Struggling with Stating the Obvious – Sunai Institute

Sunai Institute

Picture: Royal Statistical Society

Struggling with Stating the Obvious

Having attempted our own definition of Sex (you know, it ain’t just about the uni-dimensional old in-out in-out) it appears appropriate to share an additional two examples on how defining ‘down there matters’ can be more involved than it may appear at first sight:

I know it when I see it.” is a colloquial expression by which a speaker attempts to categorize an observable fact or event, although the category is subjective or lacks clearly defined parameters. So Wikipedia informs us. The quote in deed stems from United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Steward who coined it in a 1964 lawsuit which concerned itself with describing the threshold test for obscenity in Jacobellis v. Ohio – in an effort to explore whether the film The Lovers would enjoy the benefits of being covered by the First Amendment of the US constitution, to explore whether depicting ‘down there matters’ was subject to the freedom of speech.

I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.” – this famous claim of former US President Bill Clinton is used by David Spiegelhalter (in his rather insightful and easy-read book Sex by Numbers which looks at interesting findings in most recent Natsal data) to illustrate how entirely different perspectives on this statement can be deduced from sociological data.

Letting numbers speak, Spiegelhalter starts his book with examining data from a 1991 survey at Indiana University, where over a thousand students had been randomly sampled to complete a history of their sexual activity. Overall turnout was 599 (58% of the sample), one of the questions to be answered read “Would you say you ‘had sex’ with someone if the most intimate behaviour you engaged in was…”

Picture: Royal Statistical Society
Picture: Royal Statistical Society

Without further interpretation it seems remarkable, that this data from seven years before Bill Clinton was impeached over said claim suggests that a significant part of the US population in 1998 might have technically agreed to the statement in question.

Spiegelhalter also mentions an interesting fast-track publication in the Journal of the American Medical Association by researchers from the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction Studies which appeared just before the Senate impeachment hearing.

However, politics and public opinion being complex topics in their own right – yet not relevant to our purposes here – we’ll conclude with (successfully?) stating the obvious once more: ‘down there matters’ are a tad more complex than one is told in 8th grade biology class.

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