If you’ve had the unfortunate pleasure of venturing on Tinder in recent years you might come across this question. A typical answer might be 3 or 4 or even 10.
For those in the hook-up, DTF culture, they might be inclined to lean more towards 20 or even 30. Those more modest among us might shy away from answering the question in the first place.
But for the average American male, the number would be closer to 7, and for women, 4.
And for the average person over 30, the answer would include the 7 to 10 digits in their phone number.
But what’s for certain is most of our expectations that the number for men, on average, would certainly be higher than for women, right?
Some Sexy Math
3 statisticians are sitting in a bar when Donald Trump walks in. 2 of them start high-fiving and cat-whistling.
“What’s up, you stupid losers?” asks Donald.
One statistician elaborates, “Well, on average, we just became billionaires!”
The other statistician, frowning, adds, “And chronic liars.”
Much like the above drunks, the understanding of averages can be a bit of a tricky wicket.
When it comes to statistics, especially averages, context is king. Just because the average number of partners is 7 for men and 4 for women doesn’t mean that those numbers are the universal experience.
Far from it.
You could be sitting at a bar next to a guy who’s a devout monk and a woman who could give Casanova a run for his money. Does that make you, perched in the middle, an average representative of society’s mating habits?
Just take a look at what all these other sources say about the number of sexual partners:
- The CDC study mentioned above noted that men have 6.8 and women have 3.7 sexual partners on average in their lifetime
- A British YouGov survey said women have 3 partners and men have 5
- A meta-analysis by Manual says men have an average of 9.3 partners across 35 countries
- A survey by SuperDrug said the opposite, with women having 7 and men only 6.4 partners
- BedBible, a company humorously having nothing to do with the book, did a big analysis of over 400,000 people and found that men had 16.51 different sexual partners and women only had 6.79
So, what’s the deal with the numbers being all over the place?
Do men actually have sex with more partners than women, on average?
You Say Potato, I Say French Fries
The likely problem comes down to a trope 1970s jock’s worst enemy — basic math skills.
It’s not just due to different sample sizes or methodologies, but also the type of “average” we’re talking about.
In statistics, there are three types of averages: mean, median, and mode.
The mean is what we commonly understand and talk about daily as the “average” — add all the numbers and divide by the number of data points.
But the mean can be heavily skewed by outliers, those extreme values that are far from the “average” experience. A mode is simply the most common number in the dataset. The median, on the other hand, is the middle number when all the data is laid out from lowest to highest.
It’s less sensitive to outliers and often provides a more “typical” view of what’s going on.
Let’s consider some fictional data for example:
Here, both men and women have the same mean (7.0), thanks to some higher numbers balancing out the lower ones.
However, look at the median — while men have a median of 7.5, women have a median of just 4!
And I’d be bereft to not mention the thing we all know to be generally expected in most of our societies, for better or worse:
- Men who have sex with a lot of women is a good thing (somehow)
- Women who have sex with a lot of men is a bad thing (somehow)
Painted another way, with the blushing smiley faces representing the mean and the stars the median, you can see where the different averages lie:
So, when you hear about average numbers of sexual partners for men and women being different, know that if it’s truly a closed system (almost impossible in real life), the mean average has to be the same.
When we hear about men having more sexual partners than women, and if the math is truly correct, it’s far more likely to be referring to the median average.
Then again, there’s the other elephant in the room. As the grumpy TV doctor who constantly landed gorgeous women way above his league, Dr. House, often said, “Everybody lies.”
And I’d be bereft to not mention the thing we all know to be generally true in most of our societies, for better or worse:
- Men who have sex with lots of women is a good thing (somehow)
- Women who have sex with lots of men is a bad thing (somehow)
As in, people being surveyed never quite feel the full protection of being anonymous, and probably lie to favor their own self-perception, regardless of how popular the local mail carrier is among househusbands and wives.
After all, according to the World Population Review, our God-fearing friends in Utah only ever have 2.6 sexual partners on average in their lifetimes.
A state which, according to a Harvard professor’s study, consumed by far the most amount of pornographic videos in the entire country.
I’m not sure where that aligns in the whole bible thing, but I’m guessing there’s a bunch of naughty sinners who need to go to confession far more than they do.
On the other hand, maybe they’re just fibbing when the surveyor comes around (which I assume is another sin) and are letting their freak fly — in private, of course.
Either way, for those less stuck in the ways of an ancient book modified countless times over thousands of years, you might want to consider heading over to Turkey, Australia, or Iceland on your next vacation.
Because they lead the world in the number of average sexual partners, of course. And for many people around this wonderful world of ours, that’s just one hell of a good time.