Artists Have More Sexual Partners, U.K. Survey Hints

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"[The study authors] got the control group from a small town in southern England and added some psychology students, while the 'artists' were found through advertisements in major visual arts magazines and [through] poetry organizations," Janssen said.

"So one concern is comparing small-town people with artists from all over the country. That will have implications for the differences you might find," he noted. "Is it really artists versus the rest of us? Or is it perhaps a difference between urban and rural populations?"

James Elias, director of the Center for Sex Research at California State University, Northridge, voiced similar concerns.

"We have no idea if the 'artist' group … and that of the 'general population' were matched in terms of major variables such as marriage, length of time together, age, etc.," he said.

"These types of variables could make a major difference in the results. I'm afraid that the research may have found what they set out to find."

Janssen, of the Kinsey Institute, also noted that survey participants can sometimes be less than truthful when it comes to discussing their sexual exploits.

"To put it bluntly, maybe artists are overreporting the number of partners that they have. Maybe they are just exaggerating," he said.

Creativity, Schizophrenia, and Evolution

In their study, Nettle and colleagues also reported that artists and poets share certain personality characteristics with schizophrenic patients. The authors linked such traits with increased sexual activity and suggested that these traits may contribute in some way to the evolutionary survival of humans.

"These personality traits can manifest themselves in negative ways, in that a person with them is likely to be prone to the shadows of full-blown mental illness, such as depression and suicidal thoughts," he said.

"This research shows there are positive reasons, such as their role in mate attraction and species survival, for why these characteristics are still around."

Actual schizophrenics, as opposed to people who display some related traits, suffer from social withdrawal and tend to have fewer sexual partners than the norm.

Janssen said, however, that any evolutionary benefits possibly associated with creative or schizophrenic traits are far from clear.

"To test the relationship between artistic creativity and reproductive success you'd have to test if [artists] are more attractive to others and if they are in fact successful in reproducing," he said.

"Looking at how many partners they've had may not be an accurate indicator. They may not be very good at maintaining relationships, and in that case they could actually have lower reproductive rates," Janssen added.

The survey results are provocative and, as Janssen noted, open to some interesting alternative interpretations.

"A more playful interpretation, which I don't necessarily think is true but is kind of fun, is that you could reverse the findings," he said. "[The study] is all about how creative abilities predict mating success, but you could say that maybe having sex makes you more creative."

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