Psychologists and social theorists are well aware of the fact that popular culture has been perpetuating myths about human sexuality since, well, forever. But given that we are living in an era of increasing sexual liberation, at least in Western nations, and social media oversharing, this has gotten better in recent years – right? Maybe not.
According to a survey by polling firm Ipsos, both men and women in the UK and US are wildly out of touch with reality in regards to the intimate activities of the opposite sex. But (some) men are particularly clueless.
The research data – collected from online queries given to between 1,000 and 1,500 people, aged 16-64 or 18-64, in each country – reveals that the average guess among men for how often a typical young woman (18 to 29 years old) has sex is 23 times per month in the US and 22 times a month in the UK. However, the women of this age group who were polled reported having sex an average of five times per month – a more than four-fold difference in expectation vs reality.
"It’s interesting that this misperception is so profound. It really illustrates the extent to which men really don’t understand female sexuality," Chris Jackson, a spokesperson for Ipsos, told BuzzFeed News. "Men just don’t seem to have a good understanding of the reality for women. I guess that’s not actually news."
Guesses about young men’s sexual frequency were also far off the mark, but not as dramatically. The overall average estimate (from both men and women) was that 18 to 29-year-old males are doing it about 14 times per month, whereas the average self-reported number was four.
And demonstrating that women are not free from misunderstanding, the Ipsos survey showed that the average guess among females of all ages for the frequency of young women’s sexual encounters was 12 times a month.
Of course, because the survey assessed a broad group of people, likely with large differences in lifestyle, and didn’t account for differences in sexual activity between those in relationships or single, the “real” figures listed must be taken with a massive grain of salt. In addition, relying on people’s self-reported numbers leads to dubious accuracy, and it is important to note that this survey is not peer-reviewed research and focused only on heterosexual encounters.
Keeping these limitations in mind, it is still amusing to look at the outcomes of the next section of the study, which asked participants to guess how many sexual partners the average man and woman in their country have had by age 45 to 54. Men and women in the US, UK, and Australia (where another ~1,500 people were polled) were pretty good at guessing the average man’s number (between 17 and 19), as you can see in the chart below. But American men did an appalling job at guessing for women – estimating an average of 27 compared to the reported 12 – and both men and women in the UK and Australia were also far off.
When guessing why men’s numbers are so much higher than women’s considering that heterosexual sex involves one of each, the Ipsos pollsters report that such findings are common in sex polls.
“There are a number of suggested explanations for this – everything from men's use of prostitutes to how the different genders interpret the question (for example, if women discount some sexual practices that men count),” they wrote.
But it seems most likely to be a mix of men's rougher and readier adding up, combined with men's conscious or unconscious bumping up of their figure, and women's tendency to deflate theirs. It seems that the most reasonable conclusion is that men up their number a bit, women downplay theirs a bit more, and we actually reveal something close to the truth when guessing for 'other people'”