Give us a little more information and we'll give you a lot more relevant content
Your child's birthday or due date
Girl Boy Not Sure
Add A Child
Remove A Child
I don't have kids
Thanks For Subscribing!
Oops! Something went wrong. Please contact support@fatherly.com.

Sexual Economics and the (Hypothetical) Rise of the Middle-Aged Man

The new and controversial economic theory of how your innovation gave men their groove back.

Women often seem more romantically empowered than men. They have access to more willing sexual partners. They are more likely to initiate divorce than men. They are more likely to be happy after moving on from a bad relationship. Their sexual advantages are clear and obvious. But a controversial new theory posits that modern men have more romantic options than women because they’ve been empowered by technology. The economic and social rise of women, the logic goes, has led to superficial sexual empowerment, but not much else.  Mediocre looking, middle-aged dudes may actually have it better now than ever before.

“Many call this a paradox, but nothing about it seems paradoxical to me,” says Mark Regnerus, University of Texas sociologist and author of Cheap Sex: The Transformation of Men, Marriage, and Monogamy. “We expect that success in one domain of life, such as career, must create success in another domain, such as relationships, but that’s not how things work.”

At least, not according to the relatively new—and extremely controversial—theory of sexual economics. First laid out in 2004, the theory proposes that all social interactions are guided by market principles such as supply and demand. Sex is no exception. Since studies suggest men want sex more than women, sexual economists assume that men are the buyers and women are the one’s pushing product in this Red Light Wall Street. When women are prude, porn is scarce, and sex is hard to come by, women are at an advantage. When everyone’s having sex, however, it’s a buyer’s market and men have the upper hand. Now, Regnerus claims that the internet—the rise of Tinder, Ashley Madison, pornography, easy access to online hookups and fantasies—has caused prices to plummet. Call it a sexual recession if you will, but men are buying low.

Or not. Regnerus’s theory is far from universally accepted and there is reason for skepticism. In 2015, he authored a since debunked study that found that children raised by gay parents are at a disadvantage. Even after a federal court dismissed his findings, Regnerus still filed an amicus brief against gay marriage. His current work on sexual economics may prove to be similarly shortsighted (and perhaps self-interested).

But the roots of the theory of sexual economics run deeper than Regnerus. The idea that sex ratios shape human mating behavior was first explored in 1983, when Marcia Guttentag and Paul F. Secord reported that, if men become scarce after a war and women outnumber women, sex becomes easier to access at lower social cost. Three decades later, studies suggest the converse is also true—when women are scarce, one night stands are less common and men expect less action.

Interestingly, sexual economics theory explains why men often try to create the impression that everyone is sexually promiscuous. It’s also why women often ridicule their promiscuous peers, according to Bo Winegard, a Florida State professor who has studied sexual economics. “If sex is widely available, women can no longer use it as a bargaining chip to obtain commitment,” he told Fatherly. He adds that this may be why women disparage each other with the word “slut.”

Fatherly IQ
  1. Do you belong to any travel advantage or rewards programs?
    Yes
    No
Thanks for the feedback!
Oops! Something went wrong. Please contact support@fatherly.com.

watching pornography

What Regnerus has added to the discussion is the notion that women had the upper hand in the sexual marketplace until the internet took it away. Especially in religious communities, women long maintained a high “cost” for sex: marriage. But he claims that modern technology and access to any number of local, digitally promiscuous, and imagined women has put men back in power.

Online pornography changes everything, Regnerus says, because it’s the cheapest sex out there, and consistently presents men with another option. Men don’t need to get married to get off anymore—they just need a Wifi connection. “Women rightly see pornography as competition, which functions to lower the cost of sex,” he says. “Men have found themselves more enabled to access sex cheaply, and it’s in their longstanding preferences to do so.” Meanwhile, the relatively few men who do want marriage have even more capital now that their peers will settle for sexy videos. “The mating market favors men, especially when it comes to marriage, for this very reason: there are fewer marriageable men out there,” Regnerus says.

Winegard broadly agrees with this assessment, but cautions that it is probably too simplistic. For instance, there’s a clear distinction between men who succeed in the short-term market (a one-night stand, for instance) and the long-term market (marriage, commitment, etc). The problem is that the current body of sexual economics research has yet to analyze such subtleties in detail, and broad strokes tend to have glaring flaws. “Say you’re a nice guy, a little successful, but not terribly good looking, but you’re very willing to commit and provide,” Winegard says. “You’d have little luck on the short term market but you might have luck in the long term market.”

“These questions are complicated and answers require constant caveats,” Winegard adds.

As much as this is a confidence boost for men on the mating market, who’ve ironically been told that technology is keeping them from getting laid, the clout means less for married men when porn fails to compare to real companionship. Combined with the fact that sexual economics theory may not be entirely true, it’s probably best for most modern married men to share the driver’s seat, and occasionally dominate in other markets, like the farmer’s one.