Who’s the Bigger Liar?

The New York Times reported last week on the impossible discrepancy between the reported numbers of sexual partners by men and women. The short of it is men report up to twice as many partners as women, a finding that is logically unsupportable. (That is to say, whom else could they possibly be sleeping with?)

They cite a number of possible theories for the difference, noting that this obvious lie has largely been ignored by researchers and their analysis. So the question remains then, who’s the bigger liar: men or women? Further, I wonder how this plays out for non-heterosexuals of both genders — do they find the same over-/underreporting here as well?  Any burgeoning sex researchers among our readers who might shed light on the issue?

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4 Responses to Who’s the Bigger Liar?

  1. Dana says:

    Pandagon suspects that it is women who are still underreporting, (“To be a good girl, you almost have to be a liar”,) even in research situations, due to societal pressure to conform to the image of “good girls”. Though Marcotte also found the NYT article kind of amusing, she points out in a later update:

    Okay, while I’m having fun with this, I have to note that the problem I’m seeing here—that women tend to stick to the social fiction that they haven’t had a lot of sex, even in research situations—is one with serious health consequences. Ask anyone who’s worked in some kind of sexual health area and you’ll hear some pretty hair-curling horror stories about women who basically deny that they’re pregnant or have STDs in the face of all evidence to the contrary because they simply cannot admit that they’ve had casual sex or sex before marriage or anything.

    She also talks a bit more about how both sides are lying, but women more than men, here: “Just tell the CDC what a big slut you are”. Despite the cynically pithy titles, she raises interesting points about underlying attitudes toward women that I hadn’t really considered much, given that my own social circle tends to be more intellectually than sexually charged.

  2. Hedgehog says:

    Feministe also has a discussion of this article here: http://feministe.powweb.com/blog/archives/2007/08/13/math-to-the-rescue-debunking-average-number-of-sex-partner-statistics/#more-5469

    The blogger, Holly, suggests that prostitutes make up the difference:

    I’d say that what we’re seeing here is actually the conventional explanation for the discrepancy: women don’t have much sex compared to men, but supposedly there are some women who “make up for the difference” by having LOTS and LOTS of sex with then menfolk. Furthermore, these women don’t count*, at least not for the CDC’s purposes — they’re beyond the pale, outside of society. They’re prostitutes, or as Ms. Aral suggests, they’re foreigners. In the past (of segregation and slavery) and still today in so many cases, they’re women of color. They’re women who have to be left out of the math in order to make the “common sense” 7:4 ratio accurate. They’re the original reference of the shame-word “slut.”

    They’re every type of woman who’s been made to to serve as the “whore” of the classic “virgin/whore” dichotomy — to balance this mathematically impossible equation by having all the sex that good marriageable white-wedding girls supposedly don’t. (Even though this is also the survey that pointed out that 89% of Americans have premarital sex.) I could go even further and start talking about how this relates to characterization and exploitation of trans women as sex workers, in the US and around the world, as a kind of ultimate “doesn’t count as a woman” but I’ll save that for another post. You get the idea.

    * It’s worth noting that the original survey findings and media coverage about them never mentioned that prostitutes were not included. How does the CDC know that they didn’t survey any? They may have asked this as a screening question, or maybe they’re just assuming that they know what sex workers look like, or that they’re all included under “incarcerated,” or that it’s such a small slice of the population (who apparently could be having half of all the heterosex, to balance the equation) that they would have to track them down to actually include them.

  3. Oldtimer says:

    Seems to me that if you survey 100 men and 100 women and 80 of the men report having sex with multiple partners, and 40 women report having sex, with multiple partners, and you were somehow compile a list of their partners, you might find that the 80 men are all having sex with the same 40 women and there are no liars in the bunch of them.

    In a bigger population it still might work our that way. The women that are promiscus tend to get around a lot more than the men, but the fact that there are fewer of them makes the survey work out. Promiscuous women tend to be known by a larger population of men because they are easy targets.

  4. Jennie says:

    Or, you could always go with the American Pie 2 theory that everyone lies. Men multiply their partners by 3 and women divide by 3. 🙂

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