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37 degrees of separation
January 31, 2005 12:14 AM   Subscribe

Mapping couplings at a high school Sociologists graphed the romantic and sexual relationships of 80% of an entire high school (832 out of ~1000 students). The research indicates that high schoolers lack sexual alpha-persons resulting in partner maps that are mostly long lines rather than the more hub and spoke like maps common in adult maps.
posted by Mitheral (47 comments total)

 
I don't suppose Debbie Lafave showed up on the map...?
posted by missbossy at 12:38 AM on January 31, 2005


Here's a link to the map.
posted by dhruva at 12:49 AM on January 31, 2005


Not a single blue-blue or pink-pink edge? Hmmm...
posted by dougb at 12:53 AM on January 31, 2005


We called that a circle of sin (self link).
posted by Joey Michaels at 1:07 AM on January 31, 2005


There's one pink-pink edge in one of the disjoint networks, dougb.

I find the lack of singleton nodes (i.e. people who aren't getting any at all) even more dubious.
posted by teferi at 1:08 AM on January 31, 2005


I thought the same thing dougb.

Anyway, it's interesting to see high school relationships analysed in such a meticulous fashion. I was suprised to see how much data could be gathered just by mapping relations like this.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 1:10 AM on January 31, 2005


There's one blue-blue too (in the super network).
posted by panoptican at 1:16 AM on January 31, 2005


Teferi, I believe the map only shows sexually active people. 832 people were included and there are not anywhere close to 832 nodes on that map. So singletons are clearly not included.
posted by Justinian at 1:20 AM on January 31, 2005


I think it's pretty interesting that the sluttiest guy and the sluttiest girl haven't hooked up.
posted by panoptican at 1:21 AM on January 31, 2005


Yeah, I see two blue-blues.
posted by stopgap at 1:24 AM on January 31, 2005


The diagram is of "romantic and sexual relationships", presumably encompassing activities other than intercourse.

As for the total number of nodes, note that the graphic indicates that certain patterns were found multiple times.
posted by onshi at 1:24 AM on January 31, 2005


The author looks like the kinda guy who'd have his finger on the pulse of high-school sex, alrighty...

Seriously, though, very interesting.
posted by jimmythefish at 1:27 AM on January 31, 2005


If all the dots were counted up and taken from 832 would that be the number of people not getting any?

I've got 285 - not counting the giant super network.. I couldn't even start that..
posted by AloneOssifer at 1:31 AM on January 31, 2005


If you read the article it says 573 have been "romantically involved" (it seems this is defined as intercourse with a girlfriend/boyfriend, so not including casual sex [not that there is a lot of this in high school]). The super network consists of 288 students.
posted by panoptican at 1:34 AM on January 31, 2005


Perverts.

Study someone your own age.
posted by HTuttle at 1:51 AM on January 31, 2005


One of the punchlines in the study is that the shape of the graph is largely dictated by a social proscription against dating your ex's current flame's ex.
posted by dws at 1:55 AM on January 31, 2005


Took me forever to find the second blue-blue edge, but it's there.
posted by sour cream at 2:18 AM on January 31, 2005


im not convinced.

seems like there should be more circles and more zig zags.

im to believe that nobody on the left side of that super network got it on with nobody on the right side?

and if 1 of them did, that oval would have to fold onto itself. there are no patterns like that.
posted by tsarfan at 2:31 AM on January 31, 2005


I'd like to see what is considered a normal adult map of a similar sample size.
posted by taz at 2:33 AM on January 31, 2005


im to believe that nobody on the left side of that super network got it on with nobody on the right side?

Don't remember much from high school, do you? People from the left side stick with the people on the left side (i.e. band kids stick together, drama kids stick together, athletes/cheerleaders stick together). If anything this suggest that cliques are alive and well.
posted by panoptican at 2:41 AM on January 31, 2005


I at first thought of these graphs in terms of the possibility of spreading communicable diseases. But because these graphs don't indicate timing, they can't necessarily be taken as an indication of indirect sexual contact between people. (A-B-C, if A-B bonked before B-C and A-B did not get back together after B-C, does not mean that A has had indirect contact with C.)

Say A-B-C-D-E was a chain of five, and they didn't have simultaneous or repeat relationships. (Just to keep it simple for starters.) If the odds of A-B occurring after B-C are 50-50, and the odds of B-C occurring after C-D are 50-50, and so on, are the odds of there being an indirect A-E link (all afters) 0.5 * 0.5 * 0.5 * 0.5?

Or did I miss something.
posted by pracowity at 2:44 AM on January 31, 2005


im to believe that nobody on the left side of that super network got it on with nobody on the right side?

Shoot, think about your own life. Think of someone you were involved with romantically or sexually in the last 18 months. Now, think of someone who THAT person was involved with. Do this ten more times. By the time you get to that last person, it seems quite probable that you wouldn't even know the final person, let alone have had a romantic or sexual relationship.
posted by 23skidoo at 2:56 AM on January 31, 2005


They don't take in to account the dimension of time.

They seem to insinuate if one had <some-disease> they all get <some-disease>.

Not really. (You just have to do your shagging early.)
posted by balinx at 3:06 AM on January 31, 2005


I did one of these for an online community I was involved with.

It was not well recieved.

But man, it was a hell of a lot of fun tracking down people, and demanding the "sex infoz" out of them.

One of these days I ought to publish it. It gets funnier every time I find it on my hard drive.
posted by jscott at 3:13 AM on January 31, 2005


I wonder if he only counted people who both said they had sex with each other...

Because you know in high school, there'd be some guy who'd say he'd had sex with 40-50 girls, when really, he's a virgin. You know how high school men are.

As someone who just recently left the whole high school thing, there were a few 'pink-pink' relationships, but it was orders of magnitude fewer than 'pink-blue'. And 'blue-blue' was... most of the gay men in my high school dated men outside of the school.
posted by Calast at 3:17 AM on January 31, 2005


im to believe that nobody on the left side of that super network got it on with nobody on the right side?

Uh, it's not like they were on those 'sides' before the researchers decided to place them there precisely because of the way they turned out to be connected.
That circle would have been just a long branch like the ones extending to the right and top of it, except that the last person happened to be connected to someone else on the branch further back, which turned it into a circle (ie someone on one 'end' being connected to someone on the other, just like you claim doesn't exist). There's just not wild interconnection but mainly long strings, which is exactly the point of the article.
posted by c3o at 3:50 AM on January 31, 2005


Somehow I was expecting more.

Maybe that's because I always found the IRC sexchart visually entertaining and thoroughly disturbing. It looks like it even got a full Wired article dedicated to it a few years ago.
posted by o0o0o at 3:57 AM on January 31, 2005


This is only one high school, in Ohio.

Especially if the results are as "surprising" as they say, im waiting for about another dozen schools to weigh in on this.

Relationship graphs are pretty cool looking though, and i wanna see an adult version for comparison.
posted by sophist at 4:01 AM on January 31, 2005


.
posted by rdr at 4:04 AM on January 31, 2005


Obligatory link to PBS Frontline: The Lost Children of Rockdale County.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 4:17 AM on January 31, 2005


The only pink-pink I could find on the chart is one that's actually a pink-pink-blue triad, the only such connection I could see on the map.

My opinion based on my own high school experiences and those of many of my peers? Either juveniles lie as much as adults and/or circle jerking/mutual masturbation isn't being counted as any kind of connection on this map.
posted by WolfDaddy at 5:20 AM on January 31, 2005


Somehow I was expecting more.

Somehow I was expecting less. Or not really. I know things have changed drastically since I was at school. Our graph would have been a whole lot simpler.

(Unless they added reflexive links, because I'm sure there was a whole lot of self-linking. How would you graph that? Maybe a dotted line (with a directional arrow) between the pretty girl in math class and each of the guys sitting near her who fantasized about her.)
posted by pracowity at 5:22 AM on January 31, 2005


That's hilarious.

In high school, a friend and I realized how most of our friends had dated, or had crushes on, or hooked up with, one another, and we made a chart in magic marker on a big piece of paper, which is still up on her wall although it's now tragically out of date.

It was incredible, though, to realize that I was only a couple of degrees away from most of the people in my school.

We labelled it "The Effects of Inbreeding on the High School Population".
posted by ITheCosmos at 5:25 AM on January 31, 2005


Also from the above Frontline link, a graph that I'd more likely expect, however the genders are not made clear in this one.
posted by WolfDaddy at 5:26 AM on January 31, 2005


I was struck by the lack of same colour pairings as well. I wonder if the expected same sex pairings have been selected out. Either because the gay students have dropped out or they are all in the 200+ students who didn't participate because of fears of being outed. Thinking back to how horrible high school was for myself I couldn't imagine being openly gay as well.
posted by Mitheral at 5:45 AM on January 31, 2005


Good point Mitheral, I wonder how this study was presented to those who participated? (Is it described somewhere?) Surely the inevitable reservations of people to discuss their sex lives affected the data. As mentioned previously, even one lie could throw off the whole graph.

Even though it's "anonymous," I could see why gay students would be concerned about participating. If there were only a handful of gay students, most of whom were not open about it, a graph with four same-sex relationships laid out on it, even if it were anonymous, could still be embarrassing.

The idea is very intriguing. I'd love to see some other maps of different schools in different states. Having enough would perhaps limit the bad effects that incongruous participation would have on a single map, or at least make it more obvious.
posted by odinsdream at 6:25 AM on January 31, 2005


“The students in this network are not unusual. They are just average students, and not extremely active sexually. So social policies that could help some of them protect themselves from STDs could break a lot of these chains that can lead to the spread of disease.”

I am thinking more data is needed. This was a rural, Ohio school - which I can't help but wonder about the influence of religion in this area *cough*
To be fair, this study used data from 1995, before the abstinence train started rolling.

Finally, I am sure policies will stop the kids and will help with curbing STD's. *cough*
posted by fluffycreature at 6:29 AM on January 31, 2005


Oh, and this little sentence popped out at me:

"Non-romantic sexual partners were those in which the participants said they had sexual intercourse, but were not dating."

Is this to say that even if two people had sex with eachother, they aren't necessarily included on the map, since it wasn't "romantic" ?

Seems to hurt the study's supposed purpose of helping design methods to better understand the spread of STDs, doesn't it?
posted by odinsdream at 6:31 AM on January 31, 2005


Odinsdream, you've misread it. The study includes both sorts of relationships:
Students were asked to identify their sexual and romantic partners in the past 18 months from a roster of other students attending their school. (Romantic relationships were ones in which the students named the other as a romantic partner. Non-romantic sexual partners were those in which the participants said they had sexual intercourse, but were not dating).
posted by incongruity at 8:30 AM on January 31, 2005


I was struck by the lack of same colour pairings as well. I wonder if the expected same sex pairings have been selected out. Either because the gay students have dropped out or they are all in the 200+ students who didn't participate because of fears of being outed. Thinking back to how horrible high school was for myself I couldn't imagine being openly gay as well.

Here, I think it's worth going back to the notice that this takes into account only within-school relationships. Since this school is rural, perhaps that's justifiable since it may be isolated. But my high school was in kind of a metro area. There were 5 other high schools within a 5-10 mile radius. People had intra-school relationships, but also between-school relationships, and then there were summers, as well. My friends and I actually found that most of our relationships were outside of school, with people we met downtown, through music and arts, or during summer travels. The gay students I knew dated people from other schools, or even people old enough to be out of high school, almost exclusively.

So this graph represents only relationships between people who both attend the school. I'd be interested to know what percentage of total relationships that is.
posted by Miko at 9:03 AM on January 31, 2005


One of the punchlines in the study is that the shape of the graph is largely dictated by a social proscription against dating your ex's current flame's ex.

That's my thought. The maps seem reasonable if you consider some of the taboos about relationships. (Don't don't date your best friend's ex for example.)

And I'm interested that no one has noted that there were 126 people in isolated dyads, and 63 people in isolated triads. (In the lower-right corner of the map.)

The long strings suggest that most kids don't have that many sexual and romantic partners.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:36 AM on January 31, 2005


Kirk, you are exactly right. I'm doing a story on this, and just got off the phone with the lead sociologist.

The vast majority of students reported just one partner. A smaller group reported two, then a MUCH smaller group said "3 or more."

And Miko, because the map was an experiment, they specifically selected an insulated high school for ease of tracking. It's likely more complicated maps, in schools were the teenagers hook up with kids from several schools, will follow.
posted by JamieStar at 11:43 AM on January 31, 2005


This is an interesting map. It's especially weird to look at that triangle that teferi and WolfDaddy point out: this one girl has been with four different guys and one girl in the last six months, and the girl she's been with has been with her and two guys, one of whom her girlfriend had been with, too. There must be a hell of a story there. Bitterness, jealousy...

Also, it'd be interesting to have one of these for my senior year in high school. I wonder if the people who were part of this study in '95 have seen it... and I wonder if they could identify who was who.
posted by koeselitz at 12:09 PM on January 31, 2005


I think it should go in the yearbook.
posted by odinsdream at 1:52 PM on January 31, 2005


Fascinating chart, huh? The lack of more homosexual encounters on it makes me very suspicious of their data completeness.
posted by Nelson at 2:32 PM on January 31, 2005


The average degree of the pink vertices is a bit higher than the average degree of the blue ones (most edges are pink-blue, but if I counted accurately there are fewer pink vertices than blue).

The maximum vertex degree is 9, which is not only far larger than my high school vertex degree, but...

This graph is beginning to remind me of this .
posted by Wolfdog at 4:34 PM on January 31, 2005


The average degree of the pink vertices is a bit higher than the average degree of the blue ones (most edges are pink-blue, but if I counted accurately there are fewer pink vertices than blue).

The maximum vertex degree is 9, which is not only far larger than my high school vertex degree, but...

It's beginning to remind me of this.
posted by Wolfdog at 4:36 PM on January 31, 2005


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