19 March 2023

Mathematics and Sex

That word is something that immediately attracts my attention – Mathematics!! As I was explaining to Dipanjan the other day, I can spend the better part of an evening arguing both sides of the question – “Was mathematics invented or discovered?”

If you have even any remote interest in what happens when we apply the only subject that is invariant (unlike science or religion) to extremely emotive subjects like romance and love, this Ted talk show by author and mathematician Clio Cresswell is bound to delight you.

Some of the reasons I loved her talk:

1. You know the common myth that men have more sexual partners than women? If not, just humor me and Google “who has more sex partners – men or women”. The mathematician in me always thought that is just impossible. Assuming near equal population of sexually active men and women and a very low disparity between the numbers of same sex partners between men and women, that answer should be “almost same”. Mathematically, anything else is impossible. She did a great job of enumerating that answer on the board.

2. I have always been suspicious of the old adage “girls are weak in math; boys are better in math”. I have seen that in India (my birth country) and I have seen that in the USA (my adopted country). I have always wondered if this was an inborn thing or simply a social/cultural bias. I thought Clio did an outstanding job of cutting thru that conundrum. Simply put, evolution is millions of years old. Math is merely 2000 years old. No way genes could have evolved to say – “Hmmmm, there is a stimulus coming about a million years from now. I better start evolving from now on to prepare for that”.

3. You are going to get a kick out of this. You know how psychologists talk about empathy and how longer, successful marriages are derived from empathy? Which requires compromise? Well, at least math will show you that couples who do not compromise land up with far longer marriages. Her thesis is that when you hold each other to higher standards and achieve it, you become better as a person leading to stronger bonding.

Now, the mathematician in me wants to know if her study focused only on longer marriages as the outcome variable or did it take “happily” married as the real outcome variable? (Of course, defining “happy” becomes yet another challenge)

There is an old story that this reminds me. There was a study done in the 1970s which purportedly showed that married men live longer than single men. I have always wondered whether the married men really live longer or it just seems so to them 🙂

Posted March 19, 2023 by Rajib Roy in category "Musings


  1. By Melinda Cook McDonald on

    Very funny. I feel sure married men live longer because their wives are the ones who ensure they take care of themselves and follow doctors’ orders!


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