Why We Lie About Sex Partner #’s
College students were surveyed on over 100 different behaviors, each of which are thought to be either feminine or masculine. Half the students were also hooked up to a polygraph machine (which didn’t work, but they thought it did).
Many men said they liked to cook, write poetry and pet kittens. A number of women had changed a tire or driven 90 mph. Lie detector or not, the answers were the same. People told the truth about behavior that didn’t fit gender norms.
Until it came to sex. Then, men exaggerated the number of partners they’d had, while women subtracted.
Researchers aren’t sure why.
I can speculate.
First, we have a long history of men repressing women’s sexuality so that men will know who daddy is. Among other things, “impure” women have been shamed and shunned. Evolutionary psychologists say men don’t want to squander resources on kids who aren’t their own. I have some other ideas on “why,” which I’ll discuss later. Regardless, today in the western world women still face plenty of slut-shaming.
Add to that, pressures on young men to prove manhood through sexual prowess with women.
For young men — especially those in fraternities and sports teams — having lots of sex with lots of women is a huge measuring stick. Men aren’t measured so much by whether they might like to pet a kitten or write poetry. And neither of these things are obsessed over and ritualized.
But men often use sex to see who’s on top. It’s a major game. There is even a “how to” book on nailing women that is entitled, The Game. In this, men compete by conquering women — meaning, who can get more women to “submit” to having sex with him? As they succeed they “score.” Men are congratulated and high-fived all around. They earn the proverbial (or literal) notch on the belt, or headboard.
This game may explain why it’s so important for women to bring their numbers down. Even as women increasingly gain equality in sexual behavior, there is not yet an even playing field. Men discussing “the game” of hookup culture say that women lose a bit of status when they “give it up.”
Between this game culture and a long and strong history of keeping women chaste so that men know who dad is, sexually adventurous women have routinely been demeaned as “easy,” or worse: slut, whore, ho’, tramp, skank, nympho, hussy… the list goes on. What positive word labels a woman who enjoys having sex with lots of men? Even here, today, men may still take the walk of fame as women take the walk of shame after a casual romp.
In a society that has not quite overcome shaming and faming it is no surprise that women and men cling to gender expectations that have such big effects.