Everyone seems to think people — particularly young women — are having a lot of sex, but that’s not really true.
Men in the US think women are having a lot more sex, with a lot more people, than they actually are.
Men think women have nearly four times as much sex as they actually do, according to a survey looking at sexual misperceptions in the US and UK.
In the survey, researchers asked men and women how often they thought people aged 18 to 29 had had sex within the last four weeks. Men guessed that women had sex 23 times, but the actual number was an average of 5 to 6 times.
Women were slightly more accurate, guessing that women had sex an average of 12 times a month — but that was still double the reality.
But overall, everyone thinks everyone else is having more sex than they actually are. Those polled thought men had sex 13 to 15 times over the last month, while the actual number was around 4 to 5 times.
The survey was conducted by Ipsos, a research and marketing firm based in Paris. The findings are to be released in a book called The Perils of Perception in September.
Men also greatly overestimated how many sexual partners women had had by the time they reached middle age. The researchers polled people in three countries for this one, including the US, the UK, and Australia.
Men guessed that women had slept with 27 people by the time they were aged 45 to 54, but the actual average number is 12. (Women were better at guessing, estimating 13 partners by middle age.)
Both sexes were more accurate with their guesses for men, estimating they’d slept with an average of 20 people by middle age. The actual number is 19.
People in the UK and Australia answered the same questions, but the gender disparity was most pronounced among US respondents.
“It’s interesting that this misperception is so profound. It really illustrates the extent to which men really don’t understand female sexuality,” Chris Jackson, a spokesperson for Ipsos, told BuzzFeed News.
“Men just don’t seem to have a good understanding of the reality for women. I guess that’s not actually news.”
Farrah Khan is a consent educator and sexual violence support worker in Toronto, and she sees misperceptions about sex play out all the time when educating university students. Young people seem to think that everyone is having loads of great sex, but that just isn’t the case.
A University of New Brunswick survey found that 79% of men and 84% of women experienced sexual problems over a two-year period.
“Why are people assuming that everyone’s having so many sexual partners?” said Khan. “And we’re not having honest conversations about sex.”
She said it comes down to sex education and going beyond the mechanics to talk about pleasure, consent, and dispelling sexual misperceptions.
“Young men have perceptions of what they’ve been told, specifically in porn,” she said. “It’s not shocking to me, but what it does tell me is we have a lot more work to do.”
The survey also highlights important issues about how men view women’s sexuality, according to Hannah Brancato, a cofounder of Force: Upsetting Rape Culture, a collective based in Baltimore.
“It made sense that there would be a perception by men — male-identified people — that women are having more sex than they’re having based on how we’re sexualized in the media and pop culture,” Brancato told BuzzFeed News.
“In a rape culture, we’re told that we don’t have control over our bodies. Part of that control has to do with, in the case of this study, the assumptions that are made about women’s sexuality.”
She said the results point to the cultural myth that women don’t face sexual issues the way men do and that women are always sexually available. She also said it’s important to remember that women are routinely punished in society for promiscuity.
“I think that part of why this study is troubling is that we live in a sex-negative culture that demonizes sex,” she said.
The survey was conducted in October of 2017 and included 1,000 to 1,500 people in each country aged either 16 to 64 or 18 to 64. The data was weighted to match the population’s profile.