The Heart Wants…What the Penis Wants?

first-base-making-out-demotivational-posters-1307651468Reader Apple left a comment today that I thought was brilliant re the timing of sex:

Really, it comes down to a woman having the balls to say: “I don’t care what your penis wants if you don’t care what my heart wants.”

The actual line I’ve always used in real life is:

“I don’t do casual sex. Sex for me is something that happens when I love someone and they love me. I understand that’s not how most people operate now, but that’s how I operate. If you don’t like those terms, I won’t waste your time.”

The first thing a woman should do is ask herself what outcome she wants from the connection. If she’s after casual sex, she can have it and fulfill her mission (though she is unlikely to have an orgasm). If she’s telling herself that all she wants is casual sex, goes for it and then catches feelings, she needs to realize she’s been an idiot, and stop pursuing the worst strategy ever.

In How Long Should We Wait Before Having Sex? TV persona and relationship expert Dr. Wendy Walsh has gathered the most current data on how the timing of sex predicts relationship outcomes. (H/T: J)

I. Researcher Dean Busby has found that waiting at least 30 days leads to better relationships. He studied over 2,000 married adults with an average age of 36, asking about when they had sex and relationship satisfaction.

Curiously, almost 40 percent of couples are essentially sexual within the first or second time they go out, but we suspect that if you asked these same couples at this early stage of their relationship – ‘Do you trust this person to watch your pet for a weekend many could not answer this in the affirmative’ – meaning they are more comfortable letting people into their bodies than they are with them watching their cat.

 Walsh summarizes his body of research:

Busby’s research shows that couples who wait to have sex — at least 30 to 90 days — rather than doing it in the early stages of the relationship have better relationship outcomes.

Postponing sex, even for as long as six months, is associated with higher relationship stability, higher relationship satisfaction, better communication and higher quality sexual relationship.

It seems that couples who wait have a better handle on issues that come up in their relationships. Because sex doesn’t complicate the relationship, they have better communication skills.

II. Researcher Anthony Paik found that exclusivity is linked to delayed sex.

In one of my studies, it turned out that the longer couples delayed sex the more exclusive the relationship. And if men engage in sex within the first month of dating they are 4.5 times more likely to be nonexclusive later.

Couples who didn’t wait but were each open to a serious relationship with one another from the start did as well as couples who waited – the problem is, that’s a crap shoot. Even if each party is separately hoping a hookup will turn into a relationship, there’s no acceptable way of sharing that information, since by definition a hookup is “no strings.”

One good indicator of intent is a person’s past sexual experience:

People with higher numbers of past sexual partners were more likely to form hookups, and to report lower relationship quality. Through the acquisition of partners they begin to favor short-term relationships and find the long-term ones less rewarding.

III. Mark Renegerus, author of Premarital Sex in America has also found support for the 30 day rule.

Couples who waited at least 30 days to have sex increased the likelihood that the couple was still dating one year later. Nearly one-quarter of those who waited 30 days were still together a year later.

As for those who were quick to jump in bed together, well, 90 percent of those couples didn’t even make it one year.

IV. David Buss has found that the more women a guy has had sex with, the faster he is to disdain a new sexual partner. 

Renowned evolutionary psychology professor David Buss at the University of Texas at Austin and Martie G. Haselton at the University of California, Los Angeles found that the more previous sexual partners a man has, the more likely he is to quickly perceive diminished attractiveness in a woman after first intercourse. Sex doesn’t lead to love for men. If the guy is a player, sex more often leads to distain for his partner.

Waiting is the most effective way of filtering out players.

Fortunately, the number of women who need to be convinced is shrinking. There is continued support for the claim that college students overwhelmingly prefer relationships to hooking up. In a recent editorial in the LA Times, sociologist and hooking up expert Lisa Wade summed it up:

It’s true that more than 90% of students say that their campus is characterized by a hookup culture.  But in fact, no more than 20% of students hook up very often; one-third of them abstain from hooking up altogether, and the remainder are occasional participators.

If you do the math, this is what you get: The median number of college hookups for a graduating senior is seven. This includes instances in which there was intercourse, but also times when two people just made out with their clothes on. The typical student acquires only two new sexual partners during college. Half of all hookups are with someone the person has hooked up with before. A quarter of students will be virgins when they graduate.

…The majority of students — 70% of women and 73% of men — report that they’d like to have a committed relationship, and 95% of women and 77% of men prefer dating to hooking up. In fact, about three-quarters of students will enter a long-term monogamous relationship while in college.

Wade points out that those relationships will begin via the hookup – the casual encounter is still the path to commitment in college. But it’s good to know that the majority of hookups are not intended to be casual after all. Kids are making out, dry humping, and getting busy with their hands without having sex, pretty much like we did back in the 70s.

Feminism and Sexual Objectification

Some feminists today are strongly opposed to the Sex-Positive Feminism movement, sharing my concern that the sexual objectification of women, especially by women themselves, has been detrimental to the well-being of women, men, and the institution of marriage in our society. In this view, raunch culture and proud proclamations of sluthood are symptoms of sexual mores that have spun out of control since the 1970s. Caroline Heldman and Lisa Wade (of Sociological Images) are two prominent feminist scholars who subscribe to this belief. 

The “sex wars”  of the 1980s pitted radical feminists, who claimed that female sexual objectification is dehumanizing, against feminists concerned about legal and social efforts to control and repress female sexuality.  Over a decade of research now shows that radical feminists were right to be highly concerned.

Caroline Heldman, PhD

Heldman explains:

Today women’s sexual objectification is celebrated as a form of female empowerment.  This has enabled a new era of sexual objectification, characterized by greater exposure to advertising in general, and increased sexual explicitness in advertising, magazines, television shows, movies, video games, music videos, television news, and “reality” television.

What is sexual objectification?  If objectification is the process of representing or treating a person like an object (a non-thinking thing that can be used however one likes), then sexual objectification is the process of representing or treating a person like a sex object, one that serves another’s sexual pleasure.

Here are examples of sexual objectification in advertising:



The insidiousness of the problem has brought us to a place where even women not looking for casual sex may be mistaken for hookers based on their dress and makeup. Artifice and display are the guiding principles of female-male interaction, and while this is nothing new, we’ve upped the ante to a place where it’s hard to imagine what comes next. We’re already rutting in the streets.

All this is taking a significant toll on the female psyche, which in turn affects males. We’re raising girls to be sexually empowered, i.e. objectified, while simultaneously urging them to be professionally empowered as subjects, or actors. 

Here is Heldman’s excellent TED talk, well worth 13 minutes of your time:


While most people will not feel spurred to activism, Heldman’s advice for women is sound:

1. Avoid the worst offenders in the media. Ditch Cosmo and all the other photoshopped rags.

2. Stop seeking attention for your body from strangers. Don’t compete with other women for male attention to your body. That validation is fleeting and, if anything, is inversely correlated to establishing a long-term relationship.

3. Practice viewing your body as a vehicle for moving through the world, its strength and all the things it enables you to experience other than as an object of male admiration.

4. Be in the moment during sex. No woman can have a great orgasm if she’s watching herself from above, wondering if her back is arched in such a way that her partner finds her beautiful. If you decide to have sex with a man, do it with abandon. It will be much, much  better for both of you. 


Doing An End Run Around Hookup Culture

Correct SpooningThis post is my Christmas present to Megaman, who has patiently asked all the right questions and provided much of the data. 

Reading the anecdotal reports of hookup culture on college campuses, one hears that very few committed relationships may be observed on campus. My own research efforts have turned up similar reports. In addition, the academic research about hookup culture, which began around 2000, consistently indicates that while 70% of students want relationships, and 50% of them hook up to get relationships, only 12% of hookups lead to relationships. Those are pretty grim odds for a hooking up strategy. In Kathleen Bogle’s groundbreaking 2008 book on hooking up, she suggests that there simply is no real alternative – hookups are the pathway to relationships. Lisa Wade, an Occidental College professor and expert on hookup culture found in her small study of 44 students that only 1% maintained a committed relationship. (Don’t ask me how that math works.)

While these numbers appear to be accurate, they do not tell the whole story. Are there students who hook up rarely or not at all and still wind up in relationships? We know that the traditional dating paradigm is dead. Men do not generally pursue women by asking them to dinner and a movie. But if a large number of students are indeed in relationships, there has to be another script for creating them. Culturally, it may be hidden – students do not perceive that it is at all easy to secure relationships. But there is some evidence that Hookup Culture and Pluralistic Evidence notwithstanding, significant percentages of college students are forming monogamous relationships.

[Read more...]


Can Lysistrata Work For College Women?

So you’re happy to see me!


There are a lot of things about us women

That sadden me, considering how men

See us as rascals.



As indeed we are!


Emily Esfahani Smith has a Plan to Reboot Dating in The Atlantic, calling on  women to implement the Lysistrata strategy as a way of ending hookup culture. (Hat tip: Stuart Schneiderman) I first became aware of Smith via her excellent article HBO’s ‘Girls’ depicts wasteland of sexual promiscuity. (She’s doing incredibly well for someone who graduated from Dartmouth in ’09.) Though a feminist, Smith disagrees with Hannah Rosin’s recent assertions:

Rosin argues that the social progress of women depends on the hook-up culture. Women in their 20s and 30s are, for the first time, more successful than their male peers. These alpha females not only outnumber men on college campuses, they have also overtaken men as the majority of the work force. This would not have been possible without sexual liberation, which has let women delay marriage and child-rearing to pursue their educational and career ambitions without worrying about the emotional burdens of a relationship. Women are better off in part because of the hook-up culture, the argument goes.

Smith then goes on to offer evidence (all of which I have previously covered here) that most women are pretty miserable in hookup culture:

  • Part of the reason the culture is so widespread is, as Rosin correctly notes, because women are choosing to have casual sex. But in another respect, they don’t have a choice. Women make the hook-up culture possible, but men are the beneficiaries of it.
  • The balance of power in the hook-up culture lies with the men, an issue that has become more pronounced as women outnumber men on campuses, creating a surplus of girls and a scarcity of guys…Robert Epstein, a professor of psychology at Harvard and an expert in relationships, said in an interview with me that the more women there are on campus, the more prevalent the hook-up culture is: “You have a situation in which relationships are bound to fail and men keep switching off from one woman to the next.”
  • The feminist sociologist Lisa Wade, based at Occidental College…found that most of [her freshman students] were “overwhelmingly disappointed with the sex they were having in hook ups. This was true of both men and women, but was felt more intensely by women. College women today feel disempowered instead of empowered by sexual encounters. They didn’t feel like equals on the sexual playground, more like jungle gyms.”
  • According to a2010 study by Carolyn Bradshaw of James Madison University, only 2 percent of women strongly prefer the hook-up culture to a dating culture.
  • Miriam Grossman, author of the 2006 book Unprotected, reports that women long for emotional involvement with their partner twice as often as men following a hook up; 91 percent of women experience regret; 80 percent of women wish the hook-up hadn’t happened; and 34 percent of women hope the hook-up develops into a relationship.
  • NYU sociologist Paula England, whom Rosin cites, says that 66 percent of women and 58 percent of men want their hook up to develop into “something more.”
  • A 2010 psychology study out of Florida State University found that students who have casual sex experience more physical and mental health problems, defined as eating disorders, alcohol use, stress, depression, suicidal feelings, than those who are in committed long-term relationships.
Smith rejects Rosin’s assertion that “The hookup culture is too bound up with everything that’s fabulous about being a young woman in 2012—the freedom, the confidence, the knowledge that you can always depend on yourself.”

Sexual liberation may be indispensable to female progress, but the hook-up culture is not empowering for all women. This isn’t to say that early marriage or abstinence is the solution. But these are not the only alternatives to the hook-up culture, either. There is a middle way: meaningful sex in the context of a non-marital relationship.

In other words, the solution is a dating culture, which still allows women to delay marriage and pursue their careers, and also lets them have those intimate relationships with men that they don’t want to delay.

This puts Smith and me squarely on the same page, as this reflects my own views about what constitutes potentially achievable change. Smith spoke with a woman on staff at Dartmouth’s Women’s Center, who began their discussion by saying this:

The point of hooking up is for both people to get something out of it. If it’s to get off, then that’s great. . . . If it’s to work some issue out—like sexual assault—then that’s great. It’s basically to get pleasure and enjoyment out of it . . . the hook-up culture is good for experimentation, and what someone does for experimentation is up to them.

…I don’t think [love is] necessary. Yeah, you know—it’s nice. But if you’re talking about sex and the hook-up culture, it’s not needed. The point of the hook-up culture is not to get attached—no strings attached.

Aside from the deeply disturbing idea that hooking up is a good way to get past the trauma of sexual assualt, it turns out this woman doesn’t even believe in the politics she’s spewing, as she goes on to say that hooking up certainly was never right for her.

Smith retorts:

Hooking up, in fact, shares the defining feature of a sexual assault: using another person for your own sexual gratification, without any regard as to what that person wants or how he or she feels. The philosopher Immanuel Kant—who warns against using another person as a mere means to some end—was closer to the truth than many of today’s sexual health experts when he wrote that sex “taken by itself … is a degradation of human nature.”

…One friend tells me that the girls on campus would prefer a culture of dating to one of hooking up, but they would never admit it or ask for it. If girls demanded dating before hooking up, guys would be unmoved, she explained. “There are always going to be other girls for them to hook up with so we’ll just get left behind.”

These women are looking at the problem the wrong way, I think. They need to realize that, in spite of campus sex ratios and prevailing cultural trends, they hold the power when it comes to the hook up culture. They hold the power when it comes to sex.

This was the insight of Lysistrata, the shrewd heroine of Aristophanes’ marvelous play by the same name. Lysistrata was able to diagnose a problem in her society and to take actions and overcome obstacles to solve it. 

For those who have not read the ancient Greek play, it was written in 411 BCE, and is a comedy where one woman convinces all the other wives to withhold sex from their husbands as a way of pressuring them to achieve peace and end the Peloponnesian War. Hilarity ensues as men stumble around with obvious erections, and ultimately they agree to initiate peace talks. 

Lysistrata has been a feminist favorite, as it celebrates the power of women over men, who appear to do all their thinking with their dicks. However, it also portrays women as using their own genitals to get what they want. There is perhaps some truth in both of these caricatures, as evidenced by the play’s popularity for 2,400 years. 

I first mentioned Lysistrata as a possible model for change years ago here at HUS, but readily acknowledged that such a plan could never work. The strategy amounts to the creation of a cartel, where a small group of suppliers agrees to fix prices in order to share the wealth rather than drive one another out of business via competition. Cartels are notoriously unstable, because at any time one member can defect, drop the price, and scoop up all the demand for a larger short-term gain. The incentive to cheat is great.

To deal with hookup culture, the Lysistrata strategy would be effective only if all female participants (hardly a small group of suppliers) agreed to stop having casual sex, demanding commitment of some form in exchange for sex. We do not need to look very far to find women staunchly defending their right and desire to hook up, whether to pursue physical pleasure freely without judgment or to defend the political stance of feminists. In fact, what we have now is a free market where a small group of women offers sex for free (see: cow, milk) and a small group of men has access to that supply.

While some of those women are clearly distressed by their inability to obtain girlfriend status from their hookups, they have bet on hooking up as a better road to commitment than sitting out, and they are unlikely to forfeit the male attention they currently receive in hopes of making things better for everyone. Raising the price of sex would invite greatly increased competition from all the women not hooking up much, weakening the bargaining power of promiscuous women, limited though it is. 

However, I do think there is value in the Lysistrata concept with some adaptation. If all of the women currently not benefiting from hookup culture in any way (obviously a large majority) were to declare their unwillingness to participate and play by those rules, it would serve two purposes:

1. It would explode the myth that basically everybody is hooking up regularly and feels comfortable doing it, which is prevalent on college campuses. 

2. It would identify the women who are interested in a more traditional dating model where emotional intimacy precedes physical intimacy. 

In other words, this move would clearly identify the dissatisfied 80+% of females. Their unhappy male counterparts would have an opportunity to bring back the date. Of course, some of the women only want the players to take them on dates, but that isn’t going to happen. They’re probably better off continuing to hook up and snag whatever crumbs of affection and attention they can from men who have no desire or incentive to offer anything in return for sex. 

Lysistrata isn’t quite right, we need something more along the lines of Take Back the Date Night. But I do think Smith is onto something here – if most women don’t dig it, there’s real potential for a shift. 

I’ll be giving this more thought, perhaps reaching out to campus groups, associations of university women, etc. All suggestions are welcome!

Sexual Statistics Review Session

From my perspective, the biggest challenge in grappling with hookup culture is not that everyone is doing it, but that everyone thinks everyone else is doing it. After Vox Day collected some stats from his readers about their sexual history and attitudes, reader Megaman linked to the most recent CDC data on sexual partners in the U.S. While I’ve posted this information before, I think it’s worth revisiting from time to time, as HUS gains new readers. There’s also a tendency for us to lose sight of the facts when discussing a topic as emotionally laden as who gets to have sex with whom.

The following tables compare sexual history for women and men in the three age groups most representative of my readership. This data defines sexual partners as those with whom one has had heterosexual vaginal, oral or anal intercourse.

Table 1 : Age 20-24

#Lifetime Partners 0 1 2 3-6 7-14 15+ Median
Females  12.6% 24.5% 12.5% 31.6% 11.7% 7.2% 2.6
Males  14.4% 19.1% 8.0% 26.1% 18.1% 12.8% 4.1

Table 2 : Age 25-29

#Lifetime Partners 0 1 2 3-6 7-14 15+ Median
Females 3.4% 20.0% 12.4% 31.0% 20.4% 12.8% 3.6
Males 3.8% 11.8% 8.9% 29.5% 22.9% 23.1% 5.7

Table 3 : Age 30-34

# Lifetime Partners 0 1 2 3-6 7-14 15+ Median
Females 1.9% 20.9% 10.6% 31.9% 21.3% 13.4% 4.2
Males 3.1% 14.2% 6.1% 26.6% 21.7% 28.3% 6.4


Before I get into the data, here’s how it was gathered:

  • N=13,495: 7,356 F, 6,139 M
  • The method was Household Survey, with a response rate of 75%. This is unusually high, and increases confidence in the data extrapolation.
  • The sample was designed to mirror national rather than regional or state data, using a rigorous probability sampling design.
  • The survey method was ACASI (audio computer-assisted self-interview). This yields a far more accurate and complete recording of sensitive behaviors than face-to-face interviewing. Confidentiality was also assured. 

What  does the data reveal about sexual activity in America?

1. There are more male virgins that female virgins at every age. 

2. The median number of sexual partners for males is more than 1.5 times the female median through age 34.

3. At age 24, only 7% of women have had 15 or more sexual partners. By the time women reach their late 20s, just past the average age at first marriage, that number rises to 13%.

4. 13% of males report 15+ partners by age 24, and 23% by age 29.

5. 50% of women and 42% of men have had 2 or fewer partners by age 24.

6. Just under 20% of women up to 24 have had more than 6 partners. If we divide the SMP into promiscuous and non-promiscuous components using the 80/20 rule, then the 20% most promiscuous women are those with 7+ sex partners. Because we do not have a breakdown within the 7-14 range, it’s not possible to see what number of partners correlates to the most promiscuous 20% of males.

7. At all ages, the largest cohort of both males and females reports 3-6 sexual partners.

The best data I’ve seen on college students, which I explored in Who’s Really Having Sex in College?, is the Justice Department Study on Sexual Assault (2007). This study specifically defined intercourse as heterosexual vaginal intercourse only.

Data gathering method:

  • Data was gathered at two large public universities in semi-urban areas. One is in the South, the other is in the Midwest.
  • The researchers felt that a limitation of the study was a low response rate among males. N = 6,800; 5,466F, 1,375M
  • The survey was web-based and identities of students were not attached to survey data. The anonymity of the survey was cited as a strength that provided more accurate reporting of sensitive behavior. 
  • The subjects were distributed roughly equally across grades, with slightly higher representation among freshmen and seniors.

Distribution of Sexual Intercourse Partners
  Female % Male %
0 37.2 42.8
1-5 54.1 49.4
6-10 5.7 5.6
11-25 2.0 0.9
26+ 1.1 1.3


What does the data reveal about sexual behavior among college students?

1. There are more male virgins than female virgins in college. The number of virgins in this study was higher than is normally estimated for college populations, which is 33% at freshman year, 12% by senior year.

2. The pattern of women having slightly more sexual partners than men is consistent throughout.

3. Approximately 92% of both men and women have had five partners or less in college.

4. Only 3% of women and 2% of men have had eleven or more sexual partners.

5. Overall, the sexes show very little difference in the number of sexual partners. This would seem to confirm the hypothesis that a small percentage of promiscuous students are engaging in casual sex with one another, while a much larger group has a few partners during college, and well over a third of students have no sex at all.

6. Over 90% of both females and males have fewer than 6 sexual partners in college. 

Perception is Reality

Clearly, only a small minority of both sexes is engaging in casual sex with any regularity. Ironically, this fact is recognized by sex-positive feminists, who regularly claim that “old scolds” like myself are exaggerating the degree to which young people are hooking up.

However, “hookup culture” dominates not only media reports of college life, but every aspect of life on campus as well. Freshman orientations frequently include hooking up “how to’s” and foster encouragement for sexual experimentation. Campus Sex Weeks feature professional sex workers, celebrate sexual fetishes and showcase “alternative” sexual practices, including BDSM demonstrations complete with nipple clamps. On most campuses, female and male virgins alike have no idea that they represent the single largest group on campus, those with zero sexual partners. 

Even these low numbers reflect a certain amount of pluralistic ignorance. From a study published in Evolutionary Psychology:

“Previous research found that young adults routinely believe that others are more comfortable with various sexual behaviors than they, themselves, are. This leads them to behave as if they were more comfortable than they actually are, and engage in behaviors with which they are not actually comfortable. Note that if everyone is affected by this fallacy, no one will be behaving in accordance with their own beliefs and comfort levels.” 

Using the robust body of data of 20,000 students gathered by Paula England at Stanford University, feminist sociologist Lisa Wade has concluded the following :

  • 11% of  students enthusiastically enjoy hookup culture.
  • 50% hook up, but do it rather ambivalently or reluctantly, some with extremely negative experiences.
  • 38% opt out of hooking up altogether.
  • Less than 1% maintain a committed relationship.

Still, researchers have found that when students are asked what percentage of their fellow students had sex the previous weekend, they often reply in the range of 75-80%, when the real number is closer to 5%.

Hookup culture is serving the needs of a small minority of young people of both sexes. It’s a sham. Only by sharing accurate information about who’s not hooking up can we begin to give those students – most students – a voice.