Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Men have same amount of sex and number of partners today as they did 20 years ago

Previously, I've looked at the relationship between the number of sexual partners a man accumulates over time and the number of children he has. It's clear that men with fewer partners (but at least one, obviously) are the most procreatively successful. I'm not a big fan of the conceptualized alpha-beta dichotomy, but when it comes to reproduction, the betas are coming out on top. I've also attempted to measure alpha traits by race, finding a far higher percentage of alpha traits among black men than among white or Hispanic men, and have shown that men who say they would suffer in the place of their lovers (surely a beta move) have more children than men who say they would not (why suffer for a girl when I can just as easily find another one?)

It is in that spirit that I wondered what could be gleaned from the data regarding male sexual activity over time in the US. Unfortunately, the relevant GSS items only extend back to 1989, so the timeline here just covers the last couple of decades. Still, if the social narrative insinuated by Roissy and other PUAs--that the sexual coliseum is increasingly becoming a winner-take-all arena where the guys at the top continue to get more and more while those at the bottom are deprived of the little they used to have--is proceeding apace, it would presumably be quantitatively detectable. Seems to me that is evolutionary history, something that humanity is leaving behind alongside our hunter and gatherer past.

The following graph shows the percentage of all men aged 21-45 by the number of different partners they've had through the course of their adult lives. It's a bit difficult to decipher at first blush, but the ranges are mutually exclusive so that in each year the total percentage of all men falling into one of the six categories based on number of partners comes to 100:

What stands out is how, excepting the expected random bouncing around from year to year, the percentages have been quite stable over the last two decades. A plurality of men fall in the 2-5 partner range, safely assumed to be beta territory. The 20+ category did hop up quite a bit in 2008 from 2006, which could conceivably be the first signs of a trend that is currently spreading across the country, but everything else presented in the graph is steady state. The virgin portion of the population is not growing.

The next graph shows the frequency with which men aged 21-45 have had sex over time.

Again, steady as she goes is the story here. Men report having virtually the same amount of sex at virtually the same frequencies today as the men who preceded them did two decades ago.

To the anticipated objection that the graphical measures include married men, it seems to me that they necessarily should. If changes in sexual activity are detectably changing in the US, that said changes are confined only to the quarter of the population that hasn't yet (or ever will become) married, and those shifts are offset entirely by married men moving in the other direction, no real change is occuring. Tracking only unmarried men presents another problem as well--men in long-term relationships are presumably closer to married men in their sexual behavior than they are to single men.

GSS variables used: SEXFREQ(1)(2)(3-4)(5)(6-7), NUMWOMEN(0)(1)(2-5)(6-10)(11-19)(20-250), AGE(21-45), SEX(1)


AC said...

Well done!

OneSTDV said...

Damn, stop ruining the narrative! If this gets out, what will we all blog about.

Anonymous said...

Interesting data. Did you try controlling for race?

Anonymous said...

Heh. The PUAs will just say betas aren't having more kids, they're raising alpha kids unknowingly.

Bill said...

Your age category is kind of wide. Presumably, the population 21-45 has been getting older over time. And older implies more years of potential sexual activity.

Audacious Epigone said...


No, though that would be worth doing. Thanks for the suggestion.


The question was asked of men who were between the ages of 21 and 45 at the time they participated in the survey. The GSS is not longitudinal in the sense that it interviews the same people on multiple occasions spanning some period of time. So it's as close to an apples-to-apples comparison as the GSS allows.

agnostic said...

The past 20 years have been a major social transition, with everyone having less sex and with fewer partners than they had during the two or three decades before 1990. Teen pregnancy, STD rates, etc. have all been falling.

So we expect both high-ranking and low-ranking guys to be doing worse from the early '90s to now than they were before.

Too bad the GSS doesn't let us see before that, so we could tell if the traits that shape the ranking have changed. I.e., even though jocks and nerds are both doing worse compared to what they used to get, have jocks and nerds switched places in the rankings?

The appeal of the prototypically masculine stars -- the Eastwood / Stallone type and the Bon Jovi / Johnny Depp type -- sure has fallen off a cliff in the past 20 years. They've been replaced with a huge demand for wimpy or obese guys who couldn't protect a terrier, and singers and actors who couldn't get a girl's blood racing if they had all their lives.

So it wouldn't be *too* surprising to see the dopey kind of guy doing better than the Stallone kind, but we'd need data to see.

MQ said...

The internet lets small minorities get together and create little internet worlds where the stuff they like to bitch about totally defines the world. The PUA-sphere is mostly made up of men who don't get laid as much as they would like and are bitter about it, and they define all reality to reinforce those prejudices.

The prejudice against married guys (aka "herbs" or "provider betas") is a way of evading unhappiness about lacking a fulfilling relationship.

Your GSS stats are supported by the CDC data on numbers of sexual partners, which also shows the world humming along pretty much as normal.

n/a said...

Good post. But re: "that is evolutionary history" there's nothing definitive about the numbers stated by Baumeister. They're just rough (now dated) estimates based on genetic data. A more recent estimate puts the breeding ratio much lower than 2:

We estimated beta from rho(X)/rho(A) inferred from genomic diversity data and calibrated with recombination rates derived from pedigree data. For the HapMap populations, we obtained beta of 1.4 in the Yoruba from West Africa, 1.3 in Europeans, and 1.1 in East Asian samples. These values are consistent with a high prevalence of monogamy and limited polygyny in human populations.

Shawn said...

is race being controlled for, and the changing nature of demographics?

Audacious Epigone said...


As always, thanks for that.


It is for all races. Since NAMs have more sex than whites do, we'd expect an increase in frequency and partners today relative to the past, but to the extent that there is any increase at all, I'd be hesitant to attribute it to anything other than racial shifts. The age range is consitent throughout.