Sex And Love: Simple Economics?

A recent study takes an utterly unromantic look at sex and love, theorizing that they can be explained by a simple economic model: that sex is a resource women possess, and men acquire it by providing other resources in return -- namely, money and commitment.

The study, titled "Sexual Economics: A Research-Based Theory of Sexual Interactions, or Why the Man Buys Dinner," was presented by Florida State University's Roy Baumeister at the American Psychological Association last month. It looks at heterosexual relationships only and is predicated on the (contested) notion that men want sex more than women do.

But here's where it gets really interesting: Baumeister poses that the more gender equality there is, the more sex is being had. In other words, it can be boiled down to a simple question of supply and demand, Baumeister claims.

As an example, he points to new research published in the Journal of Social Psychology. A survey of over 300,000 people from 37 countries found that countries with a higher gender equality (per rankings from the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report) had more casual sex and more sexual partners. In nations with less equality between the sexes, the opposite was true.

"In countries where women are at a big disadvantage, they restrain sex, so the price is high and men make a lifetime commitment to support them to get sex," Baumeister told USA Today. "Men will do whatever is required for sex."

In a colorful reaction on Slate.com, Amanda Marcotte wrote:

Baumeister's theory is that women are the producers but not consumers of sex, and men are the consumers and not producers of sex … Baumeister is trying to make this women-producers/men-consumers theory fit the evidence that more gender equality leads to more sex, but really, he fails utterly.

Marcotte goes on to argue that in order for the theory to hold up, you have to assume women are not that interested in sex -- a questionable assumption. (Read the whole post here; it's worth it.)

Tracy Clark-Flory writes on Salon.com that, "According to this econ-romance theory, men should be able to commit less and get more from women now. But the rise of sugar daddy websites suggests that the market is more complicated than that."

Referencing the current popularity of sites like SeekingArrangements.com and WhatsYourPrice.com -- where men will pay large sums for the company of desirable women -- she argues that the economic value of women's sexuality may actually be higher than ever.

What do you think? Does Baumeister's theory of sexual economics hold water?

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