A lot of bloggers like to use GSS (General Social Survey) data to track changes in society’s sexual behavior. Many of these bloggers have found in this data evidence that American women are becoming less slutty in the past ten or twenty years. This does not jibe with my personal experience, so I knew something was amiss. I mused that perhaps American society is bifurcating into two female camps, with the urban blue state camp waving the banner of Team Slut and the religious red state camp hoisting the flag of Team Prude. Since there are more red state godly girls than there are blue state heretic hos, I figured that would account for the overall trend toward less sluttiness.I'm not sure if this is specifically directed at me or not--Roissy has noted some of my empirically-backed skepticism of the Game narrative in the past, and as far as I'm aware, there aren't many other bloggers tracking sexual activity over time via the GSS. Assuming it is, it doesn't address what I pointed out the data suggest--namely, that sexual promiscuity has essentially been steady state for at least the last 20 years. Unless the insinuation is that women dishonestly understate more today than they understated in the past--a counterintuitive assumption given the perpetual media push towards an ever greater mainstreaming acceptance of female promiscuity--if anything, the finding that women are the less noble sex when it comes to answering anonymous survey questions honestly suggests that female sexual activity might actually be declining slightly, as a recent survey of young adults found.
But studies like the above point out a real problem with sex survey data like that found in the GSS — women just aren’t going to tell you the truth about their sex lives under most normal circumstances, even when anonymity is guaranteed. And that may be the real reason why the GSS gurus are finding chimeras of chasteness that don’t really exist — the data are corrupt.
Roissy might counter that the whole survey business is irredeemably corrupt. That's a difficult charge to positively disprove, but there's no compelling reason to believe it, either. Perhaps there is a steady modal number of sexual partners men have felt compelled to report having had that has no bearing on reality for at least the last few decades, and similarly a steady modal number of sexual partners women feel compelled to report having had that bears no relationship with their actual behavior, but where's the evidence for this? And it's not just self-reported survey data that reveal steady or reduced levels of sexual promiscuity--data collected by the CDC indicate the same thing.
I think Roissy is making the good the enemy of the perfect--of course self-reported data are not going to be entirely accurate. But in the case of sexual behavior, contemporary self-reports are probably, if anything, more accurate than self-reports in the past were, as the social stigmas surrounding sexual behaviors of all kinds have been relentlessly whittled away. Correspondingly, the shame women feel for past sexual behaviors has likely been, if anything, similarly whittled away.