By Kaewmala

That’s what Durex, the world’s No. 1 condom maker, would have you believe. True or not, statistics has been thrown at the media like a juicy piece of bone. As if on cue the media jumped with all four, grabbed it midair and ran with it.

Here’s that piece of bone. The Bangkok Post on August 28, 2012: “Thais top infidelity chart.”

Thai men are ranked on top and their women are ranked second as the world’s most unfaithul [sic] lovers, with well over half of them admitting to frequent infidelity, according to a survey conducted by Durex, a condom producer.

Women from Thailand are ranked the world’s second most unfaithul [sic] lovers, according to the survey report.

The survey of 29,000 women in 36 countries names the women of Ghana the world’s most unfaithful, with 62 per cent of the women questioned there admitting they often cheat on their boyfriends and husbands.

Thai women were just a little more faithful, with 59 per cent admitting to infidelity, followed by Malaysia with 39 per cent.

In fourth and fifth place were Russia (33 per cent) and Singapore (19 per cent).

As for men admitting to extramarital affairs, Thailand came out on top (54 per cent) followed by South Korea (34 per cent) and then Malaysia (33 per cent).

Scandalous statistics

So Thai women are more adulterous than Thai men! Can anyone living in Thailand seriously believe that? It bears repeating: 59% of Thai women are unfaithful compared to 54% of Thai men who fool around behind the back of their spouse or lover. With the still prevalent old practice of mia noi (minor wife), the new casual kik culture, and the ubiquitous sex-for-sale (mostly for men) in massage parlors, clubs, brothels and all manners of establishments, who is kidding whom here?

I’m not saying Thai women are all prim and proper and would never cheat for that would be delusional. Surely a significant percentage of Thai women cheat on their husbands and lovers, as each society must have its fair share of female and male cheaters. But 6 in 10 of Thai women “often” cheat on their partners? Egad!

Consider that about 30% of Thai women of marriageable age (15-45) nationwide are single (the figure is over 40% in Bangkok).* How can that be? If 6 in 10 Thai women are adulterous, while 3 don’t have a husband to cheat on, that leaves 1 in 10 being truly faithful in the religious sense of the word. I know quite a few Thai women (girlfriends and old classmates) in their late 30’s and early 40’s who probably have never had sex, never been kissed till they were 30 or ever, who are still husbandless, boyfriendless, and very likely sexless. How do we square all these with Durex’s 59%-Thai-women-are-unfaithful statistics?

Not well received

It’s hard to imagine image-sensitive Thais taking kindly this unsolicited world-class status. As the Bangkok Post reported the news provoked criticisms on the popular Thai web board Pantip. Many Thais cannot believe that our women can be unfaithful to such a scandalous extent. (Somehow nobody is vehemently defending the reputation of Thai men touted as the world’s top cheaters in the men’s division. Perhaps that doesn’t rancor as much?)

Hence The Nation’ headline that quickly followed: “Thai infidelity claim brings strong denials.” It reported at 1am of August 29, 2012 that the Durex survey “has been challenged by local medical and gender groups.”

… deputy director of the Mental Health Department, Dr Tawee Tangseri, said he doubted Thai women often cheated on their partners because they adhered to tradition and preserved their purity. Only a small proportion cheated on their partners to have sex with other men.

… Supensri Puengkoksung of the Women and Men Progressive Movement Foundation said the poll did not reflect the real situation in Thailand. It just reflected the opinion of people who were approached and ready to answer the survey. ‘You could not say that all Thai women had cheated on their partners and always had affairs with other men,’ she said.

Whether or not Thai women really “adhere to tradition and preserve their purity” is open to debate. If one goes by casual observation, that statement is not quite true at least for younger Thai women, given the younger and younger average age of Thai girls having their first sexual experience and Thai teenage pregnancy at the top of world ranking. Dr. Tawee and many Thais may believe that “only a small proportion” of Thai women cheat on their partners. But we have no way of knowing exactly how “small” (or “big”) that proportion is, though many would be willing to bet good money it ain’t higher than the Thai men’s.

Assuming no respondents lied in this Durex survey — a big assumption — Ms. Supensri was probably closer to the mark in saying that the findings “just reflected the opinion of people who were approached and ready to answer the survey.”

Which brings us to the question of …

Durex sex survey methodology

What is this Durex survey anyway? Unlike past surveys by this condom maker, the sources and details of the latest statistics are not readily available. Some digging online resulted in very scant information. The statistics may have been part of the Sexual Wellbeing Global Survey sponsored by Durex which started in 2006. This is what it has about that survey on its global website. Not much.

Some country websites like the US and Singapore give more details. The information on the survey methodology refers to the Sexual Wellbeing Global Survey (SWGS) as follows:

By questioning more than 26,000 people in 26 countries about all aspects of their sex lives, we believe this is the most comprehensive study of its kind.

Curiously, neither mentions 36 countries and 29,000 people. The Singapore SWGS was conducted in 2006, but the SWGS survey in the US was just conducted in late 2011 and the Durex report released on the World’s AIDS Day (December 1, 2011) mentioned it was a survey involving 36 countries and 29,000 people. No PDF available.

On the selection of survey participants:

Random samples of participants aged 16 + or 18+ were sent an email invitation to participate in the survey. The sample was primarily sourced from Harris Interactive’s internet panel.

It’s hard to ascertain if the latest statistics as reported by the Thai papers above came from the original set of data or from a new set in this ongoing global survey. The 26 countries included in Durex SWGS reported in 2008 are below.

Source: Asian Offbeat http:www.asianoffbeat.comdefault.asp?display=1732

As you can see from the chart released in 2008 above, if Thais are really the world’s most adulterous couples we are not the most frequently sexed: supposedly only 65% among us have sex weekly. Thais are not even in the top league of the world’s sex athletes. So what happened between then and now? Is it possible that even though Thai women and men don’t have the most frequent sex on the planet (or more precisely among the 26 countries listed), Thais may have the most frequent sex behind their partners’ back? Could it be that those 65% Thais who have a history of having sex at least weekly disproportionately have it mostly with people other than their spouse and lover? Or even Thais who don’t have sex that often (less than weekly) have it while cheating? Possible, but how probable? The scenario gets rather complicated.

To complicate the picture even further, less than a decade ago (2003) Thailand was named among the top countries where people were “most satisfied with their sex life” (along with China and Vietnam). But then just 5 years later, the Chinese were reported by Durex to have a serious trouble with sex: 76% of the previously sex-happy Chinese could not reach orgasm! Either that was an unfortunate and swift turn of event, or something was not quite right about the new numbers or the old ranking, or both.

The Bangkok Post reporting doesn’t help. It said that the statistics reported came from the survey covering 29,000 women in 36 countries (The Nation gave no information whatsoever on that). This contradicts with other media reports on the same set of statistics in other countries like this, this, and this, all of which said that the survey covered 29,000 people (not just women) in 36 countries. We don’t know what are the 10 additional countries included since 2008. Do we smell recycling of data?

Durex sex survey credibility

Durex explains how its Sexual Wellbeing Global Survey is credible (emphasis mine):

We have used a sample size of 1,000 for the majority of countries surveyed which is the recommended sample size required for social policy and PR activity.

So, if 1,000 sample size is the required minimum, 29,000 for 36 countries doesn’t exactly meet the required standard for social policy or PR activity, does it? In Thailand’s case, we have no idea what the sample size was. If “the majority of the countries” had 1,000 sample size like the US as reported here, it means some countries had a smaller sample size, certainly smaller than the 805 average among 36 countries. The US has about 310 million people, about 250 people aged 15 or above (the US data were collected from respondents aged 18+). But no matter, though the larger sample size is better in terms of confidence level, a 1000 sample size is tolerable since a sample does not need to correspond exactly with the population size. In other words, a 1000 sample size can tell you as much about a town with a population of 100,000 as one with 10 or 20 million. But that is only true if the sample is genuinely random.

The Durex SWGS data collection methodology was via email. The sample was “sourced through an Internet panel” as it explained on its website. I’m sure the sampling process went though whatever standard the research company commissioned to conduct the research by Durex set up and followed. But could it have been genuinely random?

Besides, there’s always the issue of people lying in polls. Granted, it’s hard to imagine that people would lie that they cheat on their partners while they really don’t but it’s easier to imagine that people would lie that they don’t cheat on their partners while they actually do. 59% of Thai women admit they cheat vs. 54% of Thai men admit they do the same. What do you think?

Who really are the world’s top female adulterers?

Another very curious bit. Both the Bangkok Post and The Nation reported that the women of Ghana rank the worlds’ first in the women’s division of infidelity at 62% admitting to cheating on their partners. But just a few months ago Nigerian women were crying foul that Durex tainted their reputation by putting them on that very spot — that same 62% infidelity spot! The same set of statistics has been reported since December 2011, naming them as “the most unfaithful women in the world” (see for example here, here, and here.)

Unsurprisingly Nigerians have not been very well pleased. The Pointer just lashed out at Durex in early August 2012:

The report of the purported survey is seen by many as an insult to Nigerian women, to say the least. It is condemnable and totally unacceptable. Experts have even reasoned that the sample used by the company for the [survey] was neither representative nor objective. …

Surveys in the past have portrayed Nigerian women as some of the most hardworking and highly spiritual women globally, who religiously follow their christian and muslim beliefs no matter the odds. Again, ours is a society that prides itself of cultures that frown at adultery, sexual promiscuity and infidelity…

The so-called research is nothing but a marketing ploy to attract undeserved attention to its product. The same goal could have been achieved without degenerating to the level of conjecture and underserved global embarrassment…

Durex, without any further delay, should, therefore, tender an unreserved apology to Nigeria and its people for its extremely embarrassing, highly deplorable and cententious [sic] survey.

Nothing short of an apology would pacify Nigerians, particularly our diligent and patriotic women whose collective ego has been injured and integrity stained by the vicious and pervasive outcome of Durex’ ‘unscientific’ survey.

No apology from Durex has been offered to the Nigerians that I know of.

At first I thought the Bangkok Post and The Nation were the only papers that might have been given the wrong press release, but that was proved otherwise. Other media such as this and this reported Ghana women as the world’s top adulterers as well. So how come? Women from two countries are claimed by Durex to be the world’s top adulterers from the same set of data? Could the fierce reactions from the Nigerians have persuaded Durex to change the nationality of the world’s top adulterous women to Ghana? I would very much like to hear Durex explain this.

Behind salacious headlines

With the help of Google, one can collect many sex-related salacious headlines involving one country after another purported to have some best or worst record in sex. Invariably you’ll see Durex behind the juicy statistics.

Only in May 2012 New Zealand’s Conservative Party leader landed in hot water for claiming that Kiwi women were “the most promiscuous young women in the world” hence the New Zealand government should not be providing free contraception for those who choose to “sleep around.” Ouch! The NZ prime minister had to come out to denounce the claim as having no proof. The claim was quickly revealed to have been based on (what else?) Durex’s 5 years old statistics, which give Kiwi women an average of 20.4 sex partners, the highest in the world (compared to Kiwi men’s average of 16.8 and the 7.3 world’s average for both men and women).

Now, how about the men? Durex’s latest round of statistics claims that:

According to the survey, Asian men were the most promiscuous in the world. Men in Singapore and Hong Kong had an average of 16 bed partners in their lifetime, while Malaysian men had about three.

Keeping in mind the statistics for Kiwi women and men from 2007 above (20.4 and 16.8 sex partners respectively), now how could Singapore and Hong Kong men be “the most promiscuous” men in the world in 2012?

What’s more? Only in December 2011, Durex survey claimed that:

[American] men have an average of 20 different sexual partners in total — fewer than the men in Canada (27) or Australia (24) but more than in France (19), Britain (17) or Mexico (15).

So how exactly does Durex make its so called “world ranking” apparently from the same set of data over different years and get different ranking for different countries at different times? Again, I would love to hear Durex explain its secret at creating highly fluid, various and flexible world ranking.

A bucket load of …

At the end of the day what really matters is not women or men of which country are the world’s sexiest, fastest, biggest, best, or worst lovers or adulterers, for that is as useful and as reliable as Durex’s statistics. The real question is why are we even having this discussion? Or why have I written this article?

Unfortunately it may have helped boost the latest buzz for Durex, but something needed to be said against recurring numbers that pass for statistics. Remember next time you see numbers flying around with a Durex tag, prepare a bucket of salt – you’re going to need the whole load of it.

Note*: Population and Social Research Institute, Mahidol University (2000-2010 figures)

Kaewmala is a writer, a blogger and an avid twitterer. She blogs at thaiwomantalks.com and is a provocateur of Thai language, culture and politics @thai_talk. Kaewmala is the author of a book that looks at the linguistic and cultural aspects of Thai sexuality called “Sex Talk”.