Today the Christchurch Press reported, that ‘Sex stereotype proven‘, and the byline ‘University students have long been stereotyped as promiscuous – and new research shows it is true.’

Unfortunately, when one reads the article, NOTHING in it supports this claim.  The research makes a whole bunch of findings, such as:

  • 20 per cent of respondents reported at least three partners in the last 12 months.
  • Ten per cent reported having sex with between 10 and 20 people
  • 3 per cent reported more than 20 sexual partners.
  • Out of those surveyed 32 per cent had been drinking when they last had sex.
  • Almost half of the respondents reported at least three sexual partners in their lives.
  • 57 per cent of people reported only one sexual partner in the last 12 months.

All good so far, so now for the comparison with some agreed norm, or with some other group, right?  I mean the headline read promiscuity is proven right?

Either we need to see a comparison with other persons of a similar demographic (age, gender etc, perhaps say compared to Polytechnic students, or even just people of a similar age not in higher education) or they need to make an absolute reference to some agreed norm on what is promiscuous.  Is having two partners a year promiscuous, or three, or ten?   We don’t see ANY comparisons, just a bunch of findings.  So what we have is just a whole bunch of percentages measuring how much uni students have sex, and that often alcohol is involved (although note this doesn’t mean it’s caused it, they just imply that, they could also have found that 50% of people ate a meal before having sex, would they then imply food causes promiscuity?).  Ummm, so what?

Anyway, my point is, this is a good example of research that says nothing but a bunch of random facts, and provides little in real information.  There is no comparison to any control group for the purposes of comparison, there is no comparison with any agreed norm about what promiscuous is, and no comparison with say, ten years ago, to show any change over time.

The article’s text even admits there is no comparison:

Canterbury District Health Board clinical director of sexual health Ed Coughlan said it was “really difficult” to say how the sexual behaviour of Canterbury students compared with the rest of the country. 

The only thing remotely worth of the team ‘research’ is a passing comment at the end of the article:

The study also found students who reported being attracted to both men and women were “significantly more likely” to lose their virginity before the age of 16.

That finding is worth further investigation, as it indicated a certain group is more likely to pre-16 sex (which is both illegal, and also has been associated with higher risks of pregnancy and/or STI transmissions).  Perhaps this group could be targeted for education and/or condoms and/or something else.  But no, they prefer just to post random figures about who does who and how often and call it research.   Research should provide meaning information to help inform decisions – and the one bit that did that was glossed over!

I think I’ll do my own research, and here is a finding: 90% of research is twisted and misreported by the media.. (I made that up, but you couldn’t tell right?)

Research needs to be meaningful.  For this, any claims made needs to be factual, or at the very least, strongly indicated by the research.  ‘Proven‘ and ‘show it to be true‘ are strong claims, and in this case there is nothing to support the headline.

Black and White Version: Some research is crap, some media misreport things.  It looks like this is both.






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