Monday, August 13, 2007

The male promiscuity myth

Perhaps the most common evidence offered in support of males and females having evolved different sexual psychologies is from numerous surveys that show, across cultures, that men report having many more sexual partners than women. This is argued to reflect a basic underlying genetic fact: the best investment for a male to generate the maximum number of offspring with his genes is to impregnate as many females as possible. A woman has to invest much more in her offspring and is better served by selected fewer male partners who are more likely to provide support for her and her children.

Gina Kolata, in the Aug. 12 N.Y. Times, reports an interesting slant on this story. Simple math shows that the numbers don't add up... she quotes David Gale of U.C. Berkeley:
Surveys and studies to the contrary notwithstanding, the conclusion that men have substantially more sex partners than women is not and cannot be true for purely logical reasons...By way of dramatization, we change the context slightly and will prove what will be called the High School Prom Theorem. We suppose that on the day after the prom, each girl is asked to give the number of boys she danced with. These numbers are then added up giving a number G. The same information is then obtained from the boys, giving a number B...Theorem: G=B...Proof: Both G and B are equal to C, the number of couples who danced together at the prom. Q.E.D.
Sex researchers know that this is correct. Men and women in a population must have roughly equal number of partners. So why do men report many more than women? They exaggerate? They go to prostitutes who don't appear in the survey? (The latter would not explain the huge difference in reporting.) The most likely explanation:
...the survey data themselves may be part of the problem. If asked, a man, believing that he should have a lot of partners, may feel compelled to exaggerate, and a woman, believing that she should have few partners, may minimize her past...In this way the false conclusions people draw from these surveys may have a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy.

5 comments:

  1. It’s hard to believe that no one is looking at the activity distributions. As I discuss in my own post today, Gale is talking about means whereas the CDC is discussing medians. These are only the same under a symmetrical distribution.

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  2. In one study of college students, the gender discrepancy was present unless male and female participants believed they were hooked up to a lie-detector during questioning. Then, the numbers even out. Why? The women's numbers rise in the fake lie-detector condition.

    Regarding the question about distribution, unfortunately, I don't have access to the original article so I can't compare the figures for mean versus median. Only the "average" is mentioned in the popular media reports I was able to locate. Whether a few very active women increased their report in the "lie-detector condition" or the increase was more evenly distributed can't be gleaned from the popular press reports.

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  3. most people are not aware of a simple fact, that the arithmetic mean (average) is an useless number unless it is accompanied at least with the variance (or standard deviation) & perhaps with higher momenta (skewness, ...)
    that's why such a childish argument can propagate itself so easily.

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  4. Anonymous10:27 AM

    That formula works when assuming that each person only dances with one partner. If the male sneaks away to dance with another female who is available because some males are not attractive enough to get dates, then the average will remain the same, but there will be a statistically significant difference between women who dance and men who dance and between men who dance and men who do not. Men who dance will have more partners than men who do not and than women who do. Therefore, you will have a male who either dances with multiple partners, or one who does not dance at all, leaving the mean for all males to be one partner for each male. The median, however, is probably quite different. Therefore, men who dance, dance with a lot of partners. One possible explanation for the math.

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  5. MAY I JUST SAY THAT I LOVE THIS BLOG! ESP THIS ENTRY. I THINK THAT SOCIETY HAS LONG PLAYED A ROLE IN THE DOUBLE STANDARDS OF SEXUAL BEHAVIOR IN THAT WOMEN ARE TO BE CLASSY AND TOO GOOD FOR MEANINGLESS SEX WITH SLEAZY MEN, BUT A SLEAZY GOOD LOOKING MAN IS SOMEWHAT A KING IN THE VAST AMOUNT OF VAGINAS HE HAS CONQURED!

    YOU WOULD THINK THAT STD RATES WOULD SCARE PEOPLE OR AT LEAST GIVE THEM A WAKE UP CALL. IT SEEMS IT SHOULD ENCOURAGE THEM TO BE MORE CAUTIOUS AND EXPLORE SAFELY AND BE PREPARED. TOO BAD PEOPLE HAVE SO MANY EXCUSES WHEN IT COMES TO CONTRACEPTION LIKE...OH IM ALLERGIC TO LATEX....JUST FOOLISHNESS LOL......AND PLEASE EXCUSE MY PUNCTUATION AND ALL CAPS USAGE..I JUST TYPE THIS WAY UNLESS IM MAKING A POST ON MY BLOG!

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