Friday, April 27, 2007

Intercourse and Intelligence Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

Tyler Cowen quotes from a new study testing the relationship between grades and delayed sexual activity.

Last December I passed a paper along to Razib showing that high-school age adolescents with higher IQs and extremely low IQs were less likely to have had first intercourse than those with average to below average intelligence. (i.e. for males with IQs under 70, 63.3% were still virgins; for those with IQs between 70-90 only 50.2% were virgin, 58.6% were virgins with IQs between 90-110, and 70.3% with IQs over 110 were virgins)

In fact, a more detailed study from 2000 is devoted strictly to this topic, and finds the same thing: Smart Teens Don't Have Sex (or Kiss Much Either).

The team looked at 1000s of representative teens grades 7-12 in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health and The Biosocial Factors in Adolescent Development datasets, both of which include an IQ test, and include detailed sexual experience questions ranging from hand-holding to intercourse. As with the other study there was a curvilinear relationship: students with IQs above 100 and below 70 were significantly less likely to have had intercourse than those in between. Also like the other study, they found teens with IQs ranging from 75 to 90 had the lowest probability of virginity (the authors note this is also the same IQ range where propensity towards crime peaks).

Depending on the specific age and gender, an adolescent with an IQ of 100 was 1.5 to 5 times more likely to have had intercourse than a teen with a score of 120 or 130. Each additional point of IQ increased the odds of virginity by 2.7% for males and 1.7% for females. But higher IQ had a similar relationship across the entire range of romantic/sexual interactions, decreasing the odds that teens had ever kissed or even held hands with a member of the opposite sex at each age.

While these authors leave off at grade 12th, it would seem plausible to expect that this relationship extends beyond high school. To explore this, plenty of interesting facts come from a 2001 campus sex survey by the joint MIT/Wellesley college magazine Counterpoint (PDF). Looking within and between colleges, IQ appears to delay sexual activity on into young adulthood.

By the age of 19, 80% of US males and 75% of women have lost their virginity, and 87% of college students have had sex. But this number appears to be much lower at elite (i.e. more intelligent) colleges. According to the article, only 56% of Princeton undergraduates have had intercourse. At Harvard 59% of the undergraduates are non-virgins, and at MIT, only a slight majority, 51%, have had intercourse. Further, only 65% of MIT graduate students have had sex.

The student surveys at MIT and Wellesley also compared virginity by academic major. The chart for Wellesley displayed below shows that 0% of studio art majors were virgins, but 72% of biology majors were virgins, and 83% of biochem and math majors were virgins! Similarly, at MIT 20% of 'humanities' majors were virgins, but 73% of biology majors. (Apparently those most likely to read Darwin are also the least Darwinian!)

Looking at this chart it would strongly appear that higher complexity majors contain more virgins than majors with lower cognitive demand. This paper provides me with GRE scores by academic discipline, and, in fact, the correlation between the percentage of virgins in each Wellesley major and the average 'Analytical' GRE score associated with the discipline is 0.60.

One reason we might guess that smarter people in high school, or in more challenging colleges or majors, delay their sexual debuts is because they are delaying gratification in expectation of future reward. Sexual behavior (or at least the investment needed to procure a partner or sustain one) may compete with time/resources required for other goals, and intelligent people may have more demanding goals. James Watson even hinted at this in a recent Esquire magazine piece:
If I had been married earlier in life, I wouldn't have seen the double helix. I would have been taking care of the kids on Saturday. On the other hand, I was lonely a lot of the time.

While sex may not be marriage, it may still require effort that intelligent people prefer to invest elsewhere. This would fit Aldus Huxley's alleged definition of an intellectual as a person who's found one thing that's more interesting than sex.

Another idea is that smarter people are more risk adverse, and delaying these activities is a byproduct of enhanced concerns about unwanted pregnancy and disease. While not avoiding sexual behaviors, per se, they are just less likely to seek it out or consent to it for fear of the potential consequences.

Another idea is that smarter people are more religious or more ethically conservative, and are trying harder to wait for marriage to have sex.

Another idea, consistent with popular media portrayals of geeks and nerds (males at least), is that intelligent people actually want to have sex, but are simply less likely or unable to obtain willing partners because they are disproportionately viewed as unattractive or undesirable as partners.

Another idea is that intelligent people have lower general sex drives. This shouldn’t be confused with the first theory, where their sex drives would be normal and they have greater self-restraint.

Some insightful digging by blogger Half Sigma into the General Social Survey, which also includes an abbreviated intelligence test, has turned up a number of associations that speak to these theories. The relationship between sexual activity and intelligence found across adolescence and young adulthood appears to continue on into adulthood proper.

Not only do intelligent people have a delayed onset of sexual behavior, Half Sigma found that they also have a lower number of premarital sex partners throughout adulthood (18-39). While this is consistent with the above theory that high IQ people are more religious and conservative, this is, of course, not true. Religiousness correlates with lower IQ, and as HS shows in the same post, intelligent people were also more likely to say that premarital sex was not immoral. (Leaving those who did think it was immoral to participate in the bulk of it!) Most of the other theories are still consistent with this finding though.

Perhaps more revealing, HS, also showed that intelligence correlates with less sex within marriage for the same age range. While still consistent with pregnancy fears and competing interests, lower sex drive seems like a better fit. In fact another revealing finding from the Counterpoint survey was that while 95% of US men and 70% of women masturbate, this number is only 68% of men and 20% of women at MIT!

Also the idea that more intelligent people are too busy for the opposite sex not just in 7th grade to college, but throughout adulthood and for their own spouse, seems unrealistic. In fact the GSS also shows (PDF) that smarter people spend more time socializing with their friends, indicating their hours aren't spent as uniquely isolated and narrowly channeled as the theory would require.

But lower sex drive and anxiety about sex's consequences can't be the whole story either. Half Sigma also showed that the smartest men in the GSS (approx. IQ >120) were also more likely to visit a prostitute. (Hardly indicative of cautiousness) This may suggest intelligent men are less able to find willing sex partners. Are smart men less attractive to women? Perhaps in some ways. For instance HS found that smart men were less likely to be athletic, and this paper shows, unathletic men and women have fewer sex partners. Athletic men, with more willing sexual partners, are also less likely to visit a prostitute. Athletic activity gives men more masculine bodies, which are more attractive to women. A more masculine physique correlates with (PDF) an increased number of sex partners.

So intelligent people have lower libidos and less masculine physiques. What hormone is responsible for both sex drive and masculine builds? That's right: testosterone.

And two new papers suggest that testosterone may depress IQ. One researcher found that salivary testosterone levels were lower for preadolescent boys with IQs above 130 and below 70. (the same two groups most likely to be virgins in adolescence)

Another paper suggests that a gene responsible for androgen sensitivity and higher sperm counts may also create a tradeoff for intelligence.


posted by Jason Malloy | 5:19 PM | |  

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