Oi, this is so dumb and irritating that I pretty seriously considered not writing about it at all, in part because I worry the comments thread will develop a fetor of glib ev-psych nonsense. Uplift the human race, people, and surprise me with your intelligent thoughtfulness and concern for the feelings of other commenters. Who, I would like you to note, are actual human beings. Ya Rly!
Moving on, Slate has proffered for your attention an article by one Mark Regnerus, if that is his name. It is entitled thusly: “Sex is Cheap: Why Young Men Have the Upper Hand in Bed, Even When They’re Failing in Life.” I’m actually concerned that the stupid is going to burn my screen, and that readers of the article should perhaps be provided with an old-timey screensaver to avoid this. Flying toasters, say.
To better understand what’s going on, it’s worth a crash course in “sexual economics,” an approach best articulated by social psychologists Roy Baumeister and Kathleen Vohs. As Baumeister, Vohs, and others have repeatedly shown, on average, men want sex more than women do. Call it sexist, call it whatever you want—the evidence shows it’s true. In one frequently cited study, attractive young researchers separately approached opposite-sex strangers on Florida State University’s campus and proposed casual sex. Three-quarters of the men were game, but not one woman said yes. I know: Women love sex too. But research like this consistently demonstrates that men have a greater and far less discriminating appetite for it. As Baumeister and Vohs note, sex in consensual relationships therefore commences only when women decide it does.
And yet despite the fact that women are holding the sexual purse strings, they aren’t asking for much in return these days—the market “price” of sex is currently very low. There are several likely reasons for this. One is the spread of pornography: Since high-speed digital porn gives men additional sexual options—more supply for his elevated demand—it takes some measure of price control away from women. The Pill lowered the cost as well. There are also, quite simply, fewer social constraints on sexual relationships than there once were. As a result, the sexual decisions of young women look more like those of men than they once did, at least when women are in their twenties. The price of sex is low, in other words, in part because its costs to women are lower than they used to be.
Ok, I’m game, I’ll call it sexist! I can’t believe he’s citing this study, which is so poorly designed that it defines conception. Do you know what women are warned against every second of every day? Going anywhere with a man who is a stranger. Say, to his house or room, without having first met him in a public place for an earlier date, and then later having told a friend where you’re going on the second/third/whatever date. Because despite the fact that most rapes are committed by people whom the victim knows, stranger rape does exist, and, more relevantly, is endlessly hyped to young women. Walk in lighted places! Carry your car keys bristling from your fist as makeshift brass knuckles! Have pepper spray! Learn useless martial arts!
Guess what women are unlikely to do? Go to a strange location with a rather odd young man who is much bigger and stronger than they are. Because, face it, he’s a little off; it’s not normal to just walk up to complete strangers and ask them to fuck. What if you were game for sex but then he started to do something that hurt or that you just didn’t like? He could overpower you. And what kind of rape defense would you have after the defense lawyer told the jury you agreed to have sex with a complete stranger? He could tie you up and keep you there for the next 48 hours raping you periodically, and really you’d have zero legal defense. She was into bondage! Could you really say beyond a reasonable doubt that a woman who would abandon her plans for the day to go have sex with a complete stranger might not also be into bondage?
I was at a Berkeley bus stop one time on a beautiful day, in the champagne air, with a cloudless bowl of cobalt overturned on the hills, and a guy pulled up in a cherry-red 60s convertible and asked if I wanted a ride. I told him where I lived and he said, fine, it was more or less on his way. So I accepted a ride. I told him I was married and he didn’t even bother to hit on me much, just got my email address and then never emailed. God, you cannot imagine the endless ration of shit I got from every single person I knew. I could have been killed! What was I thinking?! My psychiatrist interpreted it as a death-wish. For Christ’s sake, I could have jumped out of the convertible! He was just a normal guy who wanted to give a pretty girl a ride in his car. He saw me standing there in a lovely dress at the bus stop and thought, what the hell, I’ll ask. And I thought, sweet car: fuck it. I’m tired of waiting for the bus.
I’ve wasted too much time on this idiocy because the real problem is deeper: the economic model of sex. There are people who sell sex as a commodity. They are called prostitutes. I favor legalization of prostitution. However, almost all ‘actually existing prostitution’ is evil and, particularly here in SE Asia, involves actual slavery, kidnapping, and torturing and raping children. So not cool. I consider men who participate in this type of prostitution in, say, Cambodia, to have done something very wrong, and to be supporting some of the most truly evil organizations in the world today. But if in a hypothetically equal society grown women and men wanted to charge people to have sex with them, then, fine.
However, there’s another thing that happens, which is people have sex without charging one another. Here’s the crazy thing: this is not an exchange of a commodity but an activity that men and women both participate in, because it’s fun. People can and should have sex together, not just with enthusiastic consent, which I think doesn’t stray far enough from the commoditized model, but enthusiastic participation. Sex is not a thing than men do to women if the women say they can, and then the women just lie there like Snow White in the glass coffin, red as blood, white as snow, and black as the ebony in the window-frame.
Sex is an activity which two people can enjoy performing together. Now, I’m sorry that Mr.Regnerus has never elicited any such reactions from his sexual partners, but being a shitty lay doesn’t entitle you to make stuff up about how women feel. A feminist can perfectly well say it may be the case that women in our culture don’t want to have sex as often as men do, and are more picky (it is beyond difficult to imagine how one would figure this out with any scientific precision, because those people at the approval of experiments on humans thing are pretty strict nowadays). You know what? Women are not particularly encouraged to enjoy sex in our culture. Why? Because this economic model gets drilled into their head at every opportunity. Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free? Sex is not presented as something fun two people so together but as a dog biscuit you dole out at various times until get the behavior you want: a marriage proposal. Because God forbid you ever have sex with anyone whom you’re not trying to trick into marrying you. Because if you enjoy having sex with various random guys just for the hell of it, do you know what you are? A slut!
This stupid economic model of sex is so deeply embedded in our culture that we often don’t notice it enough to question it. Happily, Mr. Regnerus has dragged it out in all its tattered glory, so that we can marvel at the idiocy which animates it. He’s tacked on the additional moronic theory that porn is an acceptable substitute for sex with actual alive women, such that it competes with them On this theory, a young man might say to himself, “hm, I could have sex with this average-looking chick who seems totally down for it, or jerk off looking at porn-stars. Oh my stars and bars this is a difficult question!” I do not think I need to bother to conduct a study on how men feel about this.
Let’s all say it together again: people have sex together, with each person performing some physical activity, because it’s fun to have sex. Please note also that under the economic model, lesbians can’t exist, since they have nothing of value to exchange for sex, except for…um…sex? And since women only use sex as a means to an end, and exchange it with men; and since further, sex has been explicitly devalued to something cheap, well, hm. I submit that if you propose a model of human sexual behavior, and it positively forbids the existence of a whole class of people who nonetheless actually exist, then maybe there’s a problem with the theory? Just a thought.
Take it away, thoughtful, not-particularly-sexist CT commenters, who aren’t a bunch of assholes at all, and are not about to bust out some ad hominid, “back on the veldt” bullshit. I am unfortunately asleep during the time when US workers are procrastinating by commenting on CT, but rest assured I will ban the fuck out of any and everyone when I get around to it. Because feminists don’t believe in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.