Thursday, August 9, 2007

Sex partners: Why do men report more than women?

Today I have come across a new study on sexual behaviour of students in Spain. I am not particularly interested to know how much contraception they use. But I am always curious to learn what number of partners are reported by men and by women. And really, just as suspected: Men report more partners than women in this study (no numbers given in the abstract).

In need for more data, I started a keyword search and found that adult men on average report 5 and women only 3.4 partners in Finland. In Norway, 29 percent of men but only 23 percent of women report extramarital affairs. Always this gender difference that I recall from many sex studies I have seen earlier.

Common sense tells me that the real numbers in heterosexual partners must be equal on average: Sex is (normally) an affair between one man and one woman. Therefore, every single sex affair must increase the partner score by one in a man and also by one in a woman. So how come all these differences? Two explanations are possible. Men lie (exaggerate) and women lie also (downplay) when reporting the number of their partners. Or the groups of men and of women are not representative for the whole population.

Boasting and downplaying

One main source of the difference is most likely that the desire for multiple partners is greater in men than in women, as a study in Ohio has shown. If the desired number is not the actual number, a man or a woman may be tempted to «adjust» the report in the desired direction. This is only human. In fact, I have found another Ohio study that supports this view: Men, after having been told that women are more permissive nowadays, reported more partners when they have been interviewed by a woman versus a man.

The role of prostitutes

But can dishonesty explain the whole difference? Possibly not. I always have asked myself to what extent prostitution may contribute. Men, as a part of their boasting strategy, may include prostitutes in their number of partners. But prostitutes are very unlikely to show up as subjects in a study. This might easily explain quite impressive discrepancies in the reported numbers. And really, after some scrolling down the search hits, I have found a study that supports this view.

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