Do men have more sexual partners than women?

If new data from the UK’s National Health Service is to be believed, straight men average ten female sexual partners over the course of a lifetime while women have just five.

I’m confused…

How exactly is that possible? This would only make sense if there were significantly more women in the UK than men, but of course, that’s not the case. The population is divided roughly in half.

Maybe I’m missing something here but it seems to me that if there were 1000 men each with an average of 10 separate partners, that’s 10,000 sexual experiences. If there are 1000 women each with 5 sexual partners that’s 5,000 sexual experiences. Something is wrong here as 5,000 separate sexual encounters are missing (or added). If there were a few women, picking up the slack, who had a huge amount of sexual partners that would raise the overall average anyway.

I suspect that the old cliché that there are “lies, damn lies and statistics” may be the issue as data is only as reliable as the method of collection and when it comes to sex, people tend to lie. Like blazes.

Firstly, if the data was collected using face-to-face interviews, you can be sure that there was plenty of fudging of the facts. Secondly, people tend to lie in anonymous self reporting surveys too. It’s partly to do with lying to yourself especially if you are uncomfortable with the truth. Thirdly, what people regard as sex differs. Some people regard oral sex as sex, whereas others see it as a more intense form of making out. As Bill Clinton infamously remarked of his encounter with Monica Lewinsky, “I did not have sex with that woman.” Strangely enough, some people would disregard penetrative sex too if they didn’t enjoy it or it didn’t result in an orgasm.

I guess the more pertinent question is: does it matter how many partners you have had? If you are safe, free of disease and treat all your partners with respect, does it matter if you’ve had one or one hundred? Probably not, but being insecure, jealous and possessive humans we do seem to be overinvested in our partner’s sexual score and, what’s more, judge him or her accordingly. Until that changes, the chances of finding reliable sexual statistics is unlikely.