Friday, November 4, 2011

The Number

I was reading this conversation between Nicole Rodgers and Hugo Schwyzer in which they discuss the concept of a "number" (i.e., the number of people one has had sex with), and came across an odd statement. In the course of discussing the Kinsey Institute's statistics on said number, Schwyzer states that "the skewed Kinsey numbers suggest that some people are lying." I think he's being nice. I think the numbers show that people are almost definitely lying.

What are these statistics?
  • Males 30-44 report an average of 6-8 female sexual partners in their lifetime
  • Females 30-44 report an average of 4 male sexual partners in their lifetime

If you take two distinct groups of people and count up the number of times sex occurs between members of each group ... well, that's one number. So if the size of the two groups is the same, the average should be the same. There might be 1 percent difference in the male vs. female population on the planet, but we need 50 to 100% more women than men to explain that difference above. Alternative explanations:

  • The study is at fault. The smaller the number of participants, the less representative the reults are, and the larger the uncertainties are. Additionally, there can be selection effects; you can't just round up a thousand people on the street and force them to participate in your survey.
  • Men have had more sex by age 30-44 than their female peers because they are getting busy with older ladies. If this phenomenon is more or less uniform with age, that means the typical male participant has had sex with 2-4 women that are at least 7 years older than him. And that's assuming the female participants never do -- if one out of four of those sexual encounters are between a female participant and a male sex partner 7 years older, then fully half of the male participants' sexual encounters are with a female partner at least 7 years older. If this is true, this would be amazing because it is totally opposite what our culture pressures us to do (i.e., sleep with older men/younger women). But I don't think it's true.
  • A large fraction of people are non-binary-identified or fluid gender identification. That would be awesome, you guys, but I don't think that's currently true, either.
  • People are lying liars. Or, to put it more kindly, men round up to seem virile and women round down to seem virginal. A related explanation is that men are counting oral and/or manual sex as sex and women aren't. But I think the motivation for counting this way is probably the same.

Like I said before, I totally think it's the "lying liars" explanation. I think this is a pretty neat statistic, actually, because this question is basically a way to calibrate your study. The answer should be 1:1, and how far you are from that tells you something about the quality of your study, whether it arises from your participant selection methods or your participants' willingness to provide honest answers.

I also wonder how many people don't realize that these two numbers should really be identical, and take it at face value that men sleep with more women than women sleep with men, period. There is just no way for that to be true, you guys. No way.

No comments:

Post a Comment