Mathematical Proof That Women Are Just As Promiscuous As Men

There’s a perception floating around that men are more promiscuous than women and, hence, have more sexual partners during their lifetimes.

Well, I call bullshit. And I’m bringing my army of math to back me up.

In a survey taken by ABC News, men reported a lifetime average of 20 partners, while women reported a measly 6 partners. That is, the average male in the United States has more than three times as many partners as the average female.

The article goes on to explain that it’s probably a small percentage of highly promiscuous men who skew the male average upward, in much the same way that a singular percentage of partial-term state governors skews the average intelligence of Alaska noticeably downward.

The problem is, not only is the survey result a mathematical impossibility, so is the promiscuous male explanation. Here’s why:

For simplicity, let’s represent the population of the United States as a group of five men and five women. Taking ABC News’s explanation, we’ll start off with one über-promiscuous male in our population. He’s slept with all five women, while each of the five women has only slept with him:

If we take a survey of this population, superstud up there on the left proudly fills in the bubble next to the number “5,” presumably with the fire hose in his pants. The other four dudes shamefully bubble in “0.” Meanwhile, every woman bubbles in “1” and congratulates herself for dodging the flooze bullet.

Now, let’s do the math. Since every woman has only slept with one man, the female lifetime average is obviously 1. What about the men? Taking the average of one superstud at 5 partners plus four hyperduds at 0 partners equals… 1!

What? That’s right. In this scenario, the average number of partners for both the men and the women is exactly 1. Even after sleeping with every woman available, superstud still isn’t superstudly enough to Viagra the flaccid male average.

But wait a minute, you say. This is kind of an extreme situation. I mean, comic book fans notwithstanding, there can’t possibly be four virgin dudes for every superstud, can there?

Fair enough. Let’s model a more believable scenario and nudge each guy’s number up, so that we don’t have four virgins. We still have one superstud, but every other guy now gets one piece of hot action in his life.

The male average “improves” to 1.8. But wait, the female average also creeps up to 1.8, as well. The lifetime average for both men and women is still exactly the same.

Hmmm. What if throw a promiscuous woman into the mix? Maybe, in addition to a small percentage of superstuds, we also have a small percentage of megasluts who, ahem, take care of said superstuds.

In this case, we still end up with the same for men and women (2.6 now). And all we have to show for our computational efforts is a diagram that’s eerily illustrative of Jersey Shore.

You see, by virtue of the fact that sex has to occur between two people, it’s mathematically impossible for men to average more sexual partners than women. For every promiscuous man out there, there has to be a promiscuous woman willing to sleep with him. So, when you take a national average, as the ABC News survey does, the number of partners for men has to exactly equal the number of partners for women.

Go ahead, I dare you to draw up a scenario where the men have three times as many partners as women. Seriously, try it for yourself. Just don’t, you know, actually draw on your computer monitor:

So, is there any way to explain the discrepancy between men and women? Actually, there are a few valid ways. But their explanations only demonstrate how preposterous the survey really is.

The easiest way for men to average three times more partners than women is if there are three times more women in the population.

Now, the male average is 3, while the female average is 1. To this result, I have but one question: what country is this, and why am I not living there?

Another way for men to average three times more partners is if we have prostitutes in the population. And… hey, we do! Cool, let’s spice up our love stew some more.

Yes! The male average is now 3, while the female average is 1. But that’s only if we don’t count the prostitutes. If we count them as part of the population, which they really are (come on, how judgmental are we gonna be?), the female average becomes 2.14, but the discrepancy here is caused by the extra two females in the population, not the two hyper-promiscuous females.

At the same time, are we really to believe that the average American man has had sex with 14 prostitutes (14 being the difference between the male and female averages)? Maybe I’m placing too much faith in manhood, but I’d like to think not. Either way, this is kind of a contrived result, don’t you think?

Alright, we’re down to our last resort then. What if guys engage in gay sex?

Hey, this one works! Male average equals 3, female average equals 1.

But, aren’t we really stretching now? (To which those of you with dirty minds might respond, “well, that depends on what we’re stretching….”)

As before, can we really believe that the average American male has engaged in 14 homosexual encounters? If not, can we at least hold on to this stat long enough to spontaneously combust the Westboro Baptist Church? Besides, if gay sex were the actual reason for the discrepancy, then the report would seem to be intentionally misleading.

So where does that leave us then? Well, by process of deduction, the only possible explanation is that men exaggerate or women understate. Because there’s simply no way for the entire male population to average three times more sexual partners than the entire female population, as claimed by the survey.

Someone out there is lying.


I originally wrote this as a tongue-in-cheek explanation for why sex surveys like the one referenced above are preposterous. But now that this article is making its rounds over the internet as an actual mathematical source, I wanted to clarify a few points:

The issue here is that both mean and median must be accounted for if we really want to compare the sexual behavior of men and women. Mean is the true average, which is calculated by summing up all the partners every man in the population has had and dividing that sum by the total number of men in the population (and doing the same for the women). Median is calculated by arranging every man in the population from lowest number of partners (which would have to be zero) to highest number of partners, then taking the number for the man who falls in the exact middle of the list (and doing the same for women).

By definition, the mean number of partners for men and women must be the same (at least, for heterosexual sex), which is the point of this article. However, it is possible that the median number is different for men and women.

The problem is that this is not how these surveys report their results. In these surveys, the result is invariably that men have a higher average than women. And, as pointed out here, that’s simply not possible. If a survey reports a discrepancy in the mean, then either 1) people are lying, or 2) the survey is an incomplete sampling of the population. Either way, the survey is invalidated.

No, if you want to prove that men are indeed “more promiscuous” than women (I use quotation marks here, because how we define “more promiscuous” is another can of worms in itself), then you would have to conduct a survey whose results show that the mean is exactly equal between the sexes, but the median is different (or invoke some other statistical measurement). Only then could you (arguably) conclude that men are “more promiscuous.”

I’ve yet to see such results, though.

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By day, I'm a marriage and family therapist. By night, I am a relationships and comedy writer, which can be redundant or an oxymoron, depending on your perspective. I'm the creator of Social Savvy Sage, a coaching service that focuses on developing social skills. I am also the creator of Musings, the blog you're reading right now. You can find me on Twitter. (I am not the creator of Twitter.)


  • You have given this much thought I see. 🙂 I’d say the theory about exaggerating vs understating is more correct that many think.

    • The flaw in this is that you have not defined promiscuous or rather ignore it.

      A woman with one partner cannot be considered promiscuous. YOu have argues corretly that as a whole women have the same amount of partners…but you have not proven or disproven that there are more promiscuous men than women. A best, you have only slightly proven that there is likely to exist more virgin men than women.

      Looking forward to your response.

  • Hmmmm Dennis.. you lost me a bit in all the statistical stuff (hey I told you, *you* are my mathematical guru!), but I get the gist here. I’ve heard and tend to believe, the theory that for a more accurate number of partners, one must add three to the female’s claim and subtract three from the male’s claim(Nush said it more efficiently above). I gotta know, what happens to the statistics then? I can’t begin to know how to do the math for that or I’d check that one myself:) As usual, great post!!

    • Actually, even if you add three to the women’s survey result and subtract three from the men’s result, you’d still end up with 9 and 17. Still a big discrepancy….

  • You’re making a couple of assumptions here Mr. Dong:

    1. The population of men to women is the same. Atlanta, for example, historically has a 4:1 ratio of women to men! This could very easily make the claim valid.

    2. People don’t lie. Anyone who has ever watched House knows better than to believe people tell the truth. Women who state that they’ve slept with 20 men are labeled as whores, making it benificial for them to lie. Men who state 20 partners get pats on the back and free beer, making it benificial for them to lie. I’ve never once told the truth about my “number.”

    3. The poll took into account multiple demographics. People with different backgrounds, incomes, and neighborhoods are going to have different views on sex. Are we sure they didn’t just poll the mall in Connecticut?

    Although, I guess the fact that I’ve always lied about mine gives some merit to your calculations!

    • I think Dennis is saying people DO lie. That has to be the only explanation for the discrepancies in number. That, and what is a sexual partner to one might not constitute a sexual partner to another (A male friend of mine had a very long list… until I asked him to narrow it down to (pardon my vulgarity) actual penetration. Suddenly his 20 went down to 2.
      But, yes, Rebecca, I agree- I have always been told the only acceptable number for a girl is “3.”
      Silly, really.

    • Dude, Res. I am so busting you on not having read the article before commenting. Assumption #1 I address directly. Assumption #2 is, in fact, that conclusion of the article. And assumption #3 is based on the survey’s own claim that it’s representative of the entire nation.

      So there. :-p

    • Nope, I read it and thoroughly enjoyed it.

      1. You address it, but don’t actually take it into account. The one scenario where you take into account a discrepancy in population, you call preposterous.

      2. But even if people lie, do you really think that women lie by 9, and men by 8? It also doesn’t factor in that not every woman is going to lie to make her number lower, and not every man is going to make his higher.

      3. Ah… but that’s still an assumption! And it can’t have. They definitely never asked me or Q… we would have SO thrown off the curve!

      I did enjoy it though… especially the diagrams, you know how I like diagrams!

    • So the issues you have are with the original survey, not with my article. Just thought I should clarify that, since you’re refuting all the survey’s assumptions, not mine….

    • Wait, wait, wait… back it up a bit- 4:1 ratio??

      Well I know where to plan my next vacation. Thanks Res!

    • Yup! I don’t know if it’s true anymore… but back in the 80’s/90’s, it was a very hot topic of conversation!

    • Oh man, Rebecca, you should acknowledge you are refuting the survey’s claims, and not Dennis’s. You completely sound like you are trying to bust him about claims he never ever made! [and is actually refuting himself, which kind of makes your argument a “repetitive tautology” of his actual article, which seems very strange….you are arguing his points with his points…]

  • “To this result, I have but one question: what country is this, and why am I not living there?”


  • Your use of the term “megastud” for men vs “megaslut” for woman shows a bias on your thought process on men vs woman and their activity level, IMHO, only continuing to allow the double standard to exist.
    And it is true, lying does occur frequently, it is pathetic that we feel the need to do so.
    As for prostitutes, the are just using supply and demand, capitalism and skill set to their advantage 😉

    • Your use of the term “megastud” for men vs “megaslut” for woman…

      I was wondering if someone would catch that. But, yes, that was part of my subtle commentary. 😉

  • I really think it’s the lying thing that sways the numbers so far out of skew. Old saying is men double their number, women half theirs. I always figured why count to begin with? Does it really matter? I have no idea what my number is… 10? 20? And why would it matter to me what the guy I’m with’s number is? I’m not sure what merit to assign to this number. I suppose this is why I never kept a count. Or maybe I’m just getting old and forgetful and coming up with excuses for my failing memory?

  • Happy New Year Dennis!!!! Good post.

  • Great post, Dennis! Love the diagrams. Favorite line? “…in much the same way that a singular percentage of partial-term state governors skews the average intelligence of Alaska noticeably downward.” Hahaha. Nice.

    I suck at math. So I can’t make much of an argument. I would agree that there are many people lying. Men are probably overstating generally, and I think some women are understating. And I think there are some women that REALLY skew the numbers, those with 25+ partners or something.

    I guess what I’m wondering, is besides the math here (which is definitely not my area of expertise), would you definitely say that you think men and women are equally promiscuous and that the variation is only attributable to bad survey data, lying, etc.? I just … in my gut (I know that’s very mathematical and unbiased).. but in my stomach and heart and soul and everything… just KNOW… that men are more promiscuous than women. This comes from the relationships and the conversations I’ve had, with women friends and partners. Am I crazy?? Or better yet, so as not to ask questions I don’t want the answer to, am I crazy for thinking this?

    • I generally don’t buy into the biological argument that women are hyper-selective baby factories and men are engineered to inseminate everything that moves, but I have to say that there’s some small kernel of truth to it.

      For the whole of human history, women have always risked more than men when it comes to sex. As long as women carry the burden of pregnancy, they will always be more careful with their bodies than men will be.

      Or, according to Dennis, at least they will claim to be in surveys.

  • I’ve been hoping someone would ask this question….

    Okay, assuming that the male:female ratio is exactly 1:1 in the population, and only counting heterosexual sex, and including everyone in the population, the average number of sexual partners for men has to, by definition, be exactly the same as the average number of sexual partners for women.

    However, the range and the median for men can be much higher. What this means is that the highest men may have had (I’m pulling numbers at random here) 10,000 partners, while the highest women may only have had 1,000. At the same time, there may be less than 100 men in the world who are at 10,000, while there may be thousands of women who are at 1,000.

    Loosely translated, a small percentage of men are sleeping with most of the women. Now, there is data to support this. And, as it turns out, this is exactly what my monogamy article would’ve predicted.

    So… no, you’re not crazy. At the same time, it also means that you’re only accounting for the attractive men whom you’d want to sleep with, while totally ignoring the large percentage of unattractive ones you wouldn’t. Which is what we men would expect you to do, anyway. 😉

  • Like the logical way you present your arguements.

    Have also found interseting a number of your older pieces.

  • The truth is that there is a significant(of course it is not a 30%, but more than error margin ) percentage of men that never have sex and don’t have a sex life at all, contrary to women which most have sex life.
    It is based on evolutionary base we came from. Some males get more females, some get none. Well, it is similar to almost every human feat and activity – while women sits in the middle of Gauss curve, men are more likely to be on the extreme ends.

  • Dennis, just be honest. Was this entire post with all the fancy math your sneaky way of trying to find out my number?

  • A commenter on my blog linked me to your blog.

    Good post, lots of thought went into your analysis. I think most likely you’re right about the lying, however there is something that could throw it off hypothetically speaking:

    What if American men left the country to have sex?

    Like the Van Halen song:

    “Oh, wham bam, oh Amsterdam (Yeah yeah yeah)
    Stone you like nothin’ else can (Yeah yeah yeah)
    Woo! Hot damn, roll an Amsterdam (Yeah yeah yeah)
    She can’t then nothin’ else can”

    • Good point. That could skew the average somewhat. Still, though, that would imply that the average American male has slept with 14 non-American females.

      Is that likely? Hmm….

  • unless I’m mistaken, though your explanation covers the bulk of the discrepencies, the population of Gay men is of a higher percent than that of lesbian women. Moreso that the gay population, not bound by how more straight individuals are more sexually conservative. finnally we don’t have everyone accounted for. Perhaps the men had sex while on a Canadian beer run, and so while the world average stays the same, the american percentage goes up.

    Maybe it’s a combination of lying, more gay men than lesbian women, and more males having sex with foregners.

  • What if we just count the part of the population who are sexually active?
    Exactly like the very first situation up there (just one man has slept with all of the 5 women), and then, the survey don’t want take into account the other 4 men considering the fact that they do not practise sex!
    they are part of the population … but not the sexually active population hihihi.
    I like your demonstration, meanwhile, does ABC really want to mislead us or just hide little things like this? 🙂

    • Well, the problem with that is that it’d be a contrived result. You can’t report on the supposed sexual behavior of Americans if all you’re doing is reporting on those who are sexually active.

      For the record, this post was supposed to be a somewhat tongue-in-cheek poke at an obviously misleading result published by a major news agency. In fact, studies (see the one linked in the last line of the post) have demonstrated that people do, in fact, lie about their sexual history.

      Yes, there are many different possible ways the “results” could’ve been achieved. But, most likely, it’s because people lie, lie, lie. 🙂

  • I think the obvious answer to why the ABC survey was skewed is that promiscuous men answer sex surveys and promiscuous women don’t.

    Or maybe people only count encounters that led to orgasm.

  • The flaw in this is that you have not defined promiscuous or rather ignore it.

    A woman with one partner cannot be considered promiscuous. YOu have argues corretly that as a whole women have the same amount of partners…but you have not proven or disproven that there are more promiscuous men than women. A best, you have only slightly proven that there is likely to exist more virgin men than women.

    Looking forward to your response

  • I think you’re discounting gay sex way too easily. If Dan Savage has taught me anything, it’s that gay men have can have sex with hundreds of people, often at the same time. (Although I’m sure that’s an unfair stereotype. Right, guys?)
    But even ignoring the fact that there ARE more females in the population than males, you’re right, someone must be lying. Why? Well, let’s take society. Even you, in a piece supposedly about objectively looking at the sexual habits of the population drawing numerical equality between the sexes, manage to label men who sleep around as “Superstuds” (which I’m sure every man would love to be called), and women who do the same as “Megasluts” (sexual shaming at its finest).
    Hmmm… so why would anybody lie?

    • It was my subtle commentary illustrating why men and women do lie. Glad you got it.

    • If a woman has sex with an alpha male who is NOT her husband it is entirely likely she’ll lie about it to protect her support mechanism. DNA testing is showing this to be more true than anyone ever imagined

    • that is to say she has sex with and gets pregnant by said alpha male who is not her husband

  • Actually, there’s also another and far more sobering possibility.
    Stats show that 1 in 6 women are sexually assaulted in their lives (while men experience the same at 1 in 33). Some are raped more than once. 94% of these crimes go unreported, largely due to denial that it happened (the way you go into denial over any traumatic event), or because of the shaming, blame, and lack of assistance or justice often encountered by victims. They might not acknowledge these experiences on a sex survey, and rightfully so- rape is an act of violence that has very little to do with sex.
    Meanwhile, her boyfriend, friend, husband, teacher, boss, acquaintance, brother, father, or even (unlikely) stranger- whoever it is who assaulted them- probably totally thinks he just got laid.

    • Yikes! I appreciate your reading and commenting, but that’s a whole lotta rhetoric you’re slathering on there.

      I checked the stat you posted. What it actually says is that 1 in 6 women are the victims of sexual assault or attempted sexual assault. Sexual assault does not automatically equal rape. I could not verify the 94% unreported stat, and I challenge you to provide a source on that.

      Either way, you’re making some huge assumptions here.

    • I know I’m way behind on responding, but I just came to Dennis’ blog and was enjoying his old posts and comments. I hope this conversation is not to stagnant for me to reply: I’d have to say that Dennis’ point is a very important one. The fact that people assume sexual assault to equal rape is probably a factor in it going unreported and largely responsible for the lack of psychological support for victims of sexual assault receive.

      Also, your own point about who is likely to be a rapist affects the statistics. Husbands and boyfriends can rape, but they’re also likely to have had consensual sex with the victim. Considering that fact, it would be very difficult to correct the statistics by cross-checking them with rape statistics. Though again as you pointed out, rape has little to do with sex, so even if the attacker counts his victim as a sexual partner, he is wrong, thus bringing us back to Dennis’ 1:1 ratio of sexual partners for men and women.

    • Hey, Charlotte! Of course not. And don’t worry, there are no post-by dates at Musings on Life and Love. 🙂

      Thanks for the comments!

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