In surveys about sex, there often seems to be a large gap between the number of sexual partners reported by men and women.
Men tend to overestimate their number of sexual partners and report much higher numbers than women, and a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Glasgow found answers to why this “gender gap” exists.
The results, published in The Journal of Sex Research, shows that men are more likely to estimate than actually count their lifetime total, and when they do so, they often report extreme numbers. In addition, the gender differences in attitudes towards casual sex contribute to the gender gap in reported sexual partners.
More importantly, factoring in these tendencies and attitudes closes two-thirds of the gender gap found in sex surveys.
The researchers collected and analyzed data from the third National Survey Of Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal-3) conducted in Scotland. Survey responses from over 15,000 men and women ages 16 to 74 were reviewed for the research.
On average, men reported fourteen sexual partners over their lifetime while women reported seven in the Natsal-3.
The researchers noticed that the men and women who reported more partners skewed the average, and men had a much higher tendency to estimate rather than count their past sexual partners compared to women.
24 percent of men who reported five to nine partners estimated those numbers while only 15 percent of women did the same.
Personal attitudes towards sex also played a role in the number of partners reported and the researchers noticed that women were more conservative in their attitudes on casual sex or affairs compared to men.
Accounting for all these factors drastically reduced the gender gap and the number of sexual partners of men versus women was more closely matched.
The results show how unreliable sex surveys of previous partners can be and the difference in attitudes towards sex for men and women which can have important implications in both sex education and reproductive health.
“Accurate reporting of sexual partners is crucial for many reasons, including assessing individual risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and estimating the rate of STI/HIV transmission,” said Kirstin Mitchell, the leader of the study.