Sex, Surveys and Self-Selection

The Daily Star recently published an article which claimed to show the “four words [women] LOVE during sex”.

The results are from a self-selecting clickable website survey — not necessarily of women — where the five choices were set.

In short

Self-selection: It is a clickable website survey: only those who saw the survey could answer, and it is entirely a person’s choice whether to click and respond.
No controls: There is no way to ensure only women answered this survey.
Study design: There is no reason given for why four word phrases were chosen. The article cites no prior research for popular phrases.


The Daily Star regularly runs clickable surveys on its website. These surveys are not the equivalent of polls run by professional market research companies.

These clickable surveys are self-selecting, and cannot be used to make claims about the wider population.

The article claims:

Daily Star Online recently asked women what they like to hear in the bedroom.

A poll of 5,300 ladies revealed which four words were the most arousing.

Since this is an open access survey, nothing ensures only women answered. Consequently, it is incorrect to suggest this is a survey of about “5,300 ladies”.

These clickable surveys (by ‘Daily Star Online’) are collated by Apester. Here is their survey for the article about ‘four words men love to hear’:

Study design

Even if the survey were representative, there would still be many questions about study design.

Why were only four word phrases chosen? Why were these specific five phrases selected? There is no prior research cited in the article, to demonstrate popularity. What if what women really like to hear was not an included option?

A self-selecting survey would not provide reliable information on what women like to hear during sex.

As Prof Bobby Duffy says in his book, The Perils of Perception:

Because we don’t have access to very much real-life comparative information, we turn to other ‘authoritative’ sources: playground or locker-room chat, old wives’ tales, dubious surveys and porn. Despite its (literal) centrality to life, there is a dearth of reliable information on sexual behaviour.

This blog looks at the use of statistics in Britain and beyond. It is written by RSS Statistical Ambassador and Chartered Statistician @anthonybmasters.

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