Why men and women lie about sex


Males are more likely than females to give inconsistent sexual information globally.

Why do people lie about their sexual behavior?

There are many reasons.

One is that people underreport stigmatized activities, such as having multiple sexual partners among women.

They overreport the normative ones, such as higher frequency of sex for men.

In both cases, people think their actual behavior would be considered socially unacceptable.

This is also called social desirability or social approval bias.

Social desirability bias causes problems in health research.

It reduces reliability and validity of self-reported sexual behavior data.

Simply said, social desirability helps us look good.

As gender norms create different expectations about socially acceptable behavior of men and women, males and females face pressures in reporting certain (socially accepted) behaviors.

In particular, self-reports on premarital sexual experience is of poor quality.

Also self-reports of infidelity are less valid.

Although most studies suggest these differences are due to the systematic tendency of men and women to exaggerate and hide their number of partners, there are studies that suggest much of this difference is driven by a handful of men and women who grossly inflate and underreport their sexual encounters.

Men and women also lie when we ask them who is making sexual decisions regarding who has more power when it comes to sexual decision-making.

We do not expect disagreement when we ask the same question from husbands and wives in the same couples.

But, interestingly, there is a systematic disagreement.

More interestingly, in most cases when spouses disagree, husbands are more likely to say “yes” and wives “no.”

The findings are interpreted in terms of gendered strategies in the interview process.

Not all of the gender differences in reported sexual behaviors are due to men’s and women’s selective under- and over- reporting of sexual acts.

And, some of the sexual behaviors do vary by gender.

For instance, men have more sex than women, and men less commonly use condoms.

Continued next page


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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.


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