“Haha I don’t know the exact number, but like 50?” says every dude you’ve ever asked about their number of partners.
And in survey after survey, men report having more sexual partners than women, with averages ranging from 9 to 13 for dudes and 4 to 7 for women.
There’s just one problem – these claims are mathematically impossible
Our Data Scientist Matt Pencer explains why.
“Think about it. When a guy and girl have sex, the guy gets a +1 added to his list, but so does the girl. Meaning both numbers are increasing by one — thus increasing the average for both sexes.
“So if we’re talking about partners of the opposite sex, it’s mathematically impossible for the average number of sexual partners to be different for men and women.”
So why do surveys consistently show men having more partners than women?
“It’s possible the difference is due to same-sex encounters between men, or errors in the surveys. However, these only account for a small amount of the difference. The real answer is obvious: dudes lie,” said Pencer, a dude.
“It’s likely men exaggerate their number, and women shrink theirs, to better conform with societal expectations.”
So how much are people lying about their ‘number’?
Matt looked at 2010-2016 data from the General Social Survey, a large sociological survey conducted every two years in the United States, which asks respondents about the number of opposite sex partners they have had. The average straight man reported having 15.1 sexual partners, versus 5.7 for women.
“Since this is mathematically impossible, men are clearly exaggerating by a lot. If we assume most of the lying is by men not women – which makes intuitive sense – the exaggeration factor is more than 2x. When a man tell you he’s had ten partners, he’s probably had less than five,” says Matt.
Some people cite the ‘hoe hypothesis’
Some people cite a mathematically plausible explanation for the perception that men are more promiscuous. Although the average number of sexual partners must be equal, the medians (the median man is the one who has slept with more people than half of all men) might differ.
“The common example is what I would call the “hoe hypothesis,” says Matt. “Imagine there are ten men and ten women. Two of the women have each slept with every man, and the other eight are virgins. So the average man and average women both have two sexual encounters, which is mathematically necessary. But most men have had more partners than most women (the medians are two and zero), thanks to some “hoes” bringing up the female average.”
But that isn’t likely to be true either
Matt set out to confirm or disprove the “hoe hypothesis.” Are there women who are sleeping with so many men they significantly bring up the male average?
“That doesn’t seem plausible,” he says. “There isn’t any evidence of these women who are having so much sex that they inflate guys’ numbers. Almost all women report having fewer than ten partners, with the majority of the remainder having under 20. On the other hand, there are a lot of promiscuous men – 10 percent reported having over 30 partners, compared to only 2 percent of women.”