One case where market forces actually work: A new study suggests gender equality leads to more sex
The idea that “gender equality means more sex” seems like a slogan cooked up by cynical young feminists. Instead, it’s the conclusion of a recent study by social psychologist Roy Baumeister of Florida State University—and politically correct it is not.
His study, “Sexual Economics: A Research-Based Theory of Sexual Interactions, or Why the Man Buys Dinner,” was presented Sunday at the American Psychological Association and shows that countries with greater gender equality have higher rates of sexual activity. With parity comes a greater likelihood of casual sex and more sexual partners. 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.
Instead of using evolutionary or social constructionist theories, Baumeister turns to economic principles to explain sexual behavior. 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, author of Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate and Think About Marrying, 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. It’s also worth noting that despite this latest study’s appearance of strict impartiality, it’s clear from Baumeister’s book, Is There Anything Good About Men? How Cultures Flourish by Exploiting Men, that there is some serious gender politicking at hand. (Beyond the book’s title, he repeatedly bemoans the “endless sexual deprivation that is the lot of many married men.”)
Baumeister spoke to Salon by phone about how sex is like real estate, why female gossip regulates the sexual economy and whether his theory applies to love. Read InterviewBy Tracy Clark-Flory