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Sex, Smartphones and Statistics

Haven't gotten your pop psychology fix today? Well, OkCupid is pleased to let you know that iPhone users have more sex than users of other smartphones. Their evidence -- a handy chart -- is below: iPhone users have more sexual partners than users of other phones

OkCupid didn't provide sample sizes, but let's assume we're dealing with their entire userbase -- a statistically significant sample.

This is a pretty shocking graph. At age 27, iPhone users report having more than twice as many sexual partners as Android users. Quite an impact for a mobile operating system. So let's look a bit deeper.


First, the heading -- "iPhone users have more sex". There's nothing in that chart about the amount of sex people have. It's a chart of the number of sexual partners. Anecdotally, if one removes the celibate -- that is, people who have had zero sex and zero sexual partners -- I haven't seen a strong correlation between having a lot of sex and having a lot of sexual partners. In fact, there may be a negative correlation given the likelihood for people who don't have long-term relationships to go through significant dry spells. That said, I haven't seen any scientific data on this.

Second, it is important to realize that this is self-reported data on an online dating site. Data on sexual experience is notoriously bad even when subjects don't clearly stand to gain by inflating the numbers, as they would on OkCupid. But that doesn't explain why iPhone users claim more sexual partners than Android or Blackberry users, right?

Let's take a step back. There are some oddities in this data. While I'm aware that the graph doesn't provide a longitudinal sample, let's consider it as such for the moment. The average iPhone user:

1) Has had four sexual partners by the time they graduate from high school.

2) Has less than one sexual partner during college

3) Has 2 sexual partners per year from 24 to 27

Those numbers are...odd. Especially given that the Kinsey Institute finds that about 35% of people haven't had sex at all by age 18. I'm sure there is a long tail of kids who are having a *lot* of partners, but many of those teens would come from poorer and more urban families, not exactly a hot demographic for iPhones. And less than one (new) sexual partner during college? Who are these people?

So they're probably lying, at least to some extent. But that still doesn't explain the delta between iPhone users and Android or Blackberry users, which could be attributed to either or a combination of (a) an actual difference in sexual partners or (b) a difference in exaggeration.


OkCupid is particularly popular in San Francisco and New York -- markets where the iPhone is more or less useless as a phone. It takes a certain type of person to own a really expensive, well-designed smartphone that doesn't really work as a phone. Specifically, a person who perhaps:

1) Is wealthy enough that money is no (or very little) object.

2) Is extremely concerned about appearances and social status.

3) Is in the technology industry and needs it to keep up with innovation.

Let's put (3) aside for a moment -- while tech innovators are a big chunk of my own community, it's probably a small percentage of the sample here.

(1) is probably correlated with having more sexual partners, although I can't find any data on this. Once again, however, it is probably a small percentage of OkCupid's users and could hardly explain a >2x difference in reported sexual partners by age 27.

(2) is more interesting. While someone who is more fashionable probably has more sexual partners than someone who isn't, I'm more interested in the meta level -- the need to appear fashionable and trendy. Awareness and desire to maintain appearances should be strongly correlated with inflating hard-to-verify information on an online dating profile. Like number of sexual partners, for instance.

In reality, the delta is probably driven by a number of factors. But a big piece of it is just about keeping up appearances -- in profiles and phones.