Are Men Really More Polygamous?

imgpoint20070417_7723607_1Men are polygamous and women are monogamous, right? At least relatively speaking. That’s what evolutionary psychology keeps shoving down our throats. But the math doesn’t work.

In one study — consistent with many others — women claimed they’d had about six partners while men said they’d had about 12. So mathematicians tried to figure out how that could work.

Let’s see… prostitutes don’t do surveys and some guys may be having sex outside the US.

But the math still won’t work.

And really, how can men be polygamous if women are monogamous?

Other researchers hooked people up to a lie detector and asked the same question. The polygraph didn’t work but respondents thought it did. Result: both men and women claimed four partners.

A new study of college students also found that men exaggerate and women minimize. Compared with participants who were hooked up to (non-working) lie detectors, men typically added one fake partner and women subtracted a real one.

And, women had more partners than men, among the polygraph group. So are women more polygamous? (Perhaps women were more likely to be having sex with older men while men were less likely to be having sex with younger women?)

One of the study researchers suggested we should question the veracity of sex research, given people’s tendency to lie about their sex lives — more so than about other things, according to “lie detection.”

Important, because we often judge ourselves in light of survey findings.

Maybe we shouldn’t worry so much about fitting in with how we’re “supposed to be,” and focus instead on what most of us say we want from sex: pleasure and connection.

Popular Posts on BroadBlogs
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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on June 3, 2013, in feminism, gender, men, psychology, relationships, sex and sexuality, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 35 Comments.

  1. “Man, though less than some male mammals, exhibits the “Coolidge effect ” : a new female refreshes his libido: The effect is named after the famous story about President Calvin Coolidge and his wife being shown around a farm. Learning that a cockerel could have sex dozens of times a day, Mrs: Coolidge said: ” Please tell that to the president. ” On being told, Mr.Coolidge asked, “Same hen every time? ” “Oh, no, Mr. President. A different one each time. ” The president continued: ” Tell that to Mrs. Coolidge.””

  2. I really like this article as this shows how society expects how a male and a woman should act. I do not think it is true that men are more polygamous than women, i think that men and women have the same number of sex partners but since men are expected to proved manhood, they lie about the number of sex partners in their life as more sex partners shows manhood. Women lie about the number of partners they have because they do not want to be labeled as ‘whores’,’bitch’ or ‘sluts’. men and women are actually the same in terms of polygamousness but it is just that society forces men to be more polygamous and society forces women to be more monogamous.

  3. This is actually very interesting that woman are more likely to have more partners than men. It just proves that even though the accepted idea is that men are polygamous that it is actually incorrect. It is common knowledge that both genders do lie about how many partners that have since they are both affected by gender ranking. I do believe that even though these ideals and standards are put in place that they generally are not an accurate depiction of how people actually act.

  4. Angela Hughes

    In our society it is bad if women are more promiscuous but more acceptable even encouraged when it comes to men, so it is understandable that when people are surveyed women have a tendency to lie about how many people they have been with and for guys to occasionally add more. However, I do think there may be more to it than just trying to fit the social norm. If you look past the human side of it and think of animals in general. It would seem that the females role is to find one particular mate and have kids, while it’s the males to have as many offspring as possible. Though at the same time your right, it isn’t possible that women are monogamous and men are polygamous.Perhaps women just have more of a want for connecting with one person and having a family while guys or at least younger men today are still trying to prove their manhood.

  5. Before reading this article I knew that men tend to exaggerate when talking about the number of sex partners they’ve had and women tend to minimize their number; and rightly so. Men get applauded and a higher status or popularity with every women they sleep with and women only receive negative consequences with each new partner, such as being called names and looked even more down upon by peers. Men want to prove their manhood, thinking that the higher number of girls they have sex with is a way of doing that so they will lie to get that satisfaction. It’s funny because as the article stated, the numbers don’t add up. So who are men having sex with? The one thing in this article that really surprised me was the fact that women on average have a higher number of sex partners than men do. I think this is because I am still young so the guys my age are still trying to prove their manhood by seeping around or at least still lying about it and also being in school if a girl sleeps around it’s likely to be known by everyone. I guess as you get older and your lives become more private it’s easier for women to engage in sex with multiple partners without it being known by a bunch of people and her being slut shammed. Of course I don’t think slut shamming goes away at a certain age though. I think it’s good that women have a higher number of partners than men do just because women are so repressed of sex throughout our whole lives and only given negative consequences for liking sex and doing it. I say it’s time to call bull shit and just do as we please.

  6. Guilherme Paludeti

    I always found it kind of weird how men say that it’s always the woman who is infected with STD s(because she is a “slut”) even though it takes “two to tango,” and this post makes sense because how can men be having more sex if they have to have sex with someone else, with another female. The only logical explanation for this is that the surveyors interviewed a lot more gay men than straight men which is highly unlikely. So as I’ve said before men lie to much and lie often about their sex partners. Same goes for women, even though I think that men tend to exaggerate more than women tend to minimize the amount of men they’ve slept with.

  7. Juan Leonardo

    I believe that women and men are the same in terms of how monogamous or polygamous they are. Especially in U.S, where having sex have became a normal thing, women are more confident about having sex with more men. In other countries such as countries in asia, where women are not valued if they have sex with many men, they tend to hide and be afraid of being polygamous. So what I’m saying is, naturally, men and women are the same, but society has made men more polygamous while women become more monogamous. According to the survey, women are trying to reduce their number of sex partners. I think this is because they are afraid of being called whores. Men, on the other side, tend to maximize the number because being able to sleep with more women gives them pride. So, for me, yes, women are more monogamous due to the image created by the society.

  8. Worrying about what we are suppose to do really gets in the way of pleasure and connection. im guaranteed that if men focused more on pleasure and connection with their partners they wouldnt care about having as many partners.

  9. sandra ruelas

    I have to admit that when I’m asked how many partners I’ve had I lie and make my number much smaller. I think girls do that because 1st it’s no ones business and 2nd we like to keep our numbers low. Men lie because they want you to think that they have experience and make you think all these girls want him.

  10. I think the “mathematics” commenter already got schooled quite appropriately, but I would like to add my two cents worth:

    1. Said “college study” asserts heteronormativity in its illogical assumption that all participants were straight.

    2. Said “college study” did not account for the fact that most men do not have to bear the damaging stigma of slut-shaming and other sexual policing as a result of agreeing (or even not agreeing) to have casual sex, whereas most women do.

    Highly unscientific “research” with atrocious methodology.

    • Yes. And I communicated that point in these paragraphs in the link I sent him:

      American Indians and Tahitians were promiscuous before European contact, so I don’t think monogamy’s in the genes.

      In the western world women’s sexuality is repressed by negative messages from parents, friends, religious instructors, words like slut and whore, and worries about reputations. The threat of sexual violence can make sex seem fearful, while the act of sexual violence can make sex seem abhorrent.

  11. “So mathematicians tried to figure out how that could work.”

    It works pretty fine. There are many, more than you can possibly imagine males, that they grow old as virgins or having very few partners.
    These are victims of the “playing hard to get” tactic and/or lack of confidence.
    Remember a man has to be a MAN. If he is shy and quiet he gets nowhere. No woman wants a quiet, weak, scared boy.

    So there are more women available to fewer men.

    There are many men who do have more partners on average than women. Just not all males.

    I will give an example

    10 women had on average 5 partners each
    so that means that also
    10 men had on average 5 partners each

    BUT among those 10 men, there are
    6 men who had on average 8 partners each and
    4 men who had on average 0.5 partners each

    Someone could claim the same for women but that wouldn’t be entirely correct.

    It’s always supply and demand.

    If a woman DOES want to find a partner it will be much easier for her, than for a man to find a partner.

    There was this social expirement done by a college. There was a video on the internet about it.

    A young attractive male asked 50 female strangers on the street “hello, would you like to sleep with me?”
    Some laughed, but he got 0/50 YES.

    A young attractive female asked 50 male strangers on the street “hello, would you like to sleep with me?”
    Most of them laughed and she got 48/50 YES.

    0% YES for the male asker and 96% YES for the female asker.

    That would be an interesting topic
    [Who gets more rejected, men or women?]

    Also consider this, IF there were brothels with male prostitutes for female clients, would that be a good business?
    Female prostitutes for males are everywhere in the world and will never run out of business,
    on the other hand male prostitutes for female clients don’t exist.
    We are talking about two extremes.

    So why there is so much demand for sex by men and there is no demand for sex by women AT ALL?

    it can’t be because of the society, simply because many men would love to get paid to have sex with women. But no woman would ever want to pay for sex. They don’t have to.

    It’s supply and demand.

    By the way in Australia a businesswoman opened the first brothel with male prostitutes for female clients.
    I wonder how long it will be before it goes out of business.

    • See my comment policy. I won’t post future comments that are this long.

      First, unlike actual mathematicians, you don’t seem to understand how to do the math.

      Second, see this post:

      Women Want Casual Sex? Yes and No

      • Males are biologically meant to mate with more than 1 mate. Its a proven fact. Actually it is basic elementary facts. One male can conceivably mate with a different woman every day of his life and father a child every single day into his 70’s and 80’s. A male human being produces sperm his whole life, while woman are born with all the eggs she will ever have. Once a woman hit puberty she has a short window to produce a child until menopause. A woman can only get pregnant once every 9 months, while a man could “conceivably” impregnate 100’s of woman in 9 months. You are letting your feminist opinions dictate facts and logic. Of course in a society where woman control the sex, the average male will take what he can get. A typical male that you studied may have only had 12 partners, but if given the choice, it would be hundreds. A study in California had a VERY attractive male ask a hundred different random woman to have sex with him. Not 1 single woman said yes……..they had a VERY attractive female ask a hundred different random men to have sex with her…..ALL one hundred men said yes!!!!!! Men are very basic creatures. And sex is pretty much #1 on the list…..its not even the male’s fault ….its just how they are biologically made. Can men be faithful?????? of course….human males have an intelligent brain that can over ride their physical need to have sex….. but to ask a man not to have sex, is like asking a woman to stop her period.

      • See my next two posts.

        One will talk about how many evolutionary psychologists now think that men better reproduce their genes and create healthier children by being monogamous.

        And other evolutionary psychologist now think that women are the ones who are at least as polygamous as men ever were. That post comes out on Wednesday. If you don’t want to wait until Wednesday – when I just briefly mention this point – see these on “sperm competition”:

        To paraphrase from Wed’s post:
        research that suggests the reason guys can orgasm within a few minutes, while women require extended foreplay and have multiple orgasms, is sperm competition. “Put simply,” he says, “it means a lot of guys having sex with a single woman and letting the sperm fight it out for the available egg.” And let the best sperm win!

        Also, see these.

        Are Women Naturally Monogamous?

        Women Want Casual Sex? Yes and No

  12. Geez, people of all genders sleep around a lot! I have had one partner, and that’s plenty! LOL

  13. I’m with Rohan. It’s all about connection, isn’t it? Real pleasure comes from connection, not just bodily sensations, and it definitely doesn’t come from social norms.

  14. Rohan 7 Things

    The last sentence sums it up perfectly. When many of the cultural influences are removed, men and women tend to relate to sex and partners in a very similar way. In the end we should get back to connecting and enjoying our interactions 🙂

    Thanks for sharing!


  15. I like this article. And I would like to say same thing with the author, “how can men be polygamous if women are monogamous?” This is so true and also women tend to hide or lie about their number of sex or number of partners. On the other hand, men are more likely to exaggerate to prove manhood because if they have more sex than their fellows, they feel more satisfied or they can value themselves higher and they can say “real” man in this way. When the research comes to women, they tend to minimize their facts, so the research usually shows that women have more sex and sex partners than men do, but this is so mythical. Since men exaggerate and women minimize, the research about sex is usually full of lies.

  16. Myles Blackwell

    I once asked a friend that was pretty close to me about her number of sexual partners. She told me that she had been with 4 guys. I then asked her if she was lying and she caved and told me the number was 6. I asked her why she lied and she told me that 5 was pretty much “the limit” on being a “slut” or easy and that many other girls that she knows say 5 or lower as a rule of thumb regardless of the actual amount. I thought it was a little ridiculous, but I can easily understand where they’re coming from, especially with college reputations mixed with the hook up culture.

  17. I always thought that there must be one woman who was screwing everyone and so skewing the data. I spent half my life looking for her. 😉
    The truth is that surveys are worthless because no-one tells the truth.

    • Well, not entirely worthless. Under lie detection the exaggerations in this instance weren’t so high (though they must be higher in others, as when women say 6 and men say 12 — real ans must be 9).

      But on other, non-sex partner, questions, people answered the same whether they were under threat of lie detection or not.

  18. I’m of the belief that as long as folks are happy, who cares? Having said that…I’m not sure what these surveys have to do with whether any specific gender is polygamous. Nothing in this post that I can see indicates whether or not these relations were happening simultaneously.

    • The fact is, the math doesn’t work for men to be more polygamous. They simply can’t be. That means they’re not.

      That, in addition to the fact that when given a “lie detector test” men and women claimed the same # of partners. Or that women claimed more partners here, shows that we really need to question evolutionary psych. Just because one gender claims more partners doesn’t make ev psych theories true.

      But when people believe ev psych it tends to “justify” the double standard.

      • “The fact is, the math doesn’t work for men to be more polygamous. They simply can’t be. That means they’re not.”

        All through history there were many societies that men were polygamous.
        The higher in hierarchy a man was, the more women he had. The emperor had 1,000 women, the high class men had 100 women each, the village leaders had 10 women each. That left the majority of men with no women at all.
        So it may seems odd but in reality the law for monogamy was enforced to “protect” men.
        So if each man can only marry one woman, then there is someone for everybody. Otherwise the rich and powerful would get all women and thus leaving no women at all to common men.

        That’s from “the Red Queen” by Matt Ridley. Have you read it? it’s a very interesting book.

      • I don’t mean polygamous that way, where women have no choice but to be monogamous. I mean it the evolutionary psychology way, meaning that men have sex with a lot of different women, but women have sex with just one man, and it’s all everyone’s choice.

        Actually, it protects both men and women because all those women who are married to one guy? It often isn’t the woman’s idea. Women would prefer to have one man who’s devoted to them instead of a man whose attention is divided between her and a whole bunch of other women. Seems to have evolved without help from the powers that be. See this:

        Women Want Betas

      • “Women would prefer to have one man who’s devoted to them.”

        again from “the Red Queen” I read this theory that makes a lot of sense. Women (of course not all of them) want a man who’s devoted to them but when it comes to “reproduction” – sex they may search for a more attractive man than their man to have an affair with. And she doesn’t have to be unhappy with her man to feel the need to have an affair. She can be happily married and still cheat on him.
        Like the movie “Unfaithful” (2002). She was happily married, still she fall in love with a charming, handsome man because she was a woman, she wanted, needed to feel that passion.

        I believe that both men and women can be polygamous but a kind of different. A man may “go after” whoever comes his way, men are interested more in quantity, whereas a woman will “go after” another man only if he’s “better” than her man, women are more interested in quality.
        Why there so many prostitutes for men? they never seem to go out of business, even if they aren’t good looking.
        Would women every pay to have sex with unattractive stranger men?

        I am not saying that women are monogamous and they stick to only one man. They can sure be polygamous but only if the potential lovers meet their criteria, women have “higher standards”. Whereas a man can be married to a very attractive woman and he may cheat on her with other unattractive women.

        It’s ironic, men are supposed to be more visual and care about women’s looks but it’s more likely to accept any sexual offer even from unattractive women.

      • Sure, that’s the pattern in Western societies. But things differ in some other societies.

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