Sexonomics 101 – Men have more partners than Women (False)

I’ve always enjoyed spirited conversations, and sex is often a topic. While much is subjective opinion, what drives me nuts is when people claim a blatantly incorrect assumption. The worst is, ‘men have more sexual partners than women’. It’s repeated by friends and journalists alike. Take this quote from England’s The Telegraph, (and repeated word for word by Fox News), in which the journalist discusses the results of a reputable sex survey in France:

A woman’s average number of partners has risen from under two in 1970 to over five today, while a man’s has remained the same for four decades, almost 13.

If we’re speaking about heterosexual relationships, then the number of partners for men and women is equal. No debate, no wiggle room, nothing. Equal.

Doubtful? Go to your kitchen table, lay out some skittles/M&M’s/beer bottles, whatever, in two columns, the left side represnting women and the right side men. Keeping with baby colors, my women are pink and men blue.


Now connect them with drinking straws (or string, or toothpicks). Each straw represents a heterosexual relationship.

No matter how many men or women you have, whether there are more men than women or vice-versa, whether you have a million straws or just one, you will always have two ends for each straw. Always. It’s just not possible for men to sleep with more women than women can sleep with men.*

I’ll write about a few other misconceptions later.

* OK, not entirely true. There is some wiggle room if, for instance, a large number of young men sleep with older women. If this trend continues, as the population ages the older women will die before their former male sex partners, skewing the numbers so that men DO indeed have more sexual partners for the population at that moment. Nonetheless, the expected lifetime number of partners at birth and average number of partners at death remain equal for the sexes. But, is anyone really claiming that this is the case?

** Women do live a few years longer than men, so in theory their average annual rate of new sexual partners could be lower while lifetime numbers remain the same. And while sex and STD’s are apparently rampant in Nursing Homes, I don’t think this is what people are talking about when they say ‘men have more sexual partners’.

One thought on “Sexonomics 101 – Men have more partners than Women (False)”

  1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11027304?dopt=Abstract

    Men report more partners in surveys. Does that mean men and/or women are lying and/or miscalculating the number of partners they’ve slept with?

    Maybe not. Could be sampling bias: we don’t usually survey prostitutes.

    A small number of women can account for a lot of men’s extra lays… if they’re being paid for it. And in that sense, our perception about the difference in sexual behavior between men and women may have a kernel of truth to it–even if the math is, technically, wrong.

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