A blogging dare

I’ve received my first blogging dare.  I got an email from Big Steve the other day entitled “a blogging dare” and included a link.  I knew the article he meant, without even clicking on it.  It’s this William Saletan piece in Slate which examines in some interesting depth the findings from the recent survey of American sexual behavior.  Honestly, blogging about anal sex is generally a step too far even for me, however, when faced with a dare…

Actually, regardless of the subject matter, what Saletan does is a terrific illustration of good social science and how to and how not to draw inference from data.  I’m even going to refrain from any double entendre.  So, what am I talking about:

So what’s with all the buggery? Is it brutality? Coercion? A porn-inspired male fantasy at women’s expense?

Apparently not. Check out the orgasm data. Among women who had vaginal sex in their last encounter, the percentage who said they reached orgasm was 65. Among those who received oral sex, it was 81. But among those who had anal sex, it was 94. Anal sex outscored cunnilingus.

No way, you say.

Way. Read the data. Table 5, Pages 357-8.

What could explain this? Taboo thrill? Clitoral migration? Some new kind of vegetable oil?

Here’s my guess. Look carefully at Table 4, Pages 355-6. Only 6 percent of women who had anal sex in their last encounter did so in isolation. Eighty-six percent also had vaginal sex. Seventy-two percent also received oral sex. Thirty-one percent also had partnered masturbation. And the more sex acts a woman engaged in during the encounter, the more likely she was to report orgasm. These other activities are what gave the women their orgasms. The anal sex just came along for the ride.

So why did the inclusion of anal sex bump the orgasm figure up to 94 percent? It didn’t. The causality runs the other way. Women who were getting what they wanted were more likely to indulge their partners’ wishes. It wasn’t the anal sex that caused the orgasms. It was the orgasms that caused the anal sex.

Actually, there’s not really much for me to add.  The naive view would be to look at the data and simply wonder how all these women were having orgasms from anal sex and Saletan shows how foolhardy that is.   Saletan cannot be entirely sure that the causal arrow actually runs in the other direction in exactly the way he suggests, but is is a dramatically more plausible case.  Another way of looking at it would be that women who engage in a variety of sexual acts at a time have a fuller, more open sex life which is likewise much more likely to go along with having an orgasm.

There you go.  Happy Big Steve?

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

2 Responses to A blogging dare

  1. saideman says:

    Well, I guess so. Don’t forget how proud you were about talking about edgy stuff in class. I seem to remember you mentioning bear backing or bare backing or something like that.

    But yes, nice social science lesson here. And I like your alternative hypothesis as well. There should be ways to test this. Too bad we are political scientists and not in some other field.

    • Steve Greene says:

      Actually, I already mentioned this finding in class. Believe it or not, I have higher standards for the internet. This goes out under my name for all to see for as long as WordPress exists.

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