Questionnaire Error

Once upon a time, men answering surveys reported lots of sexual partners, while women reported very few; and investigators actually believed them. For in those days, that most women simply had fewer sexual partners than men was something “everybody knew”; the statistical circle was squared by the assumption that the men had to be getting all their extra sex from a very small number of women, whether enthusiasts or professionals. Then, at long last, people started thinking about self-reporting error.

Men like to boast about their conquests, of course. By contrast, in almost all societies women are socially penalised for promiscuity, and also generally internalise that penalty. That is, they consider themselves better people for not being as promiscuous as men; for which reason they have a direct personal interest in condemning promiscuity, so as to affirm their ethical superiority. (Provided that the 11th Commandment is obeyed, condemning promiscuity while actually engaged in it is much more fun than condemning it while not engaged in it.) It would be entirely natural, then, for men to over-report and women to under-report their number of partners, so as to claim two rather different kinds of credit. Hence the often-quoted rule of three.

The female claim to moral superiority via relative chastity provokes an interesting question: if the questionnaires were being administered in an alternative universe, where having ten different men every week conferred higher social status than one, how many men would women claim to have had? Such a thing is not intrinsically impossible; Herodotus tells us that among the Gindanes, who lived in what is now Libya, a woman wore leather anklets, each given her by a different lover, and was esteemed in the proportion to the number that adorned her legs. It was the same with the Uighur women of Shanxi in the 12th century: before they could get married to men of their own ethnicity on reaching the age of 30, they were supposed (for Tantric reasons) to have sex with Han Chinese and were considered desirable in proportion to the number they had been with. It is not hard to imagine the Gindanes and Uighur ladies being given to a little exaggeration when completing questionnaires.

Posted on June 29, 2012 at 10:35 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink
In: WHAT WOMEN WANT, The Invention Of The Modest Female

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