A review of Casanova's memoirs appeared in the New York Times a week ago. The first paragraph:
"PARIS — Giacomo Girolamo Casanova was a gambler, swindler, diplomat, lawyer, soldier, alchemist, violinist, traveler, pleasure seeker and serial seducer."
So far Casanova sounds like an energetic, high-IQ scamp, and possibly even a sociopath. Certainly anyone who worked as a swindler and alchemist had to be dishonest. Gamblers often have low self-control, and soldiering occasionally attracts those who exult in destruction.
But then, halfway through the review, came the following surprise:
"Despite his many adventures, Casanova was best known as a libertine. His first sexual encounter, he wrote, was at 11, when he was groped by the sister of his guardian. During his lifetime he claimed to have seduced 122 women, including a nun."
You'd think that the man whose name is synonymous with seduction would have claimed more than 122 women. Perhaps Casanova was not a sociopath after all, but a (relatively) honest man who enjoyed the company of women.
There are certainly many guys who claim to have slept with far more.
Wilt Chamberlain once famously claimed to have slept with 20,000 women. He is also known for his quote that nobody roots for Goliath, but the two statements are somewhat contradictory: if his first claim was true, he had at least 20,000 fans. But the first claim is of course a lie. In order for that to have occurred he would have had to have slept with 1.37 women a day from the age of 15 up until his autobiography was published in 1991 -- with absolutely no repeats. People who knew him said he was often awkward around women, and spent many of his evenings home alone. The scoring he was best at was on the basketball court, where he once single-handedly racked up 100 points in an NBA game.
A bombastic fellow once told me -- when he was 40 -- that he had slept with 10,000 women. When I did the math for him, he somewhat sheepishly said, "Well, hundreds, anyway."
(I'm not even sure that's true.)
Basically, any guy who throws out a huge round number at you either hasn't kept count or is full of, well, hyperbole.
I once read that the average man sleeps with six women in his lifetime. That number may be dated now that we live in the age of the internet, which allows like-minded people to hook up much more efficiently. (There's also the question of what you consider sleeping with a woman: do oral sex and mutual masturbation count? Some say yes, some no.)
Every now and then it occurs to me that men who stick with the same women in fact are the ones with higher sex drives, since they never get bored. And that men who constantly need new sources of sexual stimulation in order to get excited -- the hard core womanizers, who tend to get bored quickly -- are the wimps. It takes a real stud to be excited by the same woman for decades.
On the other hand, supposedly one in every sixteen men in central Asia is a direct descendant of Genghis Khan. He, and his sons and grandsons, all enjoyed absolute power, and enjoyed their absolute power as well. And no one ever accused Genghis of being a wimp. (It's generally considered hard to conquer all of Asia, the entire Middle East, and a third of Europe without a higher than average testosterone level.)
The fact is that most men who can, will sleep with as many women as possible. Think of recent dictators who have done as they pleased in every other regard. (Fidel Castro, or Kim Jong Il, or the Sultan of Brunei.) Their numbers put Casanova to shame. Of course, they're not really competing in the same game. Casanova seduced, they order.
Or consider how guys will take advantage of their fame. (Think Muhammad Ali, or Pablo Picasso, or Warren Beatty, or Mick Jagger.)
Or their money. Billionaires are not generally known for their chastity.
If you're extremely rich and famous and powerful and you have a position which requires a certain amount of decorum, you're almost certain to embarrass yourself. (Sylvio Berlusconi, Dominique Strauss Kahn.)
Men generally behave as evolution has selected them to, to spread their seed as widely as they can.
I have a friend who took a year off from college to work as a steward for a major airline, back in the 1970's. The home base for the stewards and stewardesses was in San Juan, Puerto Rico. My friend had two roommates there. The three of them were just about the only heterosexual guys in a place which was 90% young, single women. So they referred to their base as "Candyland." By my friend's count, one of his roommates slept with 52 women that year, and the other with 70. (My friend slept with 12.)
I know my friend well enough to know he's honest about these things. He's also good-looking and charming. Although he's long since been put out to pasture (i.e., married), in his day he was an unstoppable force. I was talking to him the other day, and the subject turned to women, and his final score, which was roughly 80. He grumbled that it should have been higher, then growled, "And I'm a damn handsome guy, too."
But he shouldn't grumble too much. At 80 women, he is way above the national average. Another 42 and he would have been right up there with Casanova himself.
And those two guys were honest about their numbers.