be unreliable. Either that, or someone has misunderstood the math here.

UPDATE: Tom Maguire says the mathematicians interviewed confused means and medians. I think that men just like to exaggerate ... and not ask for directions ... and refuse to take medicine ... and ....


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Comments (24)

Posted by Bennett | August 13, 2007 6:42 PM

I don't really understand the purpose of this survey. We already know that people lie about sex. And after 1998, we know that it's perfectly acceptable to do so regardless of the circumstances. Because it's, you know, a private matter.

I don't think men are more forgettable. I think women are better at wiping certain encounters from their mind whereas men are better are imagining events in this area that never exactly happened but they wished they had. So maybe both sides read the question the same way: how many partners do you want to believe you've had?

But I still think the whole thing is pointless.

Posted by Papa Ray | August 13, 2007 6:50 PM

This....question is easy even for an ol' Redneck like me.

I don't need no stinking surveys or stats to answer this question.

Women lie.

Women lie big time.

Women most certainly lie big time when it comes to their sex life.

and this:
"That leaves us with the obvious. Men exaggerate and women underestimate"

Is not correct concerning men either. Men don't have to exaggerate, they just don't remember all that well, as they are usually drunk or high or just plain forget.

Yes forget.

I have tried many times to remember all the young ladies (and a few that at the time were older than me)...and guess what, I just can't remember. No I'm got getting senile, I tried this remembering several times over my life.

Where as women don't actually forget, even if they were drunker than a skunk, but they just don't want to tell anybody how easy they were after a six-pack or blunt.

It's a culture thing you know...but don't disparage the ladies, without them, life and the world would be in one hellva shape.

Something to remember.

Papa Ray
West Texas

Posted by docjim505 | August 13, 2007 7:01 PM

HMPH! I'd never lie about MY sex life. After all, chubby, badly dressed, bespectacled chemists are like sexual crack for women: they just can't get enough of guys like me. Sigh... It's a cross I have to bear.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I gotta go buff up by benchpressing my little black book. Well, Vol. 1 of my not-so-little black book; I don't want to overdo it.

Oh, and as far as Daniel Craig... Well, I COULD tell you a few things about his sister, but I AM a gentleman. Let me simply say that, if they ever remake "Goldfinger", she could definitely play the female lead.

Posted by flamethrower | August 13, 2007 8:06 PM

Captain, are you sure that you meant "forgettable"? Or should it be "forgetful'? "Forgettable" means that the person is easy to forget, dismiss from one's mind, didn't make any impression. "Forgetful" means that one has a poor memory, particularly about delicate areas. Ha!

Posted by StatisticsToday | August 13, 2007 8:14 PM

Science today ... see the NASA's correction on their global change data... and wait for the USG inflation numbers one day to go "oops, we made a little mistake - sorry ...". As much fate in the science of the day as in the Pope's child abusers.

Posted by StatisticsToday | August 13, 2007 8:18 PM

May I conclude ... the science of the Pope agains the science of the Dope.

Posted by rbj | August 13, 2007 8:24 PM

"h_tel h__resses"

Please watch your language Cap'n. Wimmen, chil'urn and menfolk read this blog, there are certain terms outside polite (or even impolite) society.

Men lie, women forget and there are a few highly promiscuous women. And here's a toast to that latter category.

Posted by Captain Ed | August 13, 2007 8:28 PM

Forgettable, as in the women don't recall some of their partners because they weren't memorable.

Posted by Stephen J. | August 13, 2007 8:37 PM

There's also something that these mathematicians are forgetting: In any given population of men and women, there will be some men and women who have slept with *nobody* because others have slept with "more than their fair share".

Let's take 20 college students, 10 men A-J, 10 women 1-10. Over a series of parties throughout the year, the various hookups shake down as follows: Four of the ten men (A-D) sleep with seven of the women (1-7), each coupling happening once. The couplings thus break down as follows:

A1, A2, A3, A4, A5, A6, A7
B1, B2, B3, B4, B5, B6, B7
C1, C2, C3, C4, C5, C6, C7
D1, D2, D3, D4, D5, D6, D7

Each of those four men (rows A through D) has therefore had seven sex partners. But each of the seven women (columns 1 through 7) has only had four partners. Simple.

Posted by obladioblada | August 13, 2007 8:42 PM

Well, the boys I've known had a tendency towards gross exaggerations that are more commonly known as lies. Their memories had the same predisposition when their chronological ages decreed them to be men.

Posted by Cannoli ... Only One Cannoli | August 13, 2007 9:10 PM

I was this close, Capt! THIS CLOSE to landing that 007 role but my Connery impersonsation needed a little tweaking is all and well, they opted for that other guy.

Shhaken. Not shtirred.

Posted by Carol Herman | August 13, 2007 9:37 PM

Sorry, but there's no accurate gauge. Sure, you can try to invent one. But as soon as you ask embarassing questions, you'll get LIES.

Wanna investigate how good people are at shading the truth? Go ahead.

Heck, in the days doctors were forced to tell the Feds of every case of venereal disease that came into the office, da ya know how women handled it? They said they got VD, or the "clap" from toilet seats. In rest rooms. In department stores.

I think a lot more people have sex, and you'd never guess.

Not all females who do it, light themselves up like whores. They could look as innocent as a nun. IF they choose.

While, yes, high schools are "wilder" because the group's small enough. And, contained in one building. But still there are LIES.

There's an old Belle Barth joke. About a woman on the first night of her second honeymoon. She's screaming "it hurts. It hurts." And, he's tied his ankles to the bedpost, so that he doesn't fall in.

The only other place you get similar types of lying is on resumes. Everybody's got to Haaarvard. At least once. (In one door. Out the other.)

But it's typical of the lies that get told.

And, now they added math? Why? To make lying more complicated?

Posted by Mere Cadans | August 13, 2007 10:04 PM

It is actually simpler than that. It is simply a different definition for men and a different definition for women. Men would count each and every encounter. Women on the other hand count only the ones that are meaningful...

Posted by John S. | August 13, 2007 10:42 PM

First off, I'm gay, so I admit this isn't exactly my area of expertise... but could it be possible that women, in general, are still more selective in their sexual activity than men, but there are certain women who are much less selective? I can see how most guys might have more partners than most women, if many of the guys have been with the same small population of women. I actually observed this back in college, when certain girls would be passed around serially as "girlfriends" to several guys in my fraternity. (OK, I didn't observe this first-hand, but you get my meaning.)

Posted by lexhamfox | August 13, 2007 11:13 PM

LOL.... Women are just more modest.... God bless them...

Posted by Adjoran | August 13, 2007 11:56 PM

Stephen J.'s illustration clearly shows how easily such an apparent - but not actual - anomaly can be explained.

It's not at all complicated, and if the "mathematicians" involved didn't immediately perceive the possibilities for accounting for the difference, they must be government mathematicians.

Posted by Bob Smith | August 14, 2007 1:32 AM

So the answer may be that acquiring sex partners is harder for men, so a lot more men than women aren't having sex? Alternatively, women (as a group) go for the same set of "alpha" men and ignore the rest.

Posted by James Lane | August 14, 2007 4:05 AM

My guess is that a (perhaps small) proportion of women are highly promiscuous, which would explain the result, and is also consistent with my own experience.

Posted by MICHAEL DOOLEY | August 14, 2007 6:09 AM

I have to wonder about these numbers. I have no doubt about persons fudging the numbers in their personal lives. Nevertheless, when I was in college in the early 1970's (before AIDS of course) sexual activity was "livin' large". Friday night mixers lead to "one-night-stands" with persons one had known for only a couple of hours. Unless one had a steady love interest, it hardly was unusual to have had many sexual partners by graduation. I would say it was more like four to seven partners PER SEMESTER. Now that we are here thirty years afterward there is a denial going on. While men seem to "round up or down" toward some kind of average (who wants to admit they were a dud or a wolf), women seem to discount past one-night-stands and focus on significant relationships.

Of course, anyone who has memories knows how much of a dud or a wolf one of the guys used to be. Field intelligence also casually let it be known how open and “uninhibited” any particular young woman was.

We were the first generation to have grown up with "the Pill". Foolishly, we thought sex was freed to be highly charged fun. Perhaps this brief window when sex seemed have few bad consequences was highly unusual. Perhaps with the appearance of AIDS all this changed and our youth have less sex than we did. One can only wonder. Personally, I think they're still making out like bunnies.

Posted by patrick neid | August 14, 2007 6:49 AM

12.7 and 6.5

i'm amazed in today's world the numbers are that low. actually given some more thought the numbers are probably more like 35 and 20--for the people having sex and delaying marriage.

one or more people a year adds up after a while!

Posted by just me | August 14, 2007 8:01 AM

While I do think men will tend to over report encounters and women will under report, I don't think the conclusion is that this alone makes up the difference.

I agree with John S, I think you have girls who are selective and choosier in who they have sex with, but there is also a group of women, who aren't selective, and work their way through a lot of men.

Posted by Mark L | August 14, 2007 9:06 AM

The key difference is the definition of median and mean. The mean is where you add up all of the occurences and divide by the number of things. The median is when you sort the occurance by the number of things with each occurance. An example.

You have a high school with 50 boys and 50 girls in the senior class.

Ten of the girls decide to save themselves for Mr. Right, and have no sexual partners. Seventeen have one partner while in high school, twenty have two partners, and three serve as the school pump, and sleep with most of the boys in the school -- call it 45 for one girl and 40 for the other two.
So we have:

Partners . . . Girls
0 . . . . . . . . . 10
1 . . . . . . . . . 17
2 . . . . . . . . . 20
40 . . . . . . . . . 2
45 . . . . . . . . . 1

Of the boys, 5 save themselves for marriage.

Of the remainder, two have relations with just two girls, 10 have relations with three, 17 have relations with four, and 16 have relations with five.

That gives:

Partners . . . Boys
0 . . . . . . . . . 5
2 . . . . . . . . . 2
3 . . . . . . . . . 10
4 . . . . . . . . . 17
5 . . . . . . . . . 16

The median sexual partners for girls is 2. The average is 3.64 The median sexual partners for boys is 4, the average is 3.64

The median boy had twice as many partners as the median girl, even though the average of both groups is the same. So nobody is lying and the median boy has a lot more partners than the median girl.

Posted by Zeke | August 14, 2007 2:48 PM

hmm I'm at 29 partners so far been active for 19 years, male

Posted by patrick neid | August 14, 2007 4:30 PM

you are on your way to my 35 number!

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