Both Men and Women Overstate Sexual Frequency
Many readers were incredulous when I pointed out that in the General Social Survey, the modal number of self-reported lifetime sexual partners equals 1. Given the stereotype that men overstate and women understate on these matters, the pattern is solid: Can we really imagine that men’s true number is less than women’s reported number, or that women’s true number is more than men’s reported number? Tyler Cowen demurred that both men and women understate their number of partners.
I analyzed data from the General Social Survey, a classic source. Heterosexual men 18 and over say that they average 63 sex acts per year, using a condom in 23 percent of them. This adds up to more than 1.6 billion heterosexual condom uses per year.
Heterosexual women say they average 55 sex acts per year, using a condom in 16percent of them. This adds up to about 1.1 billion heterosexual condom uses per year.
Who is telling the truth, men or women?
Neither. According to Nielsen, fewer than 600 million condoms are sold every year.
Americans may also be exaggerating how often they have unprotected sex. About 11 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 44 say they are sexually active, not currently pregnant and not using contraception. Even with relatively conservative assumptions about how many times they are having sex, we would expect 10 percent to become pregnant every month. But this would already be more than the total number of pregnancies in the United States (which is one in 113 women of childbearing age).
Men who have never been married claim to average 29 condom uses per year. This is more than the total number of condoms sold in the United States to married and single people combined.
Yes, Tyler can always say that both genders understate their number of partners but overstate their frequency. But did he – or anyone for that matter – ever predict such a thing before hearing the facts? If you know of such a source, please share in the comments.