How Many Sex Partners Have You Had?

According to a study of 2065 heterosexual, non-virgins in their late 40s, Men report an average of 31.9 sex partners while women only claim 8.6. Is this disparity truly possible? Are men inflating their numbers to make themselves look more virulent? Are women downplaying their encounters to seem pure and innocent? Or, is it possible that human beings just have inaccurate memories?

Psychologist Dr. Norman Brown of the University of Alberta, who conducted this survey in conjunction with The University of Michigan, says the truth is that most people don’t purposely misrepresent their histories. Rather, men and women keep track of such things in a much different manner. When asked about the number of sexual partners, women tend to rely on enumeration. (IE: there was Mark, Jimmy, Ted, etc…) Enumeration is a highly unreliable method of counting and often leads to underestimation.

On the other hand, men tend to use “rough approximation.” This is a strategy well known to produce significant overestimation.

“The men in this survey were producing egregiously elevated responses,” Brown said.

To try to sort out how much the discrepancy was due to the use of different estimating methods and how much was due to flat-out lying, Brown and colleagues first asked respondents how many sexual partners they had in their lifetimes and how they generated their partner estimates. Later in the survey, they asked them to rate the truthfulness of their answers to that question.

To Brown’s surprise, 5 percent of the men and 4 percent of the women indicated they had not been truthful when they answered the sexual-partners question, and an additional 16 percent of the men and 11 percent of the women indicated they provided a response that they knew to be inaccurate. Thus, in total, 21 percent of the men and 15 percent of the women admitted they had lied and/or they had provided an inaccurate partner count.

“They gave an answer and then two minutes later admitted they had lied about the answer,” Brown said. But this leaves 79% of the respondents who either relied on an inaccurate count or believe they were telling the absolute truth. This makes this kind of survey unreliable when trying to get a realistic look into the sexual lives of human beings.

Please leave us a comment. How many partners have you had? Have you misrepresented yourself when asked this question before? How do you keep track?

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