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 with some sluttastic hooker seasoning.
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 is 3. Just like the male average.
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.
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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