The Desired Number of Sexual Partners as a Function of Gender, Sexual Risks, and the Meaning of “Ideal”

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The present research investigated gender differences in the ideally desired number of sex partners, examining several different kinds of “ideals.” In two separate samples, participants were (a) first asked to report their ideal number of desired sex partners—identified as a nonspecific ideal; (b) next, they responded after considering some of the health and social risks, and the opportunity limitations, associated with sexual activity—a pragmatic ideal; and (c) finally, participants reported their ideal number of sex partners after imagining the removal of these risks and limitations—a hedonic ideal. For both samples, there were significant mean, but no median, gender differences for the nonspecific ideal, replicating what has been found in some previous research. However, when risks were explicitly identified (in the present pragmatic and hedonic ideal conditions), significant mean and median gender differences emerged: Typically, men desired multiple sex partners, whereas women were consistently interested in a single sex partner, regardless of the risks or opportunities involved.


The Journal of Sex Research