Sex Ask Math
posted by August 13 at 13:34 PMon
Historically, sex surveys have “confirmed” cultural stereotypes: Men will screw anything that walks, women choose their partners carefully. According to surveys of heterosexual men and women, the average man has had seven sex partners, while the average woman has had four. Women: close-legged. Men: Sluts.
Statistically, however, that’s impossible. Even accounting for female partners who may not be included in the survey (prostitutes, women overseas, etc.), there is simply no way that men can have nearly twice as many sex partners as women. The New York Times’s Gina Kolata proves it.
“By way of dramatization, we change the context slightly and will prove what will be called the High School Prom Theorem. We suppose that on the day after the prom, each girl is asked to give the number of boys she danced with. These numbers are then added up giving a number G. The same information is then obtained from the boys, giving a number B.
Proof: Both G and B are equal to C, the number of couples who danced together at the prom.
The number of female and male heterosexual partners in the US must be roughly equal. And yet, in survey after survey, men consistently report having had many more partners than women. Why the discrepancy?
Possibility No. 1: Men may overreport, wanting to appear more “manly.”
Ronald Graham, a professor of mathematics and computer science at the University of California, San Diego, agreed with Dr. Gale. After all, on average, men would have to have three more partners than women, raising the question of where all those extra partners might be.
“Some might be imaginary,” Dr. Graham said. “Maybe two are in the man’s mind and one really exists.”
Women, meanwhile, may underreport, not wanting to look like “sluts.” The result: Statistically impossible conclusions that only reinforce the stereotype of men as promiscuous and women as chaste, compounding the problem in subsequent surveys.
If asked, a man, believing that he should have a lot of partners, may feel compelled to exaggerate, and a woman, believing that she should have few partners, may minimize her past.
“In this way,” Dr. Gale said, “the false conclusions people draw from these surveys may have a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy.”