Average Number of Sexual Partners

Back in January Bryan Caplan analyzed the General Social Survey to look at the average number of sexual partners reported(Caplan, 2015). Here is a chart showing the responses of men:

He said it was unlikely that men were under-reporting their number of sexual partners. Tyler Cowen disagreed, claiming that both men and women understate their number of sexual partners.(Cowen, 2015)

In the comment section of Cowen’s post, the commenter “Anon” pointed to strong evidence that men overstate: a study in the Journal of Sex Research. In the study, men were asked their number of sexual partners in three conditions, one in which they believed lies could be detected, one in which they believed their answers were anonymous, and one in which they believed someone could see their answers. In the first condition, men were most likely to report the lowest number of partners.(Alexander and Fischer, 2003)

The chart above comes from a survey of all male adults, a survey of people in their 40s would be shifted to the right and one in their 20s would be shifted to the left. Yet even if the chart were one of people who were 25 it might be hard for some to believe.

The “hook up culture” does exist, but only a minority of women participate in it. And they participate in it with a minority of men, the 10-20% of men they consider most attractive. People might get the wrong idea because men lie, all the time, about their sexual prowess. They lie on the surveys but are being honest compared to how they lie about their sexual behavior in real life. If one uncritically believed the stories all the stories men tell about “getting lucky” he’d think the average should be seven, for males at age 22.

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