Mathematical Proof That Women Are Just As Promiscuous As Men

There’s a perception floating around that men are more promiscuous than women and, hence, have more sexual partners during their lifetimes.

Well, I call bullshit. And I’m bringing my army of math to back me up.

In a survey taken by ABC News, men reported a lifetime average of 20 partners, while women reported a measly 6 partners. That is, the average male in the United States has more than three times as many partners as the average female.

The article goes on to explain that it’s probably a small percentage of highly promiscuous men who skew the male average upward, in much the same way that a singular percentage of partial-term state governors skews the average intelligence of Alaska noticeably downward.

The problem is, not only is the survey result a mathematical impossibility, so is the promiscuous male explanation. Here’s why:

For simplicity, let’s represent the population of the United States as a group of five men and five women. Taking ABC News’s explanation, we’ll start off with one über-promiscuous male in our population. He’s slept with all five women, while each of the five women has only slept with him:

If we take a survey of this population, superstud up there on the left proudly fills in the bubble next to the number “5,” presumably with the fire hose in his pants. The other four dudes shamefully bubble in “0.” Meanwhile, every woman bubbles in “1” and congratulates herself for dodging the flooze bullet.

Now, let’s do the math. Since every woman has only slept with one man, the female lifetime average is obviously 1. What about the men? Taking the average of one superstud at 5 partners plus four hyperduds at 0 partners equals… 1!

What? That’s right. In this scenario, the average number of partners for both the men and the women is exactly 1. Even after sleeping with every woman available, superstud still isn’t superstudly enough to Viagra the flaccid male average.

But wait a minute, you say. This is kind of an extreme situation. I mean, comic book fans notwithstanding, there can’t possibly be four virgin dudes for every superstud, can there?

Fair enough. Let’s model a more believable scenario and nudge each guy’s number up, so that we don’t have four virgins. We still have one superstud, but every other guy now gets one piece of hot action in his life.

The male average “improves” to 1.8. But wait, the female average also creeps up to 1.8, as well. The lifetime average for both men and women is still exactly the same.

Hmmm. What if throw a promiscuous woman into the mix? Maybe, in addition to a small percentage of superstuds, we also have a small percentage of megasluts who, ahem, take care of said superstuds.

In this case, we still end up with the same for men and women (2.6 now). And all we have to show for our computational efforts is a diagram that’s eerily illustrative of Jersey Shore.

You see, by virtue of the fact that sex has to occur between two people, it’s mathematically impossible for men to average more sexual partners than women. For every promiscuous man out there, there has to be a promiscuous woman willing to sleep with him. So, when you take a national average, as the ABC News survey does, the number of partners for men has to exactly equal the number of partners for women.

Go ahead, I dare you to draw up a scenario where the men have three times as many partners as women. Seriously, try it for yourself. Just don’t, you know, actually draw on your computer monitor:

So, is there any way to explain the discrepancy between men and women? Actually, there are a few valid ways. But their explanations only demonstrate how preposterous the survey really is.

The easiest way for men to average three times more partners than women is if there are three times more women in the population.

Now, the male average is 3, while the female average is 1. To this result, I have but one question: what country is this, and why am I not living there?

Another way for men to average three times more partners is if we have prostitutes in the population. And… hey, we do! Cool, let’s spice up our love stew some more.

Yes! The male average is now 3, while the female average is 1. But that’s only if we don’t count the prostitutes. If we count them as part of the population, which they really are (come on, how judgmental are we gonna be?), the female average becomes 2.14, but the discrepancy here is caused by the extra two females in the population, not the two hyper-promiscuous females.

At the same time, are we really to believe that the average American man has had sex with 14 prostitutes (14 being the difference between the male and female averages)? Maybe I’m placing too much faith in manhood, but I’d like to think not. Either way, this is kind of a contrived result, don’t you think?

Alright, we’re down to our last resort then. What if guys engage in gay sex?

Hey, this one works! Male average equals 3, female average equals 1.

But, aren’t we really stretching now? (To which those of you with dirty minds might respond, “well, that depends on what we’re stretching….”)

As before, can we really believe that the average American male has engaged in 14 homosexual encounters? If not, can we at least hold on to this stat long enough to spontaneously combust the Westboro Baptist Church? Besides, if gay sex were the actual reason for the discrepancy, then the report would seem to be intentionally misleading.

So where does that leave us then? Well, by process of deduction, the only possible explanation is that men exaggerate or women understate. Because there’s simply no way for the entire male population to average three times more sexual partners than the entire female population, as claimed by the survey.

Someone out there is lying.

Addendum

I originally wrote this as a tongue-in-cheek explanation for why sex surveys like the one referenced above are preposterous. But now that this article is making its rounds over the internet as an actual mathematical source, I wanted to clarify a few points:

The issue here is that both mean and median must be accounted for if we really want to compare the sexual behavior of men and women. Mean is the true average, which is calculated by summing up all the partners every man in the population has had and dividing that sum by the total number of men in the population (and doing the same for the women). Median is calculated by arranging every man in the population from lowest number of partners (which would have to be zero) to highest number of partners, then taking the number for the man who falls in the exact middle of the list (and doing the same for women).

By definition, the mean number of partners for men and women must be the same (at least, for heterosexual sex), which is the point of this article. However, it is possible that the median number is different for men and women.

The problem is that this is not how these surveys report their results. In these surveys, the result is invariably that men have a higher average than women. And, as pointed out here, that’s simply not possible. If a survey reports a discrepancy in the mean, then either 1) people are lying, or 2) the survey is an incomplete sampling of the population. Either way, the survey is invalidated.

No, if you want to prove that men are indeed “more promiscuous” than women (I use quotation marks here, because how we define “more promiscuous” is another can of worms in itself), then you would have to conduct a survey whose results show that the mean is exactly equal between the sexes, but the median is different (or invoke some other statistical measurement). Only then could you (arguably) conclude that men are “more promiscuous.”

I’ve yet to see such results, though.



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By day, I engineer happiness at WordPress.com. By night, I am a relationships and comedy writer, which can be redundant or an oxymoron, depending on your perspective. I am the creator of Musings, the blog you're reading right now, and LemonVibe, an anonymous relationship advice site. You can also find me on Twitter (I am not the creator of Twitter).

79 comments

  • For the sake of being the devil’s advocate. Proof it is mathematically possible. Say you have a society of 100 women and 100 men. 5 of the men and 5 of the women are virgins. 1 of the men has slept with 20 of the women. Let’s call him megastud. Let’s assume the rest of the men and women have 1 partner each. The male average becomes ( (0*5) + (94 * 1) + 20) / 100 or 1.14. In the absence of uberslut, omitted for the sake of the example, we see that the female average becomes ( (0*5) + (95 * 1) / 100). Female average in this scenario comes out to around 0.95, lower than the average of males. Ninety five of the women in the society have sex, twenty of them with one megastud. The rest of the guys are the proverbial betas.

    So what point am I making? The numbers may not be as far off as you think. A few sociological theories on the disparity of the averages:

    1) Sex is simply no longer monogamous in America. Many men sleep with prostitutes, and many women have casual sex, and most of us would agree more easily than men. This is the “prostitute explanation”, as I will call it.

    2) More people travel for sex, male and female. This throws off the averages, as people who travel may just get laid more due to more opportunity and less social judgment. This is what I call the “sex tourism” idea. Those who stay overseas would not be included in the average, as they are not citizens.

    3) A few men monopolize sex, as said megastuds. Females are largely unaware of their actions, as most guys don’t kiss-and-tell because it interferes with their ability to secure more sex from women. I call this the “megastud explanation”. Or the old adage that 10% of people have 90% of the sex. It may not be so far off, and would account for ridiculous averages.

    4) People lie. I think the social stigmas, religious and otherwise, associated with casual sex tend to mostly disfavor female promiscuity. For better or worse, that’s more or less the way it is. Few men want to “wife” a promiscuous woman. Don’t believe me? Ask your male buddies. Many women want to get married or are married. So they will not admit, often even to themselves, that they have ever had casual sex. Certainly many are not going to tell some random pollster.

    So more or less, I think the numbers are probably fairly accurate for men. Men have few reasons to lie about that sort of thing. I think what this likely speaks to is an uncomfortable reality: People are more promiscuous than they let on. A lot more.

    • You did your math wrong. In a closed population of 100 men and 100 women, if one man has sex with 20 women, 95 women have sex with only one man, and there are five female virgins, there would have to be 24 male virgins, not five.

  • Well, here’s your missing numbers… The fatal mistake is in assuming that any of these surveys are conducted perfectly, which is almost impossible to accomplish considering the life circumstances surrounding much of the prostitution trade. There are an estimated 1 million prostitutes in the US (low-side estimate) and many of these girls turn several hundreds to even over a thousand tricks per year, which is of course going to wildly skew the overall female average when factored in… http://abcnews.go.com/Health/story?id=117906

  • I was arguing about this quite loudly on the train last night, agreeing with your sentiment. However, I did think of a factor which could make it possible: Travel. If you travel to a different country or just cross the border to, say, Tijuana, for some good times, then you could have a discrepancy. It still obviously wouldn’t account for such a discrepancy, but, is another way it is possible.

  • You’re assuming men only have sex with women; if some men have sex with a very large number of other men, then you could end up with a difference in the mean for men and women.

  • The answer: For seven years a female told me she was a virgin. Today she confessed that she received anal sex with a guy nine years ago, but didn’t count it, and never even thought about counting it because there was no vaginal penetration. That same guy would count her as a person he had sex with, but she’s not counting him, because anal sex does not count in her mind. That means man=1, woman=0. If she repeats this with 3 guys, or if 3 women do this once with 1 guy, without vaginal intercourse, then a survey would make it appear that men are 3 times more promiscuous (men=3, women=0). There are some guys who would also count oral sex partners (to boost their numbers), but their partners, the women, again are not counting those men. Without the superstud theory, this is how men look like pigs, while women look like angels, even if the women initiated the sexual acts.

  • I’d argue that the mode is the true average in this case. In other words, the most common number of partners occuring for each sex is the real average. In that case it is quite possible that men have slightly more partners than women.

    Using the mode seems rather better in this case than the mean or the median.

    • That’s a good point. However, if, as many people suspect, the reality is that a very small percentage of men command a huge number of sexual partners (i.e., much higher than the highest women), then the mode for men might actually end up being lower than for women.

  • So wait… 20 is a high number??? Wow.

  • “All men are the same” -Women

    Women seem to forget that in order for a guy to be a “stud”, they need a woman’s consent… otherwise they’d be fucking rapists. Its what separates the two.

    Ironically, the very existence of “players” is dependant upon a woman’s decision to fuck them. So what they’re really saying is : “All men are the same… and so are women”

    Because for every playboy/stud/asshole/horny guy out there looking for sex, there is an equally slutty/whore/bitch willing to sleep with him. Women forget that… it takes 2 to have sex. Proof that there is balance within this non-sentient universe

    And what better ally to prove that than math?

  • you guys are dumbasses.
    Hugh Hefner was included in the survey. So if he’d had 100,000 sex partners, it will balance out the 1s and 0s most guys have.

  • final comment and I’m done with this:

    Dennis Hong says:
    February 25, 2011 at 6:52 pm
    For the record, this post was supposed to be a somewhat tongue-in-cheek poke.
    Yes, there are many different possible ways the “results” could’ve been achieved. But, most likely, it’s because people lie, lie, lie. :-)
    So all your statistics are no more than opinions and have zero basis in fact because people lie. Conjecture and nothing more. In order for any of this to be true would demand honest answers to intelligent questions.
    Thanks Dennis – I’m done

  • Actually, I’m emphatically NOT serious about this. I just find your need to be right rather interesting so I thought I’d see how far you’d take it. And don’t be too quick to dis Ghengis – he just might be your great great great grandaddy lol (I’m pretty sure he had a thing about being right too)

  • Dennis Hong says:
    January 10, 2011 at 7:53 pm

    Of course. Well, that and fuzzy math. I can pretty much spew random math statistics, and people will believe me. ;-)

    from your mouth to Gods ears – I rest my case

    • Terry: “25% of the Chinese population today is descended from Genghis Khan. Therefore, 20% of males today father 80% of infants born.”

      Now THAT’s some fuzzy math. Actually, that’s way beyond fuzzy. That’s green and slimy and completely molded over math.

  • geeze Dennis is it absolutely necessary for you to insult me for expressing an idea without turning it into a double blind study? The knowledge network lies? Do you really expect me to spend hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars researching the obvious without the benefit of a grant? Surely you just sir.

    • I’m not insulting you. Insulting you would be me saying, “you’re a dumbass.”

      Rather, I’m insulting your really shitty debating skills. Hence, “you have really shitty debating skills.”

      ;-) rightbackatcha.

    • Rebecca Sullins

      Wouldn’t “you’re a dumbass” technically be insulting his ass? Not him? So that’s ok, right?

    • Well, that would depend on what end he talks out of….

    • By the way, Terry, since you actually seem to be serious about this, the reason the Genghis Khan fact is not valid support for your statements is because you are using the stats from one man (and a vicious conqueror, no less) from nearly 1,000 years ago to extrapolate assumptions about modern men today.

      Do you not see how preposterous that logic is? This is why I don’t respect your claim and do not consider this “debate” in any way.

  • Dennis. I specifically said no stats to back that up so it’s not a claim but a suspicion. 80/20 is highly improbable but one simple example would be the fact that it’s estimated that Ghengis Khan (don’t know if I spelled that right)is directly responsible for about 25% of the population of china and that the same chain of DNA testing (the intent was to locate Eve in time and space which was actually done – watched it on the knowledge network and I assume the science was good science)applies in a similar way to other historical figures around the world. As to the point of the site I assumed that it’s purpose was to generate debate. If it’s real purpose is to agree with Dennis Hong I guess I am in the wrong place.

    • Of course you are allowed to disagree with me. I’m always willing to engage someone in intelligent discourse. However, intelligent discourse and debate must be backed up with facts, which you have not provided.

      And no, the Genghis Khan reference is NOT a valid reference for your baseless claims.

      If you want to debate, let’s do it! Just make sure you actually know how to first….

    • Rebecca Sullins

      Terry: You are starting a debate BECAUSE you say Dennis is not touting a fact-based claim. And to do this, you start making assumptions without factual proof?

      Also, do you really think that the number of women that get pregnant ouside of their marriage is large enough to skew a statistic that represents the entire population? If we’re going to argue using your logic, then you also have to take into account the Muslim nations where it is punishable by death to sleep with anyone but your husband. This practice would take all the promiscuous Muslim women out of the population, thus making the study more accurate.

      Your logic is not only flawed, it is poorly versed. If you want to make a point that people will take seriously, phrase it so as not to obfuscate your point.

    • Hey Terry,

      I am not sure exactly what your point is, but your little bit about “Eve” is something I know about. Scientists are able to track female lineages due to a little thing called mitochondrial DNA that is passed from a mother to her infant who (if female) will pass it to her infants. In studying mtDNA, scientists found that the current population (of the world) all stemmed from one woman. This does not mean that one woman had a huge number of children. It simply means that only one women had descendants that have persisted until today. She could have originally had the average number of offspring (as the other women living at the same time as her), but down the road, more of her female offspring/descendants reproduce while other womens’ female offspring/descendants died.

      My point being, 25% of China’s population may be descended from Genghis Khan, but that doesn’t mean that when he was alive, he was responsible for 1 in 4 children, it only means that his offspring continued to father children while other mens’ offspring died.

      Unfortunately, as Dennis has already pointed out, you are making a baseless claim. In fact, a quick google search has given me data that directly contradicts your findings. “An international group of geneticists studying Y-chromosome data have found that nearly 8 percent of the men living in the region of the former Mongol empire carry y-chromosomes that are nearly identical” (http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2003/02/0214_030214_genghis.html). This y-chromosome is assumed to have been shared by Genghis Khan due to his habit of raping and pillaging, however, we do not have a sample of his DNA with which to make any scientific claims. Also, 8% is quite smaller than your proposed 25%. To be fair, my source is the national geographic, whose source is a book (Modern Mongolia: Reclaiming Genghis Khan) that I don’t have access to in order to check its sources, but the fact that we don’t have Khan’s DNA pretty much seals the deal on your statistics being false.

  • Great article! I think people are getting hung up on the semantics of the broadly defined words of “Promiscuous” “Lie” and “Gay Sex”(and even just “sex” oddly enough), and trying to create extremely specific scenarios where your poignantly explained argument would be deemed invalid.

    I think the survey is revealing more about societal values and morals than it does about sexual activity: allowing men to be proud of their sexual conquests while women are allowed to act indignant while simultaneously engaging in trysts of their own. If we were the same, the status-quo would be demolished! Oh no!

    • Thanks! I’m glad you got the subtle observation I was making: that men have this incentive to exaggerate, while women have the incentive to under-report.

    • I think you’re all missing the most obvious thing which is that women who have babies by men who are NOT their husbands have a very strong incentive to lie about it. The biological father has a cuckoo to do the dirty work so bragging without naming names is just fine. I say rewrite the survey among only “committed couples” and things will change dramatically to show that about 20% of males father 80% of infants. No stats to back that up but it’s a rough intuitive guess based on existing dna testing.

    • Whoa, dude. I’m well aware of the latest claims by the PUA community regarding alpha versus beta males and all that. While some of it is grounded in evolutionary biology, the baseless stats you spout need to go.

      If you can back up your claim with a reputable source, do it. But, if you can’t, you’re just spouting rhetoric, and in that case, you’re kind of missing the point of this site.

  • The diagrams are nice and all, but the thing with a survey like this is that the “superstuds” and “supersluts” aren’t necessarily BOTH answering said survey. Let’s say Janine, 30, slept with 50 guys. She doesn’t have TIME to answer a survey, because clearly, she has a pretty busy life. In fact, most people I know don’t answer surveys very thoughtfully, if they do.. ever. I would know, I did surveys for extra cash back in the day. No matter how hard you try, especially with questions about things still as taboo as sex, you cannot possibly get a perfect picture of reality by asking people questions, and assuming they are telling the truth, or are representative of their situation/age/location.

  • One thing you got close to but never quite addressed: what if there is a section of the male population that is gay and very promiscuous with each other? And a smaller and much more monogamous population of lesbians? Now you have a larger population of straight women than straight men (higher male average), and a few “superstud” men that don’t have sex with women at all, increasing the average even more.

  • Isn’t the whole point of this that it takes two to tango? That’s really the only figure that matters to me. It’s like some people try to pretend that sex doesn’t exist for some parts of the population.

    Not that this article does that. It’s late and I found a convenient soapbox.

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