Myth: Most Men Will Lie to Get Sex

This time’s myth is most men will lie to get sex, or asking about a partner’s sexual health will protect you against STDs. Now I think generally most women believe that most men will lie in order to obtain sex, especially if they believe they can get away with it. I think that popular culture, including music and movies, fosters the idea that most men will do almost anything to achieve sexual contact with a woman they find sexually attractive.

Before the era of HIV/AIDS and after the discovery of antibiotics, the consequences of such deceptive behavior – that is, lying or making false promises in order to gain access to a sexual partner – were primarily emotional, and the potential of pregnancy, if contraception was not used or was part of the deception. Before HIV/AIDS, if a sexually transmitted disease resulted from the deception, all of them were treatable if diagnosed early. Now, there are potentially life-threatening consequences of lying to obtain sex, for both men and women, along with the psychological, emotional, pregnancy, and other health consequences. So I thought it would be more than interesting to look at what data is available on what we know about lying, who does it, and how prevalent it is. Again, unfortunately, there’s not a lot of evidence, and again, that’s because our government, the main agency that supports research on sex, isn’t interested and doesn’t really want a lot of good sex research unless it’s directly related to health consequences that the government has to pay for. But we do have some good research. And in fact, one of the studies I’m going to tell you about was done by one of the members of the Health and Science Advisory Board of Love and Health, Dr. Vickie Mays, and her partner in research, Dr. Susan Cochran, of UCLA.

Now I also want to say that maybe women do this too! And so in fact I will tell you about some lying that women do – so it’s not just men that lie. But the question is: who lies, what do they lie about, and how prevalent is that lying? And is it as prevalent in men as people believe? The first question is: do most men lie when it comes to obtaining sex from a prospective sexual partner? I am going to discuss two studies that address that issue – and they were researched in such a way that we can take confidence in the results – as well as when people are most likely to lie, where it is most likely to happen, what kind of lies do they tell, who is most likely to lie, and what are they most likely to lie about.

The answer to the first question is no. That is, it does not appear from the available data – that is, the research data – that most men do or will lie to obtain sex. It doesn’t mean that none of them will, but most men don’t. So it’s sort of like the same question of Americans thinking that all married men are unfaithful, or that most married men are unfaithful. That’s not true either, of married men. So most men won’t lie to get sex, although more men admit to lying than do women.

In one study conducted in Southern California – that’s the one done, in partnership with her research colleague, but our Health and Science Advisory Board member – this study asked 196 sexually experienced young men and women aged 18 to 25 – so they were young people, most of them unmarried, obviously. 34% admitted that they had lied, and that they had lied in order to have sex.

However, 47% of the young men reported that they had been lied to for the purposes of having sex, by their sex partners, in comparison to only 10% of the young women who admitted that they had told a lie in order to have sex, while 60% of the young women reported having been lied to. So again, more people said they had been lied to than admitted that they had lied. 34% of the men reported that they had told a lie, but 60% of the women said that they had been lied to. The reality probably lies somewhere in between these reports, because individuals usually have been shown to be likely to under-report socially unacceptable behavior. And I don’t think there’s any data that shows that they over-report bad behavior done to them, so it may be that what’s more likely is what people tell about what’s happened to them, rather than what they actually do.

The second set of studies was conducted in Washington State over a five-year period. There were a series of studies done about this issue of lying, done in a college in Washington State. There were 634 male college students who were asked about whether they had lied in order to have sex. 22% of them said yes. Now, how often had they lied was one of the questions. The men were also asked how often they had used lying to obtain sex. Of the 127 men who lied and answered the follow-up questions – and there were a bunch of follow-up questions – individuals reported lying from one time to twenty times, but the average was four times. The most common answer, however, was that they had lied one time in their lives up to that point – remember, they were mostly young – and that was 20% of the participants who said “I lied one time,” while the rest reported from two to twenty times. Of all the men who lied, 59%, or approximately six out of ten, lied fewer than four times.

Now, what were the subjects’ ages in these studies? Most of the men in both of these studies – that is, the Southern California study and the Washington state study – were under 26. And although the subjects in the Washington state study were under 26, and most of them were younger than that, they did range up to 41 years of age. Still, the majority were quite young, so really don’t have any information, and none that I can share with you, about what happens as men have more experience dating, more years of dating, and more relationship experience. And again, most of the men weren’t married, so we don’t know what happens in terms of lying as men get into more long-term relationships, including marriage.

Now let’s get to find out what we know about the minority of men who are most likely to lie in order to get sex. The Washington State studies collected a great deal of information about all the participants in general. Both those that reported lying and making false promises – which is another kind of lie – in order to have sex and those who didn’t. Those who reported lying, when compared to those who had not – let me tell you something about them. They were more sexually experienced. They reported an average of sexual intercourse 6.6 times per month, as compared to 4.1 times per month. So that was the difference between the ones who had admitted lying and the ones who didn’t admit lying – they had sex two times more a month. Those who admitted lying also reported more sexual partners in the last year – four partners, on average, for the ones who admitted lying, as compared to a little bit less than two partners per year for the ones who didn’t lie. And I don’t know whether that means lying got those guys more partners, or whether just people who have more sexual partners in general are also those who are more likely to lie. The only sexual behavior for which there was no difference – which the researchers asked about – between the two groups was masturbation. It was the same in both groups. So sexual interest, or sexual desire, in that way, was the same.

Although 65% – which is around two-thirds – of all of the young men agreed that they had used alcohol excessively at some point in their lives, men who said they had lied for sex were more likely to have answered yes to this question than those who had not. 78% who reported lying for sex (more than three-quarters) vs. 61% who said they hadn’t lied to get sex (that’s less than two-thirds). So drinking excessively was more prevalent in the group that lied. In addition, those young men who had lied to get sex agreed that when they had lied they were “usually” or “sometimes” drinking on those occasions when they had lied. So it sort of “gives you” permission. And a lot of risky behavior takes place when people are drinking or excessively drinking, all kinds – not using contraception, condoms particularly, driving riskily, having sex with somebody who you don’t really know whether they’re a safe person to have intercourse with, taking drugs is another behavior that takes place when people are drinking or drinking excessively.

Now where was the lying most likely to occur? These were “fill-in” questions, which means that participants are not given choices as to what they can answer, but they get a little place inside the questionnaire to write it down, and then the researchers have to take those answers and make categories, because you can’t have a thousand answers, so you categorize them and there ways of doing that that give you good results. So they were permitted to answer freely, and there were two main categories that the researchers found. 66% of the lies were told at parties – and again, you have to remember that these were young people, so they’re not going to have as many choices of places as older people would have – and 34% of the lies were told in the woman’s apartment or the man’s apartment, or dwelling place. And again, perhaps if this were an older sample there might have been another category like bars, clubs, or restaurants, or at vacation venues, or something like that.

The last set of information from the Washington state studies I want to share with you are the content of the lies. What kinds of lies did these individuals tell when they did tell lies in order to get sex? What did these men lie about? This was also a fill-in question, and it read “what did you say or promise?” And the answers were coded into three categories. The first category included lies related to caring or commitment – and they had answers such as “I love you” – when of course he really didn’t, remember these are lies – “I really like you” – “I care about you” – or there were lies that promised a relationship when there was no relationship forthcoming, and the person knew it. In one case, even promising marriage. 58% of the lies fell into this category.

Then there was category two, which included lies about the quality of the sexual interaction itself, itself, such as telling the person this was not a casual sexual interaction, or promising that this was not a one-night stand, or saying to the person “I really respect you.” We’ve all heard these stories, or seen them on TV or in some movie or whatever. Another was promising to call, or another was promising another date, which was not really going to happen. And 38% of the lies fell into this category.

The third category was kind of a miscellaneous category of approaches, or when people didn’t really remember what they had said. And in this category fell things like “I don’t have another girlfriend,” “you’re the only one I’m seeing,” or “I won’t tell anybody that this happened,” when there was no truth in that. Or “I will tell if you don’t have sex with me,” so threats of that kind. Or “sex is safe with me.” Then there were things like “I don’t remember what I said – I know I said something but I don’t remember what it was.” 13% of the lies fell into this category.

Now the Southern California study was more concerned with both men’s and women’s reliance on the reliability and accuracy of a prospective partner’s responses to questions in a dating context, when having sex was the goal.

The respondents reported more dishonesty from the partners than they admitted themselves. And we saw that earlier when I was telling you about some of the data that came from that study. The authors assumed that that was probably an under-estimate of their own behavior rather than an over-estimate of the lies that had been told to the people, because in every case, both the men and the women said that they had been lied to more than they had actually lied themselves. They were also asked about not only what had happened in their own lives, but hypothetically what they would do in some situations, so it was a very interesting way of finding out what people might do, and maybe what they had done, although of course you can’t assume that what they might do is what they would do.

So what did they lie about? 38% of the men in this Southern California study had lied about their ejaculatory control. And again, this is often done when people are not using good means of pregnancy contraception, and are promising that they will come out, that is, they will remove the penis from the vagina “in time.” And we all know about the many times that that doesn’t happen. 46% of the women said that their partner had lied about ejaculatory control. So 38% of the men said they have lied about it, because they didn’t think they were able to really control themselves, and 46% of the women said they’d had an experience when a man had said he could and then didn’t.

14% of the women said they lied about the likelihood of pregnancy. So we know about stories when women say they are using contraceptives when they aren’t, or they say that they’re at a time of the month when they can’t get pregnant when they really are, or they aren’t really sure. 34% of the men said that their partner had lied about their likelihood of pregnancy. So the men said they had been lied to 34% of the time, and the women said they had only done it 14% of the time. Now I’m not sure how men would know, unless that many women got pregnant, or at least were worried about being pregnant after they had the sexual interaction.

32% of the men and 23% of the women lied about their involvement with more than one person. So these are people who had sex with somebody where they were told that they were the only one – at least that’s what one gathers from this. 32% of the men and 23% of the women – an 11% difference in that – told a partner something that was untrue about their other involvements, in order to have sex.

Here’s an interesting one, and this is about a question as to whether you told your partner, your regular partner, about a sexual involvement with somebody outside the partnership – another partnership that you have. And 68% of the men said that they had not told a partner about other partners, as compared with 59% of the women –not that big a difference, but more men had lied than women.

With regard to willingness to deceive, these are the questions that were asked hypothetically – “what would you do” in a hypothetical, in a “what if” situation. 20% of the men, and 4% of the women said they would lie about having a negative HIV test. That is, they would say that they would say that they had had a negative HIV test, whether they had either had no test at all, or whether they had had a positive test. That’s a big difference – 20% and 4%. It’s interesting that there is research on lying, general lying, between men and women, and the data is quite clear that men lie more than women. Women are less likely to lie than men. Whether it gives them more anxiety, or whether women are just more truthful, the data is pretty clear that women lie less than men do. Women are more honest than men.

23% of men said that they would be willing to lie about ejaculatory control. And that’s again what we found, at least in the data, these all match up, really, at least in terms of sex differences, in what the real-life data told us. And 4% of women said they would be willing to lie about their likelihood of pregnancy. So again, the hypotheticals are matching up with the real life experiences, although these are the same group of people.

47% of the men and 42% of women would be willing to lie about their number of previous partners. And again, that’s of course important in terms of HIV – not so important in terms of STDs as long as you know at the time that you don’t have anything. And it’s an interesting issue of policy – is it really your current partner’s right to know about your past? That’s a real question for everybody to think about. My opinion is that it’s not – that your life with a new partner, as long as you’re healthy and you don’t have anything that will affect them healthwise, is your decision to make as to whether it’s something you share or you don’t share, and it’s not a matter of ethics or morals, far as I’m concerned. But that’s my personal opinion, and it is a personal decision.

Males and females who would disclose the existence of other partners to a new partner was another question. And 22% of males said that they never would tell or disclose the existence of other partners to a new partner, and 10% of females said they would never disclose other partners to a new partner. Well, that’s another issue, because we’re talking about simultaneous partners, which means that there’s heartbreak involved in that, and there’s also health issues involved unless you’re being very careful with regard to the use of condoms. 13% of the males and 29% of the females said they would disclose other partners. And I think that’s an issue that is more important to be honest about. The rest were undecided, because obviously that does not add up to 100%.

Would you disclose an episode of sexual infidelity to a partner? And that’s another very tricky question. Never – I would never disclose that – 43% of the men said, almost half, and 34% of the women, a third, would never disclose an episode. But this is one episode – this is not a relationship, this is one episode. Again, a tricky question, the morality of which is something that each person has to deal with themselves. And for the males, 22% said yes, they would, and 35% of the women said yes, they would. The rest were not sure – they were equivocal about it. So although both men and women both frequently reported that they had either actively or passively lied or deceived a dating partner, men were significantly more likely to have done so or to be willing to do so than women.

So what can we learn from this very interesting data? And boy, we wish we had more! And if any of you are going to be psychologists, or sociologists, or anthropologists, collect more data on this – it’s really very interesting. And we’d like some on older people! We’d like to know what people are doing in their 30’s and their 40’s and their 50’s. First, that some men and women appear to be willing to lie in order to obtain sexual intimacy from a prospective partner. There’s no question about that. And it’s not a small fraction of people, it’s a reasonable number of people. So you need to keep that in mind when you’re out there on the dating market. And that they’re willing to deceive on many important issues – from caring and commitment, to the existence of other partners, to the state of their sexual health, to whether they’re placing you in physical danger or going to put you in jeopardy of becoming a mommy or a daddy. So all those issues are things that some people, at least, and not a small percentage of people, are willing to put you in jeopardy and having that happen to you. And although more men are willing to do it than women, there are women out there that are willing to put you in jeopardy of those problems, which are major problems in life – and heartbreak, I might add, which is there as well, which I worry about a lot.

Finally, I feel it’s important for me to mention, although it has been said many times before, by me and by others, you cannot tell by looking whether someone is healthy or not when it comes to HIV/AIDS and many other sexually transmitted diseases. No matter how healthy or glowing they look to you, a prospective partner can be carrying an organism that can make you very ill or in fact, can shorten your life. No matter what wonderful stories he or she tells you about their commitment and desires, you must demand the use of a condom, at least until you’ve spent significant time with them, with their friends, with their family, and take some time to get to know them well before you give your heart away. You cannot rely on what somebody tells you to protect your heart or your life. You must rely on your own experience of that person, and that can only happen over a protracted period of time. I know I say it over and over again, but that’s because I really do care, and I’ve had a lot of experience – I’m probably older than most of you – and a lot of people have come to me with their heartbreak and their health concerns. So please, it’s just a little bit of latex, but it protects you and your life. Nothing can protect your heart but you’re being careful with it. So all I can do is beg you to take your time before you give it away

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