By Seth Stephens-Davidowitz for The New York Times. Originally published on January 24th, 2015.
Are you confused by sex? I certainly am.
One of the many reasons sex is puzzling is that we lack reliable data. People lie to friends, lovers, doctors, surveys and themselves.
Three years ago, when I was a graduate student in economics, I began to write about how new data, particularly Google searches, could give us fresh insights into socially sensitive topics. Since then, many people have asked me to write about sex.
I was wary because I wanted to do more research. Now I’m finally ready to report. Call it everything you always wanted to know about sex, but didn’t have the data to ask.
Let’s start with the basics. How much sex are we having? Traditional surveys are no good at answering this question.
I analyzed data from the General Social Survey, a classic source. Heterosexual men 18 and over say that they average 63 sex acts per year, using a condom in 23 percent of them. This adds up to more than 1.6 billion heterosexual condom uses per year.
Heterosexual women say they average 55 sex acts per year, using a condom in 16 percent of them. This adds up to about 1.1 billion heterosexual condom uses per year.
Who is telling the truth, men or women?
Neither. According to Nielsen, fewer than 600 million condoms are sold every year.
Americans may also be exaggerating how often they have unprotected sex. About 11 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 44 say they are sexually active, not currently pregnant and not using contraception. Even with relatively conservative assumptions about how many times they are having sex, we would expect 10 percent to become pregnant every month. But this would already be more than the total number of pregnancies in the United States (which is one in 113 women of childbearing age).
Read more about why people might not always be telling the truth about their sex lives here!