The Economics of Sex

The Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture released a video  a few weeks ago regarding the “economics of sex.”  This controversial animation video attempts to enlighten viewers on why romantic relationships are getting increasingly more difficult to navigate and why fewer couples are getting married and later than ever before.  As research institute, one would expect objective information. Unfortunately, that is not the case. In the beginning of the video, we are presented with some “facts”: marriage rates in the U.S. have a hit an historic low; annual revenue of the online dating industry is at an all-time high of $1.049 billion. The representatives from the Institute then explain that sex is an exchange between two people (intimate access to each others bodies) and that both men and women enjoy sex. However, women and men experience sex differently.  As the video progresses, it appears as to be conservative propaganda blaming women’s sexuality and the Pill for the current state of relationships and marriage. Also, it suggests that getting married later in life is problematic.

According to the video, men want sex more than women do and without commitment. On the other hand women’s reasons for having sex are motivated by romance: relationship security, expressive and receiving love, strengthening commitment, and creating desirability.  All of these claims do not seem erroneous until the video continues with the following excerpt:

Sex is her resource. Sex in consensual relationships will happen when women want it to. So how do women decided to begin a sexual relationship? Pricing. Women have something of value that men want—badly. Something men are actually willing to sacrifice for. So how does sex cost for men? It might cost him nothing but a few drinks and compliments, or a month of dates and respectful attention, or all the way up to a lifetime promise to share all of his affections, wealth, and earnings with her exclusively. The price varies widely.

But if women are the gatekeepers, why don’t vey many women “charge more,” so to speak? Because pricing is not entirely up to women. The market value of sex is part of s social system of exchange—an economy, if you will—wherein men and women learn from each other and form others what to expect from each other sexually. So sex is not an entirely private matter between two consenting adults. Think of it as supply and demand. When supplies are high prices drop since people won’t pay more for something that is easy to find. But if it’s hard to find, people will pay a premium. Men know that sex is cheap these days if they know where to look.

If women decide the “pricing” but the “pricing” is not up to women as a social system of exchange, then why is it that market of value of sex is cheapened by women’s sexual behavior? These women are having sex with men so doesn’t mean sexual behavior have a negative effect on the market value of sex?  Apparently, a women’s value is based on her willingness to have sex, and that women’s value as lifetime partners has gone down because more women are having sex without commitment. Forget that women have more to offer than sex in a relationship. If women want a relationship or marriage with a man, she must create a demand with little to no supply .

The Institute representatives then go on to explain that the Pill caused a “technological shock” that dramatically altered the mating market:

The [invention of the] Pill allowed men and women to have sex while avoiding pregnancy. This was technological shock that forever altered the mating market by profoundly lowering the cost of sex. It didn’t change overnight but the effects have been revolutionary. Before contraception, sex before marriage took place during the search for a mate—someone to marry. Sex didn’t necessarily mean marriage but serious commitment was commonly a requirement for sex. Sex was oriented toward marriage. Don’t believe people who say you great grandparents were secretly as casual about sex as your friends are. They weren’t, because to mess around with sex eventually met, well, becoming parents. While the original purpose of the Pill was to prevent pregnancy, the data reveals an unanticipated side effect: the pill threw the mating market into disarray. Having sex and thinking about marriage have now become two quite different things. We now have a split mating market: one corner where people are largely interested in sex[men] and one corner where people are largely pursuing marriage[women].

My question for the statement above is, what about the male condom? That was invented long before the Pill. Why did the male condom not have the same technological shock on the mating market? After all, it ultimately served the same purpose as the Pill: sex without pregnancy. Why did the researchers at the Austin Institute only focus on women?

Towards that end of the video, make the following argument:

If women were squarely in charge of how their relationships transpired and demanded a ‘higher market price’ for the exchange of sex, so to speak, we would be seeing, on average, more impressive wooing efforts, greater male investment, longer relationships, fewer premarital partners, shorter cohabitations and more marrying going on.

Again, women’s sexual behavior is to blame for the action of men. If women  in America were less sexual outside of commitment and demanded more, then the United States would have better relationship and marriage statistics. What do you think of this argument?

One thought on “The Economics of Sex

  1. Thank you for writing about this! I saw this a few weeks ago and had similar questions. Geat analysis of it… I agree with your thought process– once again women getting blamed!

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