Thursday, March 26, 2009

Number of sex partners for young women over the last twenty years

++Addition++In one of those ruddying moments, Peter asked if the figures was restricted to single women or included those who were married. Uh, the latter, out of my absent-mindedness. Consequently, this post has been altered from how it was originally presented--but not substantially--as it now includes only unmarried women. The patterns and averages are basically the same, with a slight rise in average number of partners per year. Slight, because the increase in the two or more partners contingent was mostly offset by an increase in the percentage of women who remained abstinent for the year prior to their interviews.


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.

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?

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.

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)


Anonymous said...

Are these figures for both married and single women, or just singles?


Jokah Macpherson said...

So the beau is the 1.0 and Roissy's "alpha male" is the .7...or is it the other way around?

Audacious Epigone said...


Thanks for the question. I have no idea why I didn't think to filter the search for only singles, as obvious as it is when thinking about it.


I like to think that, at 1.0, the beau's are the entirety, and then there are the rest for Roissy and the other hunters to play around with.

agnostic said...

Also search for "your generation was sluttier" for representative data on pre-18 females from about 1990 to the present.

Age of losing virginity has gone up steadily, and percent of females who've had 4+ partners has declined steadily.

Give the two recessions and two booms over this time period, there's no relation between macroeconomic trends and sexual behavior among young girls.

Audacious Epigone said...

Here is what Agnostic is referring to.

Anthony said...

In my observations, lots of unmarried young(ish) women will go from exclusive boyfriend to exclusive boyfriend with very little break in between, so the number of sex partners in a year will be the inverse of the average length of relationship. However, a significant number of women will go through a very slutty phase, lasting a few months, where they will have lots of partners. (Then under-report the number later...) Not very many women will do this more than once in a lifetime, or maybe twice (once in college and once after the divorce). It would be interesting to compare the "number of partners in past year" versus "number of partners in lifetime" and age for never-married women to see if my observation is supported by the statistics.

Ron in L.A. said...

I wish I understood statistics better than I do, but it seems like the fluctuations year to year are exaggerated by the choice of perspective (a 0-10 y-axis would give you a much flatter line), and that the basis is a small sample, so no real trend can be observed except that the median number of partners per annum is pretty steady between 1 and 2.

Anonymous said...

Can you break out the stats by race?

Niels Hoven said...

Your observation that when times are bad, women have more partners, is particularly interesting to me. I found a very similar trend in my own analysis of the GSS data, showing that increased sexual activity is associated with financial dissatisfaction (at least until about age 35, when the trend suddenly switches).

Audacious Epigone said...


Interesting, but age is a huge confounding factor. If you're interested, you should do the analysis by age (filter the results for AGE(18-24), AGE(25-34), etc) to see how strong the financial situation/sex frequency relationship is among people in the same generation.

Niels Hoven said...

Thanks for the reply, Epigone. I did segment my analysis by age - check out the last three graphs. (It was sort of the point of my post.) Thanks for the comment, I'm really enjoying your blog.

Audacious Epigone said...


Oh man, I misread the two age graphs. You've already done just that. Sorry about the oversight.