Feminism Produced Price Drop for Sex, Price Hike for Commitment

August 10, 2011

The blogging gods continue to smile on Hooking Up Smart as a new study delves more deeply into the reality of sexual economics. Well-known social psychologist Roy Baumeister presented “Sexual Economics: A Research-Based Theory of Sexual Interactions, or Why the Man Buys Dinner,” at the recent annual meeting of the American Psychological Association.

Baumeister has been studying sexual economics for some time; he published Sexual Economics: Sex as Female Resource for Social Exchange in Heterosexual Interactions in 2004.

His recent study shows that “there’s more sex in countries with higher gender equality than in those with less.” That translates to: feminism encourages casual sex. No surprise there. What is more interesting is the effect of casual sex on the “price” of sex.

“Baumeister, a psychologist, explained how applying economic principles helps understand people’s sexual decision-making, especially when they’re just beginning a relationship.

“Women’s sexuality has a kind of value that men’s sexuality does not,” he says. “Men will basically exchange other resources with women to have sex, but the reverse doesn’t work. Women … can trade sex for attention, for grades, for a promotion, for money, as in prostitution or sex with a celebrity.”

The idea, he says, is that men want sex more than women do (on average) and that sex in a relationship begins when women decide it’s time. Supply and demand rule, so whichever sex is more scarce has more power.”

Factors Influencing Sexual Exchange (Baumeister, 2004)

Preconditions of market exchange:

  • In general, men want sex more than women want sex.
  • In general, men have resources women want.
  • Women are free to make sexual decisions.
  • The man and woman live in a culture in which information about others’ sexual activities is known or hinted about, so that each person knows the current market price.

 Individual Factors

Effect on Price of Sex

Woman’s age is past young adulthood

Woman is unattractiveLowers
Other women also want the man (competition)Lowers
Woman has high sex driveLowers
Man has much higher status than the womanLowers
Woman lacks alternate access to resourcesLowers

Woman has had many prior sexual partners or has the reputation of having had many sex partners

Woman is attractiveRaises
Woman is in young adulthoodRaises
Woman wears sexy clothingRaises
Other men also want the woman (competition)Raises
Man has high sex driveRaises
Woman has had few or no prior sexual partners, or has the reputation of having few or no sex partnersRaises

















Market factors

Effect on Price of Sex 

Larger pool of women than men (supply exceeds demand)Lowers
Permissive sexual norms (low market price)Lowers
Men have easy access to pornography or prostitutes (low-cost substitutes)Lowers
Larger pool of men than women (demand exceeds supply)Raises
Female collusion to restrict men’s sexual access to women (monopolistic manipulation)Raises
Men have few opportunities for sexual satisfactionRaises











“His new research, published in The Journal of Social Psychology earlier this summer, used two data sets on 37 countries, including an international online sex survey of 317,000 people and data specific to gender equity and related subjects. He found that countries ranked higher in gender equality also generally had more casual sex, more sex partners per capita, younger ages for first sex and greater tolerance/approval of premarital sex.

“In countries where women are at a big disadvantage, they restrain sex, so the price is high and men make a lifetime commitment to support them to get sex,” Baumeister says. “Men will do whatever is required for sex.””

Tracy Clark-Flory of Salon weighs in, straddling the tightrope she’s been walking for a while now:

“This might seem like excellent news, just one more argument in favor of equality — and it is! But it also paints a mathematical, emotionless portrait of relations between the sexes.

…The result is a world where women use sex to get what they want from men — whether it’s a free dinner or a lifetime commitment. It’s similar to an argument made by Mark Regnerus…who talked to me earlier this year about his belief that feminist advances have driven down the price of sex to an all-time low in the U.S. These are compelling theories and it’s hard to argue with the cold, hard facts that they present — but certainly economics alone can’t adequately explain the complexities and idiosyncrasies of sexual and romantic relationships.”

Of course economics can’t explain individual idiosyncratic relationships, and it’s not meant to. What it does explain is the correlation among feminism, relaxed sexual mores, and relationship commitment, which is the “price” of sex. This puts feminists in an uncomfortable bind – feminism has led to women getting less of what they want, in general. For women who proudly call themselves sluts this is not necessarily problematic, in that they don’t appear to want what most women want, i.e. emotionally intimate relationship sex. Still, it means that feminism is now relevant primarily to a very small slice of the sisterhood.

Most feminists will continue to fall back on the urgent call to reeducate men. From the ever-entertaining and muddled thinker Amanda Marcotte:

“A lot of us feminists who came up online have been promoting a model of sexuality called “enthusiastic consent”, and I think that one thing that could strengthen this is tackling the market model of heterosexuality.  Because, to put on my Twisty Faster hat, if we cast men as buyers and women as sellers, that means that women are assumed to be in a perpetual state of consent just as that gallon of milk at the store is assumed to be on sale for anyone who can cobble together the $5 to buy it.  As long as the market model of heterosexuality is in play, the notion that sex should be a mutual exchange between two individuals will not make so much sense to people. 

…I actually would say that my ideal is a world where everyone is kind of selling a little, but no one is cast as a buyer.  I think that people’s friendships work this way, in fact.  People shouldn’t feel entitled to have the time or affection of others, but instead should assume the responsibility of being charming enough to have people give it to them of their own free will. I do see a turn towards this in our culture somewhat, with men actually starting to think a little harder about being what women want instead of just meeting the metaphorical price tag that they are socialized to think is hanging off women.  We just have a long way to go.”

Feminists certainly do have a long way to go, and they’re never going to get there, because they cannot dictate market conditions, which reflect human biology.