Why We Lie About Sex Partner #’s

walk-of-shame-leaving-after-a-one-night-stand-demotivational-poster-1273339894We lie about our number of sex partners more than other stuff. Why is that?

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.

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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 5, 2013, in feminism, gender, men, psychology, sex and sexuality, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 48 Comments.

  1. I agree with this article.This problem is applied to men and women. People want to give pleasure to their sexual partner. and both of them want to show perfect looking for partner. Sometimes their partner’s feeling is more important than their feeling. so they act that they partner is doing well even though it is not fact. They think that this way is best react in situation. However, I think that is not best way. I think that having sex is communication, so they need to say honestly. then, they can spent better time with their partner.

  2. I agree with your point of view and it is still happening to our society today. It indicates that women and men are having different commentaries on doing the something. We never have positive words to comment about women when it comes to this topic. Therefore, women are so often feel like they are doing everythings are wrong. Double-bind cause women suffocate of depression and lacks of confident. They always feel they are trapped in social pressure. Women got trapped in this kind situation throughout years and never been solve. Women never get to enjoy the pleasure having sex. On other hand, they got shame off. I think internalization play a major role in today’s society too because both women and men adopted the concert of what it is and never try to change. So, throughout this event, it tells this society still unequal of treating men and women.

  3. It’s definitely really common for girl’s to lie about their numbers. I have friends that had more than 20 sexual partners and she tells me that she always tell guy that her number is less than ten. Simply because she doesn’t want guy’s to think of her as a slut. Which interestingly one of her defense is simply because she is single compare to people in relationships she’s probably having less sex than them, but it’s just with different people. There’s also a myth with for when guys tell you how many people he have slept with. That myth is that they usually add 3 to the number of people they’ve slept with. SImple because they want to seem like they’re experienced and wanted.

  4. Randolph givens

    This article was kind of funny to me because I do know a lot of men who lie about their sex life just so they could sound cool

  5. It’s so weird, because our culture tells women that if they have sex, they’re easy; they’re sluts, they’re ho’s, they’re whores, etc. But If a woman remains chaste, she’s a frigid virgin. I personally will never judge someone based upon how many sexual partners they have, as long as they weren’t being harmful to anyone. Sex is a completely natural thing and it’s weird how our culture is so repressed about it and yet simultaneously so obsessed with it. I think it fosters a really dangerous environment for sexual health.

  6. Pedro Contreras

    i believe that men add about how many sex partners they have because it makes them feel better , like if you have had sex with more girls than your friends it will make you look better , and you will feel better about yourself because like you said its like a measuring stick if you have more girls on your list it makes it seem like you are better than the other guys. and it is complete opposite for women , because if a girl has had sex with a lot of guy they are looked down upon and seen as sluts or hoes , but for a guy they are seen as players and pimps , it is sad that we live in a culture like this.

  7. The number of people you’ve slept with shouldn’t matter at all. A close friend of mine, has “been around” and hooks up with girls a lot. When talking to him about life in general and future plans he’s always saying he hates to hook up with girls and just leave them. I always question him, if you don’t like doing it then why don’t you stop? You’re only hurting yourself in the end if thats truly how you feel. But then comes the talk about his future, the ideal girl for him, that would a virgin. Every time he tells me that I explode, how can you have a double standard on women!? In todays society its almost the norm to have hooked up, whether is sex or making out we’ve all done it. Going back to my friend, I always ask him why a virgin and he’s never had an answer…What to think from there??

  8. I don’t exactly understand the need to lie about the number of sex partners we’ve had. Maybe i’m just very open, but I’ve never had a problem openly stating how many people I’ve slept with. I think it is incredibly unfortunately that woman feel this pressure to have to lie about how many people they have had sex with in their life time in order to not be labeled a whore or slut. Also the fact that guys lie about home many women they sleep with to gain higher status is extremely immature. this need to gain status of other men they often bring down the status of undeserving women.

  9. This is a very interesting comment indeed. I would like to talk about the reasons why men usually lie about having sex with more women that they actually do. Especially men in fraternities believe that having sex with more women is better, the more the merrier. I think that this is very absurd, sexual relationship should not be a race among men, it is very disrepcting to women if we do things like this, because it is as if we objectify women as an indication of manhood. Moreover, even if men were to use sex as an indication of manhood, quantity should not be the factor, i think quality of sex is more important the number of sex partners we have.

  10. In my own experience with this topic being a man having sex with a lot of women shows a sense of dominance amomg women and men. I remember being a freshman in high school i always looked up to one of my senior friends because he got all the girls. He would tell me if you want to be cool and show your better than all these guys you have to hook up with more girls than them. As started hooking up with girls guys started talking about it so it gave me instant respect among the athletes of the school. the incoming freshman would look up to me and make me out to be the coolest person that walked the face of the earth. I think the main reason guys talks about how many girls they are with gives them respect while on the womens side gives them a bad name and degrates them.

  11. I have seen this happen as well! For some reason men always want to say they have slept with more women than what they really have. I personally think its to show who has more man power. If a guy says he’s a virgin of course his friends will laugh at him right? HA who cares!! everyone moves along at their own pace. As for women its completely opposite! If you go around telling everyone you’ve slept with more than you can count then you would be considered a “slut” and you would be considered “loose”. Thats just how men are! In my opinion it goes both ways equally for men and women! if a guy has slept with so many women he cant even count thats a complete turn off to me! One day you will want to be that special women your husband has discovered every thing with. Well maybe not everything, but most loveable moments and so forth. Guys sleep with the same women and thinks its funny and say “that bitch was easy!” but if a girl were to sleep with the same guys as her friends it would be the worst thing she could have ever done! ive seen and heard it all! Girls are drama queens but most of all it all has to do with man over ruling women and showing off who has stronger man power to one another.

  12. I remember the locker room mentality with my friends, and more than a few hundred times these teenage guys started going on about their supposed conquests and any guy in the locker room who didn’t have a story got ridiculed. This pressure starts very young for guys to be “the man” and that meant being successful with women. So instead of having a conversation with your friends that have to do with feelings, which normally will get the possible implication from many guys that you could be gay, guys most times just start making up stories. Also conversely women also seem to be more attracted to men who are seen as attractive by other women, so it seems important for guys to show they have “game” if you will.

  13. Mikaela Hansen

    Lying about the number of sex partners is definitely a result of the messages society has been pounding into our heads since we were young. Women are supposed to be pure and innocent, while men can pretty much have sex with as many women as they want without getting a bad reputation. If women have sex with even just a few people, they usually get called a slut. This starts as early as highschool; maybe even earlier. Women know that, according to society, they are not “supposed” to be having sex with multiple people so they lie and say they have had sex with less people than they actually have. Men, however, become more powerful and more “manly” when they have sex with many women, so they lie and exaggerate the number they’ve had sex with. It’s all about double standards!

    • Yup. A very close relative of the “Madonna/Whore Complex”. On the one hand, a woman should be pure/innocent/virgin-like and not give in to pleasures of the flesh til marriage. On the other hand, women who refuse to put out after a date are frigid/teases…so then they DO agree to sex but are now a whore/slut/trollop for doing so.

      To hell with all of it. Just be safe and respectful to your sexual partners, and who cares what anyone else says? It’s your life, not theirs.

  14. This article was very interesting and relatable. Way back when i was a senior in high school i found a long list of young girls names in my brothers room. it was one binder paper filled front to back. next to the names he had the number of times he has slept with the girl. if these girls could have seen how he was using their bodies and degrading them they would die of shame. if the tables could turn and a female had a list of guys she slept with she would be labeled a super slut. guys are the man when they have multiple partners and young women are sluts if they have more than three!

  15. I think this the case because women who engage in a lot of sex are labeled sluts, tramps, and other derogatory terms However, men who do the same thing are called studs and jocks. In our society it is socially acceptable for men to have a lot of sex, it is even presented in movies such as “Wild Cherry” where the boys have a “bang book.” The goal is to be #1 on the list, and the way to achieve this is to sleep with more girls then any other guy. This type of book is acceptable for guys, because the higher a boy is on the list the more of a stud he is, which is considered a good thing. Where as if the girls had a bang book, the girl listed first would be considered a slut. It is a huge double standard and because our society is structured they way it is, men say they have more sex to seem more superior, and women say they have less sex so they can fly under the radar.

  16. Guilherme Paludeti

    The saying goes something like, “For men you divide the amount of women they said they’d slept with by 4 to get the actual amount and for women you multiply the amount of men they said they’d slept with by 2 to get the actual amount.” And yes I agree no matter with what male you talk to they always make it seem like their a player….even if they are a virgin. I recently, maybe for about 5 weeks now, have started an anti slut movement, not saying that its bad for women to have sex with a lot of men but that its dumb to call a woman a slut just because she likes to have sex, at the end of the day don’t we all. In my opinion the only time its bad to have a lot of sex, no matter the sex or sexual orientation, is when someone is spreading around diseases, STDs.

  17. What caught my attention once again, like in every article is the fact society shapes what people think. And it is true that the guys proudly say that they have slept with many girls because it makes them feel better about themselves around their friends. Does not matter how many girls, the more the better for them. Unlike for girls, if they sleep around with a big number of guys then their status as a PERFECT or the IDEAL girl decreases. What i cannot really understand is the fact that no matter what action the women do it will not be accepted as something positive in the society. Yet Men do many things like having an affair while married and it should be fine because the women is the weak one. Yet if the women is the one having an affair while married shes seen as a Bad person, “Bitch” – “slut”. seems like she is making fun of him and not taking him seriously. its easier to call women names than man.

  18. The long time debate of men vs. women continues. Men are strong and powerful leaders! “I am man so hear me roar!” yet women are passive, submissive, and the ever so famous emotional. Women for years have been sexually objected, dumbed down, and dis-respected. Yet many courageous women have in fact left their mark on history and continue to fight for our rights. So how we can we possibly be so weak? Why are fathers teaching their sons how to slam down beers and nailing the bitches down hard acceptable? Or that hitting mommy will make her act right? I blame ignorant people for never taking a more cognitive approach on this matter.

    Anyway, this article reminded me of an event back in 2007….maybe 2008. When the Deanza College baseball team “gang-raped” a young girl at a party one night. It so happens I knew one of those baseball players and was able to see the case from a behind the scenes point of view. John Doe was always a nice guy and you would never think he was a part of the party involved. He says she wanted it. and Her story was that she was raped… his story was she was a whore and asked for it… her story was that she was terrified and taken advantage of… he says she was drunk and maybe she blacked out… she’s now left with a stigmatized reputation and filled with turmoil and guilt….

    Eventually the case was settled against the suspects who committed this unforgivable act of crime and I from this I convince mysef more and more that men and women will never be equal….

    While a man is praised for “laying the D”…. a women is shamed for a night out of fun. Whats left for our future now?

  19. When I was in high school I remember seeing this book in my boyfriends house and I was reading through it and there were a lot of things to do to get a women and it was just very degrading to women. I asked my boyfriend what that was about and he told me that his bother was trying to learn how to get a lot of girls to sleep with him. He even had a coach to teach him the rules of The Game. It was interesting to see his brother come to their house with a new girl every weekend.

  20. F.naghiniarami

    Thanks Georgia for another interesting post. “Why We Lie About Sex Partner #’s” is another sexism and double bind behavior toward women that always want to put women down for whatever they do. I don’t get Archy’s point either. Surely, that is another patriarchal idea that wants power over women and represses women because of sexuality. How come men have a right to sleep with several women but if your partner sleeps with someone else, you are going to dump her and treat her like shit? I don’t get if you can sleep with someone else than your partner so she can too! Life is 50-50.

    I’d like to share my own experience about men’s behavior about sex. Back many years ago, my friend and I took two days vacation and she was supposed to meet her boyfriend there. As she wanted to spend time with her boyfriend we rented two rooms in a hotel. Her boyfriend was there with his friend and as a result, we shared a room with two separate single beds. Interestingly, that crazy boy wanted to sleep with me and I was like “Alice in Wonderland” — what’s going on here? Eventually, he replied to me that if he doesn’t sleep with me, and I better, to say if he doesn’t f..k me his friends would hoot him that he stayed in a same room with a girl and wasn’t able to fu.k! Big big question mark over my head that what the hell? However, then that girl would be called a whore, slut, and ….so on. Well, I am really sorry for these kinds of men. One more reason to suppress women.

  21. If I may throw some weird data out there, I too have lied about my sex partner numbers…but in the opposite way you’d expect. I’m 29, heterosexual, and physically a woman. However, I identify as androgynous with strong masculine leanings. (Weird, yes. But it’s who I naturally am.)

    I started having sex when I was 21, and am still active, but have only ever had one partner (my male FwB). When I’m out with my friends (all of whom are men), I frequently make up numbers as to how much “tail” I’ve gotten. I make sure to up the numbers every once in a while…and you’re right about the high fives, congratulations, etc that one gets from other guys.

    So, yeah. I’ve had one sexual partner my whole life…my coworkers/most friends think I’ve had 12. Of course, some of them know the truth, but these are also the friends who are still virgins (they have also made up high numbers of partners).

    I’ve seen online that The Game is talked about with men = keys and women = locks. Everyone likes a master key that can open any lock…but people hate a crappy lock that can be opened by any key. This is true for locks and keys. However, as I like to tell people: Penises are NOT keys and vaginas are NOT locks…they are parts of human beings!

    I mean, come on. Seriously.

    • Thanks for sharing.

      Interesting because there is also data out there that says that the more masculine a person identifies as being, the higher they put their partner number. I’ll see if I can find the link.

  22. Rohan 7 Things

    All you say is true Georgia, and it’s really sad. I felt it in high school in particular where the pressure to get laid was really high. This kind of system hurts everyone in the end and it reduces the sex act to nothing more than a function of superiority. Guys want to have lots of sex to relieve the social pressure, and girls may try to avoid sex because they are trying to stay “pure”, both of which are really unhealthy attitudes towards sex and sexuality.

    Thanks for sharing!


  23. People often don’t realize how much harm this kind of mind set actually causes. Women often ignore their own sexual needs and desires in fear of being labeled a slut. When sex is seen as something good for men but bad for women it almost denies women autonomy over their own bodies. In fear of their “number” going up women will often resort to performing oral sex on a man to make him happy but again their own needs are ignored. I remember many of my friends in college and high school always talked about how they needed to “get laid” or wanted to hook up with their new guy crush but they couldn’t act on their desires because they were afraid of their “number” being too high. It creates problems even when women do have sexual intercourse because they can’t fully enjoy it because the idea that “sex is bad” and “good women don’t enjoy/have sex” is still there or the entire act is focused around male pleasure because again, sex is seen as something that’s not for women.

    This also creates rape culture. When men think all women just say no to sex even when they want it just because she is “playing hard to get” so she comes of as “lady like” so they assume she just needs more convincing, not realizing what they’re coercing the woman.

    • Weird. We have both genders trying to center the sex on pleasing the other so much that they probably forget their own.

      • No its usually more centered around pleasing the man. Just look at how often a male sex partner goes down on a woman and how often women perform oral sex on the man they’re sleeping with. Especially when there’s so many surveys on a lot of women only being able to achieve orgasm through oral sex or enjoying it more than PIV sex.
        Also a man wanting to please his sex partner doesn’t always have to do with the fact he cares but more on the fact that it’s an ego boost. This often puts more pressure on women that they resort to “faking it” so again the man is pleased, pleased with the sex he’s getting and also pleased with himself.

        There’s a difference when you do something to please someone because their happiness brings you joy and doing something for someone because you like to hear what a good job you did. One sees the reward in making someone else happy and the other sees the reward in being praised

  24. “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.”

    And because many do not want to support a partner who cheats on them? Why the hell would they? If the child isn’t his then she’s already proven she cannot be trusted (except in cases of rape by an outsider). If my partner got pregnant to someone else, she’d quickly find the door because I wouldn’t want her around. Helping her raise an existing kid after it’s born and we fall in love after is ok, a surrogate sperm donor if for some reason my stuff is broken is ok, adoption if I am broken is ok, but a child born of cheating? The cheating itself means I wouldn’t want her and the actually daddy can do the raising with the cheating woman, they can go live happily ever after.

    • As I will discuss in another post I will talk about cultures where men don’t care who the father is.

      Interestingly, in these cultures women are not dependent on men for income. (Versus I’d kick her out because I don’t want to support someone who’s cheating on me.)

      Is there a connection?

      • Yes. Who the hell wants to be made responsible for someone else’s child when you didn’t create him/her/etc or get involved after the child is born. It costs roughly $200,000 here in Australia to raise a child and that’s a hugggeee financial burden. But even if it was free I would not want to be with her because she cheated, and every day that child is a reminder of that cheating. I want a faithful partner.

      • So I will be writing the post on culture Sinkwich things are very different. Women aren’t forced to be dependent on men, and then don’t care who daddy is.

        That said, even single women who aren’t cheating on anyone have their sexuality repressed, too.

  25. The fact that sexual conquest for men is a game, while sexual promiscuity for women has real world effects shows how unequal the playing field is. I remember hearing the term “sow his wild oats” over and over growing up. Obviously, this was in reference to men, giving them carte blanche to do whatever they wanted before settling down. Even in this day and age, no expression exists for women.

    • Yes. One of many repressing forces that women face in this society.

    • Part of it is because of the extremely disproportionate level of casual sex desire between men n women. Men on average wanting more casual sex and being more open to it and females wanting less causing females to be the gatekeeper for the sex so it’s FAR FAR more challenging for a man to get casual sex than a female. Hence why promiscuous men are seen as studs, and the women as sluts because it’s far easier to get casual sex as a woman vs the man whom has a much harder time and hence the success for men is seen as more challenging.

      When I grew up men were told not to be promiscuous, anyone sleeping around was seen as sinful and also in that time there was a lot of warnings about it for both due to the consequences of STI’s and pregnancy, child support, etc.

      We’re at a population point now that it’s highly irresponsible for males to act like the bull in the field impregnating multiple women in succession so I’d hope it’s more stigmatized now.

      • And the reason you get the disproportionate level of desire has to do with repressing women’s sexuality.

      • “And the reason you get the disproportionate level of desire has to do with repressing women’s sexuality.”

        That’s a pretty simple answer though and not the ONLY reason. Are there not other factors at play? Such as risk of pregnancy, mate selection, having adequate resources to raise a child, etc? We’ve only had decent contraception for an eyeblink in human history. Biology could very well have a higher sex drive for men to drive competition and desire to “spreading the seed” as he can die 10 seconds after ejaculation and it wouldn’t stop that child being born so the necessity of the male sticking around can be quite low leaving him able to go find more mates whilst the female is stuck with the 9 month labour. Would this not mean women would have to be far pickier since the stakes for her are much higher than for him in the time before child support laws, contraceptives, etc? I guarantee this would have some effect in reducing the desire for casual sex to some degree for women and I would be surprised if it’s not a built-in instinct for most women that influences their behaviour to some degree.

        I wouldn’t discount biology in this case. Culture has a huge part to play but biology, instinct, etc will still have some role. Hell difference in hormones plays quite a role.

      • Have you read these posts? There’s a little bit of overlap:

        Men Have Higher Sex Drive. Why?

        Sexual Desire & Sexism

        A paragraph from the NYTimes:

        Q: You debunk the canard of evolutionary biology that men are impelled to spread their seed widely, women to seek one resource-providing mate. Does that mean that biologically women and men are equally inclined to casual sex?

        A: That is what science is beginning to tell us. (Take away the potential physical dangers of casual sex, and it’s even more clear.) When I say this, people sometimes react with disbelief. Sometimes it’s hard to think past what culture has ingrained and semi-science has imbued.

    • The other possibility is that we’ve had MAJOR wars all throughout history and it’s mostly men whom are made to fight (many have zero choice in the matter). Men of fighting age, teenagers, go off to die and it wouldn’t be uncommon to lose significant numbers of men such as Russia’s men born in 1923, 80% of them died in ww2. In extreme cases to repopulate those men would have to be impregnating multiple women or that society may face dying off and having a greatly reducing defensive capability (since at the time technology wasn’t around to level the playing field between male n female soldiers).

      • I don’t get your point. That still doesn’t mean that men would naturally want to have more partners than women. In some cultures women want to have casual sex with lots of men.

  26. I really like this article. I think people dismiss this behavior as normal or natural when it truly isn’t and when people give it some thought they realize that. Even things so little as people lying about sexual partners show how our society reflects mysogynistic ideals. We are taught to ignore these things so much that we dismiss them too easily. It is more socially acceptable for a guy to be sleeping around than a woman and it is not only the guys that encourage this thought. Women often slut shame aswell. I have refused to talk to a girl because I thought she was a whore because she had slept with some guys at my school. I never got to know her and I didn’t care to get to know her either. It wasn’t until I was called a slut that I realized that it wasn’t slutty to have slept with my boyfriend of a year and that people will slut shame to make themselves feel or look better or to perpetrate these mysogynistic ideals they have been taught from a young age. Thank you for writing this I think that more people need to think about how their actions can be sexist or offensive.

  27. I haven’t slept with a lot of women, but I’ve written plenty of poetry, I like to cook AND bake, I’ve petted quite a few kittens. And if any guy says he has a problem with that… well, I guess that’s his problem.

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