SHARE Sometimes men and women appear to lie at least a little bit when they answer questions on sex surveys. Who can blame them? Why would people reveal their deepest, darkest sex secrets to a complete stranger? Still, when surveyed in the proper manner such as responding in private to well-crafted questions, with clear instructions, and anonymously without anyone ever knowing your name , people tend to self-report at least somewhat honestly about sensitive topics like sex, drug use, and criminal behavior.
Fortunately for those interested in advancing sexual diversity science, several evidence-based avenues are available for telling how much people are lying or not on sex surveys.
Let's take a look at some of that evidence. What is Your Number? Assuming a closed-population of heterosexuals, this doesn't really add up. Somebody's probably lying in their survey responses, but it remains to be seen whether the lying comes from men, women, or both.
Actually, though, when it comes to sex differences in past numbers of partners, some evidence suggests people aren't lying at all. How can this be? Researchers have targeted three main explanations why this seemingly impossible sex difference might not involve active lying: When asked about one's number of past sex partners, women tend to enumerate or recall each and every past partner individually Bill, Ted, Tony, Tim The sex difference is also reduced when asking about shorter time frames, such as sex differences in the past year implicating elaborated counting-strategies as a likely culprit; Brown et al.
Indeed, in a recent study Brown and his colleagues found sex differences in past numbers of sex partners were primarily present in response to telephone interviews not on web-based surveys where people have more time to answer , and were only present for those with high numbers of past partners again, implying that elaborated counting strategies are a cause. Maybe people aren't really lying, after all.
Because men consider more sexual behaviors to count as sex than women e. ProCon Organization Given pretty solid evidence of sex differences in counting strategies, what counts as sex, and payments to sex workers, perhaps men and women aren't willfully lying all that much about past numbers of sex partners. At least for the "past number of sex partners" question on sex surveys, maybe men and women just agree to disagree, so to speak.
In my view, there should be no trusting when it comes to people's responses to questions about sex. Scientists aren't supposed to trust, they're supposed to skeptically and rigorously verify. So, conclusions about the veracity of survey responses to sex questions should depend on the best available evidence, not on ideological beliefs or what we privately think about people's tendencies to lie or not about sex. Evidence Storage Shoot, all responses to self-report surveys whether about sexual behaviors, personality traits, personal values, or preferences for paper plate brands should be empirically evaluated for their ability to generate useful knowledge.
And one of the best ways to rigorously test whether self-reported responses and scales formed from responses are truthful is to formally examine the scale's psychometric properties. Sexual scientists have spent decades trying to develop good sex questions and scales created by combining responses from several sex questions , so that responses to those questions yield psychometrically sound information.
Not everyone's responses to sexual questions are entirely truthful, of course. Neither are people's responses to questions about drug use, criminal behavior, and many socially sensitive topics. Self-report survey responses can be biased due to lying, limitations of self-knowledge, misunderstanding certain words, and more Shrout et al. Even so, psychometric evidence suggests there is enough truth revealed by many self-reported sex surveys to make them scientifically useful. Let's look at an example of a psychometrically sound self-report measure of sexuality.
Evidence of the Usefulness of Self-Reported Sexuality: Some people report that they are "high" in sociosexuality e. Most studies have found men report they are much higher in sociosexuality than women i. But can we be sure? What is the evidence that men's and women's responses to questions about love and sex are truthful? And that men and women really are different in sociosexuality? So, based on quite a bit of empirical evidence, responses to this sex survey appear to be real and scientifically useful.
As an example of good psychometrics, self-reported sociosexuality triangulates with information across observers. Across numerous studies, SOI responses also are related to external criteria such as facial symmetry, finger length ratios, and hormones Edelstein et al. For example, being partnered in a long-term relationship normally reduces testosterone levels in men, but not among those partnered men who report on self-reported sociosexuality surveys that they still have desires for uncommitted sex Edelstein et al.
Lots of studies confirm these findings on sociosexuality. More recently, as noted by Schmitt , gay men have been shown to have identical levels of unrestricted sociosexual attitudes compared to heterosexual men, but because their mating pool consists of other men who possess relatively unrestricted sociosexuality, gay men tend to behaviorally engage in more short-term mating than heterosexual men see chart below.
Schmitt SOI responses almost always display convergent validity, relating as theorized with individual difference measures of mating motives, mate preferences, relationship initiation, relationship interaction, and early family environments Simpson et al. Another important tool to make sure self-reported sociosexuality is useful is to dig deep into response biases and demonstrate the SOI has discriminant validity.
With sociosexuality as measure by the SOI, typically both women's AND men's sexual desires are reduced when controlling for impression management. The sex difference gets slightly smaller, but it is not eliminated by any means.
Not explained away by any means. We cannot know for certain that every single person is telling the truth to every question on the SOI they almost certainly are not. Because of some society's sexual double standards SDS; the social values wherein men are rewarded for having higher sexual drives, urges, and behaviors, but women are punished for expressing their desires , men and women may present themselves in socially-desirable ways that make us think there are sex differences in sexuality.
In reality, these patriarchal double standards may be leading to false impressions. Sex differences in self-reported sexuality may be science's version of fake news. Still, if the classic patriarchal form of the SDS does exist in some cultures, it leads us to expect men are lying on sex surveys by over-reporting their sexual desires, whereas women are lying by under-reporting their sexual desires, and that these lying tendencies will be strongest in the most patriarchal cultures.
Lippa found sex differences in sexual desire were not larger in more patriarchal cultures as would be predicted by sexual double standards. This is exactly the opposite of what we would expect if patriarchy, sex role socialization, and sexual double standards are the prime culprits behind sex differences in self-reported sexuality at least for casual sex attitudes.
Overall, it seems sex differences in sexual desires and attitudes are not the false result of patriarchy, sex role socialization, and sexual double standards. Sex differences in sexuality appear to be very real, and men and women responding to sex questions in different ways reveals some important truths about human nature.
There are additional converging lines of evidence to this effect, actually. Many involving "tricky" experimental designs. One is called the bogus pipeline procedure.
Sex differences in sexual attitudes as measured by the Sexual Opinion Survey—a basic measure of erotophilia remained significant across all three testing conditions. This result confirms responses to sex surveys under anonymous conditions are as valid as when administered under a lie detector condition. So, sex differences in sexual attitudes do not "disappear" from view when men and women are presumably more likely to tell the truth. They are the same as when people are given true feelings of anonymity when completing sex surveys which most sex researchers know to do; Robertson et al.
Again, the key point here is sex differences in self-reported sexuality do not "essentially disappear" from view when men and women are presumably more likely to tell the truth. Any claims to the contrary are demonstrably false, based on the best available evidence. Another "tricky" technique to evaluate the truthfulness of sex survey responses is to have people randomly respond to either a sex question or some other question for which we know the response rate.
Because people completing the survey know their responses are truly anonymous and random there is no way the experimenter can know whether a particular person answered the sex question or the other less sensitive question , we can get better estimates on how truthful people are about sex questions and they are generally truthful; De Jong et al. Even so, a lot of sexual science confirms that self-reported sexuality scales can be psychometrically sound and scientifically useful especially when administered anonymously; see Robertson et al.
Self-reported sexuality of men and women often has good psychometric qualities, especially if the questions are well-designed and the survey is administered well e. Of course, not every psychological attribute is measured equally well using self-report methods. Historically, self-reported intelligence has only a weak positive association correlation of about. More recently, researchers have found these associations are actually higher, with men.
Still, not every aspect of ourselves is totally knowable to ourselves. For instance, people are relatively poor at knowing the underlying reasons why they do things e.
Social psychologists often have this drilled into their graduate training, especially the classic Nisbett and Wilson article Fair enough, but this shouldn't lead to a jettisoning of the entire self-report baby with the motivational bathwater.
If you ask about what people generally do e. Moreover, if you want to know their preferences I would prefer an open relationship , desires I want to cheat with several partners , or attitudes toward sexuality I believe cheating is OK , self-report is even better at obtaining psychometrically reliable and valid information. One of the biggest predictors of someone behaviorally having an affair is whether they self-report having the attitude…"having an affair is OK.
Some self-reports are more useful than others, of course, but that's a matter of rigorous evidence to decide. Blanket disbelief in the value of all self-reported sexuality does real harm to sexual diversity science. Such an ideology should be discarded, don't you think circle one? Journal of Sex Research, 40, Is there a reliable and valid self-report measure of sexual behavior?
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