Women are more likely to lie about their sex lives than men, according to a new US study involving a fake lie detector test.
The study by psychologists Terri Fisher at Ohio State University and Michele Alexander at Maine University offers a new solution to a paradox that has puzzled sex experts for decades. In survey after survey, heterosexual men average more sexual partners than women — a statistically impossible situation.
Coventional wisdom had dictated that a man's desire to significantly exaggerate his sexual promiscuity was responsible for the anomaly, but the latest study — published in the Journal of Sex Research — suggests it is the women who are being economical with the truth.
Women change their answers depending on whether or not they believe their responses will remain anonymous or they will be caught lying, the researchers found. The number of sexual partners a woman reported nearly doubled when women thought they were hooked up to a lie detector machine.
"Women are more sensitive to social expectations for their sexual behaviour and may be less than honest when asked about their behaviour in some survey conditions," said Fisher.
According to Fisher, women appeared to feel under pressure to meet expectations of being more relationship-orientated and not promiscuous. Fisher and Alexander surveyed over 200 unmarried, heterosexual college students aged 18 to 25. One group filled in questionnaires having been told the researcher might view their responses. A second group filled in the survey alone in a room and were assured the results would be strictly confidential. A third group were rigged up to a polygraph or lie detector — although they were not told the machine no longer worked.
Women who thought their responses might be read said they had had an average of 2.6 sexual partners, compared with 3.4 partners for those who thought their answers were anonymous.
Those who believed they were attached to a polygraph reported an average of 4.4 partners.
"You would assume that when a heterosexual man has sex, a woman is having sex at the same time, but the statistics always suggest otherwise," Fisher said.
"That can't be true. We thought males would be over-inflating their experience ... but that's not what we found."
Under the same conditions, men's answers did not vary significantly. Those attached to the lie-detector reported an average of 4.0 partners compared with 3.7 for men who thought their answers would be read.