Patrick (patrickwonders) wrote,
Patrick
patrickwonders

Lies are not statistics...

I am reading Erotic Capital by Catherine Hakim. One of the author's contentions is that despite large amounts of propaganda to the contrary, men generally do want sex more often than women do. To this end, she cites some surveys that asked the question: Do you wish there were more sex in your current relationship? The numbers seem pretty clear after age 20 that men more often feel there should be more sex in their current relationship than there is. The only way that I feel the numbers might be misleading (assuming no reporting errors) is that if women are far more likely to draw the distinction between more sex and more sex in this relationship.

So, fine. But, then the argument jumps the shark when it goes on to talk about the number of sexual partners men have in their lifetimes versus how many women have in their lifetimes. I almost crashed my car last night thinking about how wrong this argument was. I was trying to find the right analogy and totally believed while doing this that the cross-traffic at my intersection had a stop sign. I got some angry honks, but that's way better than getting hit. And, it's way better than the math in this book.

From the context, it seems clear that, for the purposes of the surveys involved, sexual partner means sexual partner of the opposite sex. The book says that survey after survey shows that, on average, men have two to three times the number of sexual partners in their lifetime than women have. It cites this as evidence that men want sex more often or just more than women do.

Let's do the math. How do we calculate the average number of sexual partners men have? We ask every man, How many sexual partners (of the opposite sex) have you had?. We sum up all of those and divide by the number of men surveyed. How do we calculate the average number of sexual partners women have? We ask every woman, How many sexual partners (of the opposite sex) have you had?. We sum up all of those and divide by the number of women surveyed.

Assume for a minute that we were able to survey a whole, closed population. For every woman on a given man's list of female sexual partners, that man is on her list. This is true for every man. For every man on a given woman's list of male sexual partners, that woman is on his list. This is true for every woman.

Some part of your brain is probably trying to figure out a way where if things were imbalanced enough... if there were a few really active women and lots of moderately active men or some such thing, it might still work out. It doesn't. It's like saying that on average Canadians enter two to three times as many buildings as they exit each day.

Where does this leave us? This means that for it to be true that men have two to three times the number of sexual partners in their lifetimes than women have, either:

  • Men live two to three times as long as women,
  • There are two to three times more women than men, or
  • Some combination of the two

None of that is borne out by the demographics. Women live longer than men and make up a (slightly) greater proportion of the population.

What do the surveys show then?

It may be there are a few women with anomolously high numbers of sexual partners who also manage to slip through the cracks of the survey. This seems highly unlikely. Even if true, it doesn't bolster the argument that men want sex more than women do.

It may be there are a few men with anomolously high numbers of sexual partners who manage to get picked for all of the surveys. This seems highly unlikely. Even if true, it doesn't bolster the argument that men want sex more than women do.

It may be that men and women differ in how well they remember the number of sexual partners they have and that one group is or both groups are systemically wrong in exactly the right way to make this impossible statistic. This seems highly unlikely. Even if true, it doesn't bolster the argument that men want sex more than women do.

It may be that women, in general, have a narrower definition of what constitutes a sexual partner than men do. This doesn't seem unlikely, but it also doesn't bolster the argument that men want sex more than women do.

It may be that there are societal pressures for men to inflate their numbers (even on anonymous surveys) and/or for women to deflate their numbers (even on anonymous surveys). I think it's undeniable that this is the case and could easily account for the whole of the two to three times factor. It still doesn't bolster the argument that men want sex more than women do.

If I were arguing that Canadians prefer being indoors to outdoors and cited a statistic saying Canadians enter two to three times as many buildings on average as they exit each day, I should be pilloried.

I'm not saying men do or do not want sex more than women do (or that Canadians prefer being indoors or out). I'm saying that citing these surveys as evidence of an argument either way destroys your credibility.

I don't know if I can keep reading this book.

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