Sunday, July 02, 2006

What's Your Percentage?

The average man thinks about sex every seven seconds. I'd accepted this commonly known fact for many years when a friend pointed out the obvious: How was this proven? Did a selection of men walk around with a clicker and mark each time they thought about sex? Did they develop a type of brainscan that was able to register and distinguish erotic thoughts? Or, really, was it more of an approximation that sounded realistic?

I think I first heard this statistic in eighth grade from a girl trying to establish how much of a dog a man could be. To think about it every seven seconds felt extreme then. It was hard to imagine our minds were being interrupted 8 times over the course of a minute by an uncontrollable urge to contemplate our limited understanding of physical affection. I thought back to the hour prior to the young woman's declaration. I hadn't thought about sex once during my lunch period. But maybe this girl knew what she was talking about. She certainly said it with authority - as if she'd clearly read it in a magazine! Establishing this as a proven statistic, my mind immediately obliged the scenario and provided dirty snapshots every seven seconds. It seemed hard to keep up with the pace but not altogether out of the question. Then, holes in the theory started to form. What was a thought about sex? Was it just a flash of a breast? A fully formed narrative involving my camp counselor (Heather... sigh)? What if I was "reading" Juggs in the Shoprite (they had a dirty magazine section)? Did that count as one thought about sex or many? All of a sudden, it didn't seem quantifiable.

Right. It works along the lines of the statement that a person is murdered every 12 minutes in the United States. There aren't actually nicely timed murders. It's just an extrapolation from a year-end statistic illustrating how many murders there are every year and dividing that number into the number of minutes in the same year. Except with sexual thoughts, what hard evidence is there that the average man thinks about sex 14% of the time? It sounds right. Sure. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that I think about sex 25% of the time. Not every day. Not every hour. But if you looked at a year of my life, I'd say at least 25% of those 365 days was spent thinking about sex. Still, the seven seconds line is just a soundbite. Despite it being realistic, it's bad statistical science. Maybe this is obvious to you. I had to have it explained to me before I realized that percentages of time spent thinking about specific subjects were hard to more than subjectively calculate. I like to take people at their word and that eighth grade girl was taller than me and therefore probably knew more about sex than I did.

But now, ask yourself, what is your percentage? Not just sex - though that's one of the more interesting subjects - but how do your waking, thoughtful hours break down? Here's what I came up with:

25% of my thoughts are spent Thinking about Sex
20% of my thoughts are spent Thinking about Death
10% of my thoughts are spent Thinking about Food
20% of my thoughts are spent Thinking about Movies
10% of my thoughts are spent Thinking about Work
15% of my thoughts are spent Thinking about Family & Friends

The minute I finished this list, I wanted to refine it. Here's another stab at it:

20% Sex
10% Love
10% Growing Old
15% Food/Drinking
10% Partying
20% Being creative
10% Paying work
5% Traveling

The fact is, we have lots of miscellaneous thoughts that are hard to categorize. Here's a thought I had today: "The neck on my t-shirt sure is stretched out a lot."

15% Sex
15% Creative work
10% General anxiety
5% Basketball
5% General Appreciation of the Earth
10% Friends
10% Parents
5% Movies
5% Food/Snacks
5% Death/Health
5% Driving
5% Politics/Current Events
5% Miscellaneous, disconnected thoughts (a la the neck of my t-shirt)

I had tried to be a little more specific while at the same time absorbing things like 'Paying work' into 'General anxiety' or moving Death into its own category separate from anxiety. I think about Death sometimes without being anxious about it. A Miscellaneous category may be a bit of a cop-out but I like giving some lip service to the thoughts that seem to come out of nowhere, appear and just as unexpectedly, melt away. Also, I eliminated Love as a category because I think Sex serves as a better overview field. Love is very specific and while a beautiful and whole thing, it often feels connected to Sex. At least, that's what I think.

Just having written those last two lines makes me want to form a new list where Love occupies the majority of my thoughts.

These percentages are all a work in progress. But it's neat to try and refine your personal list - especially telling it to someone else and making it have to add up to 100%. You'll be surprised what you leave out the first try. And what you prize. Thinking about what you think about can provide some shocking clarity. Everyone I've talked to about their percentages has had wildly different takes on it. Not just the percentages and numbers change. What's really interesting is the terms with which people catalogue their thoughts. Death could just as easily be Mortality or Legacy or Anxiety. Sex could just as easily be Intimacy. Or broken into Love, Intimacy and Partying. I'm looking at my list again and wondering why I don't have a listing for music. I sure listen to and think about a lot of music every year. For someone else, music might get 40%. Or Food (which they call Eating) could get 25%.

So, the question is... How often do you think about what?

What's your percentage?


Blogger Dave Pier said...

OK, is my math wrong?

I figure if you think about sex (once every 7 seconds) at the exact second that someone is being murdered in the U.S. (once every 12 minutes according to your post), then the next time you think about sex while someone is being murdered will be 84 minutes later.

11:36 AM  
Blogger Casimir said...

I don't think I took that math in high school.

But I'm going to assume you're right.

A man thinks about sex at the exact same moment someone is murdered in the US EVERY 84 MINUTES!

Makes sense to me.

10:14 AM  
Blogger Stacia Jones said...

I always do my homework:

8:28 AM  

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