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Mathematics of Promiscuity

August 19, 2010, 9:55 AM

Promiscuity is an interesting subject. There was a time, in the United States at least, when there was a pronounced double-standard about "sleeping around": women who had many sex partners were regarded as sluts, and men who behaved similarly were admired for their sexual prowess and approvingly called studs.  In locker-room bravado, men were likely to exaggerate the number of their sexual encounters, while women would tend to do the reverse.  But in the age of AIDS , the double-standard is receding, and men who have multiple sex partners are now increasingly seen as reckless, amoral cads—not just by women but by their fellow men.

The latest research on college students shows that what remains of a double standard can cut either way.  In the College Social Life Survey of 20,000 students, researchers found that "a majority of college men still judge their female colleagues more harshly than they do fellow male classmates for the same sexual behavior: 63% of men say they lose respect for women who hook up frequently, and only 41% say they feel the same way about men who engage in the same behavior. But the majority of women hold a reverse double standard, assessing men's casual sexual behavior more harshly then other women's. More than 70% say they lose respect for men who engage in casual sex, while less than 60% lose respect for other women."

Condoned or not, promiscuity is part of the rich tapestry of human sexual behavior, and its incidence around the world in 48 countries has been documented in a large study called The International Sexuality Description Project.  In today's Dollars and Sex blog post, economist Marina Adshade looks for a correlation between promiscuity and affluence.  The post includes a quick self-assessment test so that you can see where your sexual behavior places you on the international scale of promiscuity. 

Tomorrow Adshade will look at the connection between promiscuity and happiness, and the result may surprise you.


Mathematics of Promiscuity

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