Please explain

According to this article in the New York Times, on average, heterosexual men claim that they have had seven sexual partners, and heterosexual women claim that they have had four.

The maths don’t quite add up.

The possible explanations? According to the article:

One is that men are going outside the population to find partners, to prostitutes, for example, who are not part of the survey, or are having sex when they travel to other countries.

Another, of course, is that men exaggerate the number of partners they have and women underestimate.

Later on the article acknowledges that the prostitute effect, if it exists at all, is likely to be small. And the way I see it, saying that men may overestimate and women underestimate is no explanation at all. The data already seems to be telling us that. It would be much more interesting to know why.


4 responses to “Please explain

  1. This is likely to be partly due to ‘social desirability’ bias, a well-known effect in survey research. People are prone to biasing their answers to conform with social expectations.

    Another possibility is that men and women are defining sex differently. If a man receives oral or manual stimulation, who has had sex?

  2. Yes…..

    I have also wondered if people who have been pressured into sex count that as having had a sexual partner.

  3. Isn’t it clear why they exaggerate. Men ‘pump up’ their numbers to make themselves look studly in the eyes of their peers while women lower their number so they don’t look like a slut. This topic is so banal and obvious that it deserves government funding:

  4. Sure, that’s almost certainly part of the explanation, and it’s a concrete version of what Malcolm said in his comment. But it could be interesting to disentangle just what other causes, if any, are contributing to the gap.

    And indeed, this research was funded by government. The US federal government, that is.