Earlier this week, I wrote a post, citing a study by the US National Centre for Health Statistics that found the average man had 7 sexual partners in their life and the average woman had 4. On of the reasons I wrote the post was because those numbers struck me as very low.
Judging by the comments I received on the post, others found the numbers equally unbelievably. This is especially true when compared with other data and studies that have shown far higher numbers of average sexual partners over a lifetime. So, I decided to dig a bit deeper (I have a certain academic geek quality). Here is what I found
1. The quality of the US National Centre for Health Statistics study, while not perfect, is pretty darn good
– their sample size, at 13,000 is really big – which is very rare for any study that considers sexuality. This is a huge plus.
– their methodology was fair and objective, aside from a possible disclosure bias respondents may have in responding to a government survey. Even this, they tried to control for by not having the interviewer present when answers were given by the study participants. This is quite good too, especially in comparison to other studies
– they sampling technique was very good. I won’t go into the boring details but the way they chose participants was very objective and representative of the US populations
– they surveyed people between the ages of 15-44, so many of these people will have more sexual partners over the course of their life. Another large Australia survey sampled only the elderly, where there would be a higher likelihood they would have no more (r fewer) new partners. This indicates that the ‘real’ average, once these 15-44 year olds finish having new partners will be higher. This is good at getting a modern perspective but has an obvious shortcoming.
2. Other studies, at least many of them, have more problems
– some of the other studies that have found higher numbers of sexual partners are sponsored by magazines and condom companies — this introduces a risk of bias by the survey creators, who may want higher numbers and, thus, intentionally or unintentionally bias the questions. They also usually use methodologies that are not as rigorous as academic or government studies.
– many of the other studies are on-line surveys — this introduces a significant sample bias. It is likely that those who would respond to an online survey on sex will likely be disproportionately more sexually open and active
– many of the studies are academic and use very small sample sizes.
Therefore, based on the studies, I am leaning toward believing that the government study, with the lower numbers, may be closer to reality than I thought. It still surprised, but I have to confront my own biases: (i) most of my friends are university educated and liberal, therefore I am exposed to people who are likely to have had more sexual partners; (ii) I am very sexual open and the reasons that many people would limit the number of partners they have would not apply to me.
So, I still think the number are low, but I am very willing to admit I may be wrong (in fact I probably am)