November 5, 2009

People You’ve Slept With: Calculation Errors Explained

Research 13 Comments

How many people have you slept with?

A horrible question that never did anyone any good. (I understand concerns about a new partner’s sexual health, but that’s what tests are for. Trying to calculate the risk of sexual disease based on how many partners someone has had has to be the most flawed method I’ve ever heard of. It only takes one time, after all.)

Conventional wisdom on the matter was best illustrated by the movie American Pie. Men tend to increase the number of sexual partners and women tend to lower theirs. Research seems to support this.

Norman Brown, a psychologist at the University of Alberta, finds that American men report an average of 18 partners while women report 5–but he thinks it’s more than people lying. Psychology Today elaborates:

Women are more likely to “just know,” or to have a tally somewhere, a method psychologists call “notches on the bedpost.” Women are also more likely to use enumeration (“Let’s see, Dave, Tarik, that guy from the gym…”), which produces underestimates, since people forget instances.

Men are more likely to use rough approximation (“Jeez, I don’t know, like maybe 50?”) or rate-based estimates (“Let’s see, one a month for the last five years…”)—a method that produces overestimates.

How do you count your lovers?

AV Flox

Your humble editrix-in-command.

More Posts - Website - Twitter - Facebook

  • http://buttontapper.com Laura Roberts

    Nice post. I’ve definitely been an enumerator, which may produce underestimates, but is definitely closer to reality than the rough approximation method. I’d also be interested in seeing differences in calculation based on the semantics of the question “how many people have you had sex with?” as many people define sex differently or selectively. Maybe you only count the sex if it was good, or if you loved the person, or if you came, or if it was done in a particular style–am I right ladies? We also selectively eliminate the truly terrible from our numbers when we’re too embarrassed to admit we slept with certain people, whereas guys are all about overinflation of numbers, particularly when boasting to their male friends.

  • http://twitter.com/RobertFischer Robert

    I’m an enumerator. But this isn’t a surprise since 1) my number is low relative to the ballpark and rate given in the article, and 2) I’m apparently a woman in the way I think about sex.

  • http://twitter.com/RobertFischer Robert

    Oh, and +1 for not asking. I thought people figured out that’s a stupid and problematic question back in high school…?

  • http://www.wetasphalt.com/ Jay

    I enumerate. But really, if you think about it you’ll get to the right number eventually. It’s funny because if you ask me right off the bat, I’m likely to give you one number, and then I’ll think about it some more, and the longer I think about it, the more the number goes up.

    The other thing is that often what one person counts as sex might not be counted by somebody else. Particularly in the age of cyber/phone/email/cam sex. We’re way past an era where “third base doesn’t count” is the limit on how to figure who you did and who you didn’t screw.

  • Anaiis

    That’s interesting, Jay. I don’t count cyber, cam, or phone sex as sex. I don’t count people with whom I have only had manual or oral sex, either, which is funny, because if you ask me outright whether oral sex is sex, I will say, “yes, duh.”

    Fortunately, this doesn’t pose too large a problem, as I can only think of two incidents where the situation did not escalate to full-on sex.

    Laura, do you count bad sex? I do–I’m pretty heteronormative in this definition. If a penis went into a vagina or anus, it’s sex. Do I count as sex the encounters I’ve had with women, then? What about situations where I sodomized a man? This is fascinating. It’s making me question my tally (the accuracy of which I have doubted for many years, as it is).

    I’d say there was a column in here somewhere but… not a chance.

  • http://www.wetasphalt.com/ Jay

    i don’t count cyber/phone/cam, but I do count oral only. I wonder if blowjobs count for guys but not the girls giving them? Of course my point is that you can draw some lines fairly arbitrarily in order to get your count wherever you want it. Think about those girls who only have anal as a way of staying “virgins.”

  • Miller

    I always make notes after the event. I also use those to chart monthly and annual averages, which can be…really, really, depressing. Well, at university I used to get girls to sign a note with name and date and location. Trained historian— documents matter. I only count actual intromission as sex. Anything else (oral, phone, manual, making out) is just Fooling Around, not sex. And— “good” or not, it counts if there’s intromission. That criterion is how you measure yourself against other males for rank-hierarchy purposes…and against the girls you’re with.

  • http://malackey.tumblr.com malackey

    I always say I’ve been with enough people to know what I like, and what I’m good at. Saves me the trouble of trying to come up with an exact number.

  • Orchid

    I enumerate, but sometimes I have a broader definition of sex than other times, e.g. whether I include oral or not.

  • Anaiis

    Does it depend on who’s asking, Orchid? How willing have you been in your dating to give up that kind of information to a lover?

  • Anaiis

    Malackey, you’re so good at evading, darling!

  • Anaiis

    You’re very thorough, Dr. I found an application that I liked for handling this early last year called BedPost. They’re still in beta, but they really excelled as far as charts and graphs, which, for people like you and I, are vital visual components of the tally. You should check it out. I’ll try contacting them to do a write-up, too.

  • Anaiis

    I was just thinking about the anal-sex-only-means-I’m-a-virgin population. That’s so funny, Jay. I count anal but not oral as sex. I think this is a great topic for a poll.

Facebook

Add our page on Google+!

Keep up with everything we're covering right in your stream. Please note this page is limited to users 18+.

Featured

Gamers Won’t Be Seduced, Will Stare At Random Cleav Instead

That Steam allows the objectification and sexualization of female characters in a variety of its games but refuses to accept a game about actually engaging with women in a more interactive fashion is astonishingly backward.

FetLife Is Not Safe for Users

That the site doesn’t take measures to protect user content and has shown incompetence or negligence in regard to user privacy, all the while prohibiting victims from warning others about predatory behavior creates an environment where it is nearly impossible for members of the community to take care of themselves and one another. By enabling FetLife to continue espousing a code of silence, allowing the spinning self-created security issues as “attacks,” and not pointing out how disingenuous FetLife statements about safety are, we are allowing our community to become a breeding ground for exploitation.

Why You Should Vote No On Prop 35

Should people who benefit (parents, siblings, children, roommates!) from the earnings of “commercial sex acts” (any sexual conduct connected to the giving or receiving of something of value) be charged with human trafficking? Should someone who creates obscene material that is deemed “deviant” be charged as with human trafficking? Should someone who profits from obscene materials be charged with human trafficking? Should people transporting obscene materials be charged with human trafficking? Should a person who engages in sex with someone claiming to be above the age of consent or furnishing a fake ID to this effect be charged with human trafficking? What if I told you the sentences for that kind of conviction were eight, 14 or 20 years in prison, a fine not to exceed $500,000, and life as a registered sex offender?

Pretty and Calls Herself a Geek? Attention Whore!

If you are a woman, you might be given a chance to prove yourself in this community. Since there is no standard definition of what a “geek” is and it will vary from one judge to the next anyway, chances of failing are high (cake and grief counseling will be available after the conclusion of the test!). If you somehow manage to succeed, you’ll be tested again and again by anyone who encounters you until you manage to establish yourself like, say, Felicia Day. But even then, you’ll be questioned. As a woman, your whole existence within the geek community will be nothing but a series of tests — if you’re lucky. If you aren’t lucky, you’ll be harassed and threatened and those within the culture will tacitly agree that you deserve it.

Cuddle Chemical? Moral Molecule? Not So Fast

Zak’s original field, it turns out, is economics, a far cry from the hearts and teddy bears we imagine when we consider his nickname. But after performing experiments on generosity, Zak stumbled on the importance of trust in interactions, which led him, rather inevitably, to research about oxytocin. Oxytocin, you might remember, is a hormone that has been linked previously to bonding — between mothers and children primarily, but also between partners. What Zak has done is take the research a step further, arguing in his recent book, The Moral Molecule, that oxytocin plays a role in determining whether we are good or evil.

How to Avoid Pissing off a Stripper

Let’s talk about the strippers. Whether they like to be half-naked or not, whether they enjoy turning you on or not, there’s one thing they all have in common: they’re working. Whether you think that taking one’s clothes off for money is a great choice of career is really beside the point (is it a possibility for you to make $500 per hour at your job without a law degree? Just asking). These women are providing fantasy, yes, but that is their job. And as a patron of the establishment where they work, you need to treat them like you would anyone else who provides a service to you.

Masthead

Send us news!

Editrix-in-Command:
AV Flox

In-House Theologian:
Robert Fischer

Eros and Desire Scholar:
Dawn Kaczmar

Scientific Consultant:
Jason Goldman

East Coast Liaison:
Jackie Summers

Arch-Nemesis:
Barbie Davenporte

Read about the contributors we've had over time on our staff page.

Follow SAT405 on:
Twitter
Facebook

RSS

Hosted by (mt)

About

Sex and the 405 is what your newspaper would look like if it had a sex section.

Here you’ll find news about the latest research being conducted to figure out what drives desire, passion, and other sex habits; reviews of sex toys, porn and other sexy things; coverage of the latest sex-related news that have our mainstream media's panties up in a bunch; human interest pieces about sex and desire; interviews with people who love sex, or hate sex, or work in sex, or work to enable you to have better sex; opinion pieces that relate to sex and society; and the sex-related side of celebrity gossip. More...