In the comments of Agnostic's post on various aspects of cultural trends relating to women, Roissy wonders:
How accurate is slutty dress as a proxy for actual sluttiness? While fashion may have gotten more conservative, my observations of the urban chicks in their natural habitat is that their actual behavior has gotten sluttier than ever before.The best I am able to do is go back to 1988. Since then, the GSS has asked around 160 unmarried women aged 18-30 every year or two how many people they have had sex with over the course of the last twelve months.
Is it even possible to collect uncorrupted data on the sexual activity and # of partners of 20-something women in relation to women from past generations?
After four partners, the GSS answers are by range. I consider the middle of the range to be the true value for these respondents. As fewer than one in fifty women have five or more partners in the period of a year, this assumption on my part is a minor issue. Of the 2,069 respondents over the twenty year period, a total of four reported having more than 20 partners (the 21-100 range) in the scope of a year. Including these women, who very plausibly may be active prostitutes, skews the three years they were surveyed in. Consequently, they are excluded. The following graph shows the mean number of partners by year. Notice the parameters, chosen for ease of contrast (click for greater resolution):
Combined with Agnostic's demonstration that 'slutty' dress has waned over the last couple of years, the GSS data suggest Roissy's observation is quite accurate.
Because the timeframe for each year actually spans nearly 24 months (those asked in early January 2008 essentially giving their sexual history for 2007 while those interviewed in late 2008 giving their 2008 history) coupled with the fact that there aren't data for every year, it's more difficult than it might seem at first blush to track the state of the economy with promiscuity. If anything, it appears that when times are bad, women have more partners, but the numbers for 1998, a few years into the inflating of the dot-com bubble, argue against this. There are probably other fluctuating trends that are simply more determinative than macroeconomic conditions.
Also worth noting is that despite the year to year undulations, we do appear to have experienced (and are still experiencing) an increase in the number of per capita sexual relationships over the last two decades. However, the assumption that ladies are going out each weekend seeking to become another notch in a stranger's belt is way overblown. For 2008, the most promiscuous, only four in ten young women had more than one partner over an entire year. Being involved with (and committed to) one's beau, if sexually active at all, is still the norm for a majority of girls who are not yet up against the wall.
GSS variables used: AGE(18-30), MARITAL(2-5), PARTNERS(0-7), SEX(2)