Women are more likely to lie about their sex lives than men, according to a study conducted by two U.S. universities.
Women were shown to underreport the number of their sexual partners after being told they were hooked up to a polygraph machine, said Terri Fisher, psychology professor at the Ohio State University, who co-authored the study with University of Maine psychology professor Michele Alexander. In reality, the polygraph — or lie detector — test was fake.
Researchers said the women changed their answers depending on whether they believed their responses would remain anonymous or whether they would be caught lying.
Three methods were used to study 201 heterosexual undergraduate college students ages 18 to 25. In one, participants were told they were attached to a working lie detector; in another, they filled out a survey in private; and in the third, they handed the completed survey to a research assistant.
The women who believed their answers could be linked to them because they had handed the survey to an assistant reported nearly half as many partners as those who believed they would be caught by the bogus machine if they lied, Miss Fisher said. Meanwhile, men’s responses remained rather steady.
The women reported an average of 2.6 partners when told they would be handing their surveys to an assistant and 3.4 partners when assured of confidentiality. Men reported an average of 3.7 and 4.2 partners, respectively.
When attached to the fake polygraph, women reported an average of 4.4 partners. Men reported an average of four.
“Statistical analysis of the differences are not statistically significant, but they likely would be larger with a larger subject pool,” Miss Fisher said. “Typically, sex research has shown men report more sexual experiences. We are speculating there is not a real difference, just a difference in reporting.”
One reason women underreport the number of sexual partners is society’s attitude toward premarital sex, Miss Fisher said.
“In society, casual sex is more acceptable for men than women,” she said. “Women pay a much higher price in reputation.”
The study also showed significant differences in the ages participants reported when asked how old they were when they became sexually active.
Women and men reported about the same age when they were told they could be linked to their responses, 16.8 and 16.2 years old, respectively.
When the results were anonymous, however, there was a “real flip-flop,” Miss Fisher said.
Men reported an average age of 17, while women reported an age of 15.8 years old.
“Females mature a couple years faster than males at puberty,” Miss Fisher said. “It makes sense to me where females become sexually active faster. Typically, the female is ready for some kind of relationship before the typical male.”
When hooked up to the bogus lie detector, males reported that they had been 16.3 years old when they became sexually active and females reported they had been 16.5 years old.
“I do think the results make it clear,” Miss Fisher said. “In the situation where there is a greater likelihood the report they are giving could be linked to them, male reports did not change dramatically, while female reports did.”