Actually, science really doesn’t say that women who have sex are worthless

By Amanda Marcotte
Thursday, September 29, 2011 12:03 EDT
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I know I shouldn't give the NY Post the time of day, because it's a right wing, misogynist rag that has very little interest in boring old journalistic ideas like "facts", but I'm going to go ahead and address this article decrying modern women for being "cheap", and not holding out for sex until men provide a higher "price". The reason is I've seen a variation of this article in practically every newspaper under the sun. There are a lot of dudes out there not getting laid as much as they think they deserve, and this theory of sexual markets is so appealing to them that they're willing to shove aside all critical thinking to believe that "science" has explained their problems. See, the eternal complaint of the Nice Guy® is that a) women give it away to guys who don't deserve it but b) women's affections aren't loose enough to be applied to them.  (Not all Nice Guys® are obsessed with "sluts" even as they work hard the idea that if a woman would guy X, she's required to date guy Y, and if she finds Y unattractive, she's "shallow". As long as they're not raving about sluts, I think there's potential for redemption for Nice Guys®.) The problem with the theory of Nice Guys® is that it's internally contradictory: they both believe women's standards to sleep with a guy are too low (which is why she sleeps with him) and too high (she's shallow for not sleeping with me). There's mental tricks they play to ease the cognitive dissonance—for instance, by suggesting that if a guy's hotness impresses you that makes your standards too low, but if you don't like someone who spends 40 hours a week playing table games, you're shallow—but evo psych has come up with a theory that satisfies many of their desires.  It's the "market theory" of sex. NY Post, as is their habit, reduces a misogynist theory that's painted in more subtle terms elsewhere in the blunt terms that make it oh-so-accessible.

Men want sex more than women do. It’s a fact that sounds sexist and outdated. But it is a fact all the same — one that women used for centuries to keep the price of sex high (if you liked it back in the day, you really had to put a ring on it). With gender equality, the Pill and the advent of Internet porn, women’s control of the meet market has been butchered. 

Ha ha! Women's rights have taken from them the only thing women really want: some man to pretend to love them in order to get laid. Ladies, admit it. You may think that living with a guy who seethes with resentment towards women but occasionally and reluctantly buys you flowers in order to achieve occasional penetration may not sound so great, but really the culmination of all your heart's desires. 

But what's so great about this theory for Nice Guys® is that it explains all their problems. It characterizes women as both sexually reluctant (meaning the reason she doesn't want to have sex with you is she just doesn't like sex) but also paints them as dirty sluts (who only sleep with other guys because, shallow whores that they are, they're all brainlessly competing for a guy that is more "alpha" than the Nice Guy®).  On top of it all, the theory punishes women for daring to believe they deserve something like rights—especially the right to choose their partner, meaning they can not choose the Nice Guy®!—by suggesting that their dumb female ambition to be treated like full human beings is what will destroy them. I suspect that it's Nice Guys® driving the market for these stories, because every time I write about them, I get exactlly the same clusterfuck of comments and emails from angry dudes I get when I make fun of Nice Guys®.  (Please, Nice Guys® of the world, I beg of you: If you must innundate me with emails and comments where you insist that I drop everything I'm doing–hey, it's not like women need to work to earn money—could you just dial down the condescending, pompous language that insinuates that you are uniquely burdened to explain to the child-woman how stupid she is being and how, if she just applied herself to swallowing your horseshit wholesale, she could even pretend she's real people?  No?  Okay, I thought I would ask.) 

My reporters willing to promote this evidence-free sexual market theories try to conceal some of the  obvious flaws in the theories, but NY Post doesn't give a shit.  Their blunt language makes it all the much easier to see some of the glaring flaws in this theory. 

Flaw #1: Men like sex, but women don't.  None of these theories work for a second without believing this.  Evo psych goobers have dialed it back a little, by suggesting just that men like sex "more"—which is a softened way of saying men like sex, and women don't, so men have to buy it from women.  The reason that "more" can't be in play is that the argument always rests on the assumption that every act of sex is a woman trying to extract resources, not orgasms.  For instance, if they did accept that women like sex for itself—even less than men—at least some sex, even casual sex, needs no explanation.  Women do it because they like it. I don't love lattes as much as some people who live in the coffee shop. But somehow, when I'm in the mood for a latte and buy one, there's no need to create a market explanation for what I'm getting out of latte that the person who simply likes latte isn't getting.  When evo psychologists say men like sex "more", they mean men like sex and women like money and/or male attention. Believing taht women don't really like sex with men tells you more about the person holding the belief than men and women.

Flaw #2: Men like sex more than women. As noted, this is just weasel language to try to fit evo psych theories into undeniable evidence that women seek out sex because they like it. (Also, it's really hard to explain away lesbians if you assume women live for male resources and attention.)  It does make some sense that if men liked sex more, women could be pickier, even though it would drain a lot of this market theory of its oomph. But they'll take it—anything to preserve the theory, which means that it falls outside of the realm of science, where theories that don't hold up well are abandoned in favor of better ones. The problem with this theory that men like sex more is no one has really ever been able to prove it. There was one study that was bandied around as proof positive, but it turned out that it was a study where random people were asked by a stranger of the opposite sex to have sex right then and there, and men were more likely to say "yes" than women (who basically all said no).  Of course, what that study measured was not actually sexual desire, but women's fear of being raped, a fear that makes perfect sense in a world where rape rates are so incredibly high. Pretty much all research I've seen indicating men like sex "more" only indicates that men have more freedom and opportunities for sexual stimulation.  It's probably impossible to measure some kind of pure biological set level of desire in men and women.  Desire is heavily influenced by environmental factors and varies tremendously from individual to individual. It's also worth noting that even if you could find some average, that doesn't say much about individuals. Many women out there could easily tell you about having far more sexual desire than male partners, for instance.  The theory that men like it more is torture for these women, by the way. It makes them feel like unattractive monsters—after all, if men like it more, why do they have to beg for it, if not that it's they're extremely undesireable? (If we accepted that men can actually have lower sex drives, these women would be in a better place to realize that it's unlikely their partners would be with them if they didn't like to fuck them.)

Flaw #3: Women's rights somehow automatically mean more sluttiness.  I've never figured this one out.  They explain it over and over again, but it keeps sounding like a just-so story.  If women had a cabal over the pussy before the pill, why don't we have a cabal over it now?  If we don't like sex, it would be the easiest thing in the world to say no still.  People who forward this complex theory can't get around this problem.  The easiest explanation for why women fuck more with contraception is that the price of sex was lowered for everyone, not just men.

To put it this way: I don't like the taste of mayo. I make every sandwich place hold it. But I know that I can tolerate it if I have to. So if you paid me, I'd probably eat some mayo if the price is high enough. But if you were like, "This mayo is free!", I'm still not going to eat it.  In this model, mayo is sex for women. Even if you assume that I occasionally have a mayo craving because of hormone swings, that doesn't mean I'm going to eat more mayo when I'm not in the mood for mayo. What evo psychologists can't get around is that women like sex so much that they had it even when it often meant having babies they didn't want or even the possibility of death. Unless you believe that most to all sex was basically bought or extracted with rape throughout history and women only developed a teeny little flicker of desire in the 20th century, I really don't think this theory holds up in the slightest. 

Worse, it justifies rape. When you're running around saying that science says men are uncontrollable horny beasts and women who have sex have lowered their value, then you've just written a blank check to rapists to rape as many "sluts" as they want, assured that science says they can't help themselves and that women who have had sex before have no value anyway. 

Every time I write pieces like this, by the way, I'm accused of having an agenda. I think it's high time we start asking if people who forward theories of sexual markets that have little to no real evidence behind them might themselves have an agenda.  I know, for instance, that Mark Regenerus, who is quoted in this article, is a conservative Christian who believes that the ideal would be for women to be locked down as someone's wife by no later than 23. What's funny is I have less of a dog in the fight than a bunch of dudes that feel left out of the "sexual marketplace".  Defending women who have casual sex is more of an intellectual than a personal exercise for me at this point in my life. But for men who, whether it's because they're married or they aren't high performers with the ladies, don't get to be in the game and seriously resent it, these theories might have a lot of emotional power that is clogging up their ability to be rational. 

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
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