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The “Problem of Number” Revisited: The Relative Contributions of Psychosocial, Experiential, and Evolutionary Factors to the Desired Number of Sexual Partners

Abstract

Three studies (N = 329) using U.S. community samples examined the relative contributions of self-reported “sex,” gender identity, and actual number of sexual partners to the question how many sexual partners individuals desire over the lifetime. In Study 1, the more “feminine” a participant identified, not self-reported sex, was significantly related to the desired number of sexual partners. Study 2a showed that a person’s actual number of sexual partners also correlated with the desired number. In Study 3, Bem Sex Role Inventory (BSRI) (Bem Psychological Review, 88: 354–364 1981) femininity scores and actual number of sexual partners significantly predicted desired number of sexual partners separately for men and women. These results suggest that non-evolutionary variables drive the “problem of number” in mate preference.

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Acknowledgement

I thank the students in my human sexuality classes in the summers of 2003, 2004, and 2005 at the University of Oregon for collecting data on Studies 1, 2a and 2b, respectively. I also thank students in my human sexuality course at California State University, Bakersfield, Antelope Valley center, for collecting data in 2008 for Study 3. Finally, I thank members of the Evolution Focus Group at the University of Oregon, Bertram Malle and Leigh Smith for helpful comments on this paper. Portions of these data were presented at the 14th annual meeting of the American Psychological Society on May 29, 2004 in Chicago, IL.

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Correspondence to Chuck Tate.

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Tate, C. The “Problem of Number” Revisited: The Relative Contributions of Psychosocial, Experiential, and Evolutionary Factors to the Desired Number of Sexual Partners. Sex Roles 64, 644–657 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-010-9774-6

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-010-9774-6

Keywords

  • Gender identity
  • Problem of number
  • Sexual strategies
  • Femininity
  • Bem Sex Role Inventory
  • Sexual partners