Are They Real?

Arianne Cohen has edited the Sex Diaries since their inception in 2007. She also conducted all the follow-up interviews in these pages. We asked her to speak to some of the most frequently asked questions about the diaries.

• Some readers—and many commenters—have questioned whether these Diarists are real people. They are. I find most of them through mailing lists and Craigslist. More recently, volunteers have arrived in our in-box or contacted us as friends of previous Diarists. Every Monday, a handful of prospective Diarists submit journals of their previous week behind closed doors. They are told to include not just every sexual act with other people but also their thoughts and fantasies, masturbation habits, complicated feelings toward their spouses, shameful attractions, etc. Each Diary is then returned to the Diarist with many queries attached. Some Diarists don’t take well to the questioning—it’s not always easy to address one’s attachment to a terrible boyfriend or six years of celibacy. We end up running about a third of the diaries we commission.

• The Diaries are also fact-checked, and if a Diarist is suspected of lying, she is asked a series of rapid-fire questions. While it seems probable that some embellishments of sexual prowess have slipped into the Diaries, we believe the vast majority of Diarists have written candid accounts.

• Whether their sex lives are typical of those of other New Yorkers is a question even Kinsey might struggle with. Having commissioned over 400 of them, I can say this: Married Diarists have approximately triple the amount of sex as single ones (even twentysomething singles) simply by dint of sharing a bed. Manhattanites are more likely to have intimacy issues, while Brooklynites are more likely to cheat. As for which gender has sex on the mind more often, I’d say it’s a draw—though men are more likely to masturbate, somewhat commonly in public bathrooms.

• Inevitably, though, almost every Diary sparks at least one moment of self-recognition on the part of the reader. (I did say almost.) But, hey, if you feel differently, perhaps you’d like to write one yourself? E-mail

Are They Real?