Saturday, May 21, 2011

Women have a little less sex and a couple more partners than they did 20 years ago

A year ago, I looked at the number of sexual partners American men have had over the last couple of decades to see whether or not a trend towards greater sexual promiscuity and general activity, as the Game narrative contends is the case, would be empirically detectable. The data, however, reveal that it has been steady state over that period of time.

This came in the wake of having found it to be clear that men with fewer partners (but at least one, obviously) are the most procreatively successful. I'm skeptical 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?)

I'm certain I'd planned on doing the same for women, but as I was entering my late-twenties at the time, senility must have kicked in and kicked it off my mental to-do list. Through the miracle of fish oil tablets and yoga*, it found its way back on that list, slated for completion rather than misplacement this time around.

The following graph shows the percentage of all women 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 women falling into one of the six categories based on number of partners comes to 100:

There is an evident decline in the number of women sticking with a single partner over time, corresponding to increases in the percentages of women reporting no and 6-10 partners. Excepting a seemingly random spike in 1996, the trends are pretty continuous. The decline in the number of women with a single partner is presumably a result of the decline in marriage rates over the same period of time, with women who would've married in the past engaging instead in a series of monogamous relationships, or forgoing sex entirely.

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

There has been a gentle decrease in the percentage of women having sex at least once a week, as indicated by the light blue and red lines, and a corresponding increase in the percentage getting freaky less often than that. As women have more sex when they're married or in a relationship than when they're not, the decline in marriage rates predictably seems to correspond with a decrease in overall female sexual activity.

In summation, the story over the last couple of decades for women in the US is a slight increase in variety and a slight decrease in frequency.

For objections about the reliability of the data, see here. The consistent discrepancy between male and female self-reported numbers indicates that at least one sex persistently fudges the figures. Veracity may be couched somewhere in between, or simply come out of the mouths of men. Unless the argument is that there has been a change in the degree to which women low-ball and/or men overstate the numbers over time, though, that question is irrelevant to what is reported here.

If anything, I'd guess the female tendency towards understatement is declining, as the social stigmas (especially those of a religious bent) surrounding more active and wide-ranging sexual behaviors of all kinds have been relentlessly whittled away.

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

* Okay, I'll confess to having only done a yoga routine once in my life (albeit in the last year!), finding it far too slow and light for my tastes. Resistance? Hell yes. Isometrics? Sure. But let's confine stretching to the first three minutes, please!


Jokah Macpherson said...

I would argue that the tendency of females to understate their partner count is unlikely to decrease much for the same reason you have expressed skepticism of game techniques. A lot of people would like to think we live in a libertine era but most girls still dream of going to the altar wearing white, and the social penalties among their peers for being a "slut" are just too harsh to chance it.

Also, I had never noticed before, but there is a gap in the acceptable responses for the SEXFREQ GSS variable. A women who had bi-monthly sex in the past year, for example, would not fit into any of the categories.

Audacious Epigone said...


Yeah, based on personal experience that's the feeling I get as well.

Perspicacious observation. That contingent has to fall into the "once or twice" or "monthly" categories, I guess.

silly girl said...

Did each year have the same percentage of women in each age range?

If over time the number of older women include rises as an overall percentage and the number of younger women decreases, then of course women have more partners because they have had more time to find more partners. Also, older women would have sex less frequently.

So, are the percentages in the age ranges consistent or do they change?

Audacious Epigone said...

Silly girl,

Eyeballing it they look to be pretty consistent over time, although that would be a potentially confounding thing to look at. I probably should've used a narrower age range for greater consistency.

bgc said...

The alpha/ beta distinction of 'Game' is a gross, egregious misuse of terminology from a biological perspective.

Alpha is defined by domination of *reproductive* success - roughly, those having the largest numbers of viable offspring.

So, in biological terms Game-'betas' (especially those in orthodox religions) are the *real* alphas of modern times.

Sterile sex is reproductive suicide - so (in strictly biological terms) most Game-'alphas' are in fact the eunuchs of modern times.

agnostic said...

I don't see quite that picture when I use the PARTNERS variable instead of NUMMEN.

There's also a cohort effect, whereby Baby Boomers and probably Generation X are doing it more and with more partners than the Millennials.

The Youth Risk Behavior Survey shows that since 1991 the percent of high schoolers who've ever had sex is steadily down, as well as the percent who've had 4+ partners.

The popularity of Game actually shows how prudish the times are, since in a more promiscuous environment both men and women are more willing, obviating the need for a thousand-page user's manual for the female mind. Also guys used to not need extensive pep talks to go out and talk to girls.

When my parents took me out in public at 3 years old, I used to run cold-approach kino-escalation game on any fertile woman I could find. I'd find a sitting target, run up close, take her hand, hold it for a second, give it a big smooch, then look up into her eyes, smile, and say "Charming!" They got a big kick out of that, and so did I.

The best places were crowded but easy to maneuver through, having aisles or something. The food court at a mall, up and down the aisles of the movie theater, up and down the aisles of a plane, and so on.

I think that back in 1983 even small children could sense how horny the teenagers and grown-ups were, maybe picking up on body odor cues or something. Needless to say I've never seen little kids doing this recently.

bgc said...

One of the many suicidal traits of our society is its reluctance or inability to provide fora for young men and women to meet and get to know each other before dating.

When the standard places for meeting the opposite sex are dances and parties (often noisy, rushed, crowded) then sophisticated, leisurely, repeated and multi-factorial mutual evaluations are almost impossible.

It becomes inevitable that men and women judge each other superficially and in a short-termist fashion - essentially on the basis of looks, tribal markers and obvious (but temporarily fake-able) manner.

The unnaturalness and anxiety-provoking of this situation leads to excessive drinking - which leads to further problems.

Anyone who is serious about the family as a basis for a civilized society cannot be happy that partners are supposed to find each other in these circumstances, for want of alternatives.

I was interested to discover that Mormons, who for theological reasons place the highest importance on marriage, provide a wide variety of civilized ways in which partners can find each other and make suitable marriages: young single adult wards (churches) are the most obvious.