There's a perception floating around that men tend to have more sexual partners than women, because, you know, men are horn dogs. You probably believe it yourself. The media certainly does. Here's a survey by ABC News, where they report that the average American man amasses 20 sexual partners in his lifetime, while the average American woman musters up a measly six:
Here's another survey that reports similar results in the United Kingdom:
Seems pretty conclusive, right? It's not just popular belief. It's not just the media. Even the United States government believes that men are just inherently hornier than women.
There's only one slight problem:
That statistic is mathematically impossible. Any conclusion that the average lifetime sexual partners for heterosexual men and women is anything other than exactly even is mathematically flawed.
Let's take a sample population of five men and five women to keep things simple. Most of the studies seem to point to a small number of highly promiscuous men who skew the male number upward. So, let's assume we have one superstud male who's slept with all five women:
To calculate the average, we add up the total partners every person has had and divide by 5 (the number of people in the population). Doing this, we find that both the male and the female average = 1, because the superstud's number is balanced out by the four dudes who get none.
OK, what if we nudge each guy's number up, so that we don't have four virgins. That seems more realistic, right?
Sorry. Now, both averages = 1.8. The men's number goes up, but so does the women's.
What if we have a small number of slutty women?
In this case, we still end up with the same for men and women (13 divided by 5, or 2.6, in both cases). And all we have to show for our computational efforts is a diagram that's eerily illustrative of Melrose Place.
Go ahead, we dare you to come up with a scenario where the men average three times as many partners as women. It's not mathematically possible:
The statistic is only possible if there are three times more women in the population ...
Male average = 3, female average = 1.
... or if heterosexual men are having loads of gay sex with each other ...
Male average = 3, female average = 1.
... but that's not what's being reported. Nobody's looking at these survey results and reporting, "Oh no! Women are multiplying at a startling rate," or "Holy shit, you guys, straight men are just boning the living daylights out of each other!" They're all using it to draw the most cliched conclusion you possibly can. Guys are cads, women are prudes.
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 of heterosexual sexual partners, as all of these studies have done, the number of partners for men has to exactly equal the number of partners for women.
So, by process of deduction, the only possible explanation is that men exaggerate and/or women understate. Even the original CDC study acknowledges this as a possibility, but it's one line buried within a 36-page document before they go ahead and stick by their conclusion.
A study by psychologists at Ohio State explains the intuitive: Women may feel a social pressure to under-report the number of partners they've had. In their study, researchers found that women were more likely to lie if they believed that their answers might be seen by others, instead offering numbers that they believed to be more socially acceptable (that is, lower than their true number of partners).
This also represents his dream of having five dicks.
As noted by one of the researchers, "We live in a culture that really does expect a different pattern of sexual behavior from women than it does from men."
To this, we add, "Well, duh."
So, go ahead and fornicate with whomever you want, and be confident in the knowledge that the person you're sleeping with has had just as many sex partners as you. Well ... on average, anyway.