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Who’s winning in the sexual market?

By Michelle Rafferty

As most of you probably know by now, there’s a new stage in life – emerging adulthood, or for the purposes of this post, the unmarried young adult. Marriage is getting pushed off (26 is now the average age for women, 28 for men) which means…more premarital sex than ever!

According to sociologists, emerging adults are all part of a sexual market in which the “cost” of sex for men and women in heterosexual relationships is pretty different. Out of this disparity has risen the theory of “sexual economics,” which I recently read up on in Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate, and Think about Marrying. At first glance women appeared to be the clear losers in this market. See this passage:

Sexual economics theory would argue that sex is about acquiring valued “resources” at least as much as it is about seeking pleasure. When most people think of women trading sex for resources, they think of prostitution and money as the terms of exchange. But this theory encourages us to think far more broadly about the resources that the average woman values and attempts to acquire in return for sex – things like love, attention, status, self-esteem, affection, commitment, and feelings of emotional union. Within many emerging adults’ relationships, orgasms are not often traded equally.

Basically, the sexual economics theory says that while women and men are doing the same thing during sex, socially they are doing two different things. Women can and do enjoy sex, but they also have an agenda, while men…just want to have sex. Which to me just seemed, well, sad. Hadn’t women all finally agreed that a man can’t ever make you happy, only you can? But the more I read up on the theory of sexual economics, the less cut-and-dry it became. Women might use sex to get commitment, but they’re also getting things like advanced degrees and independent financial stability  – which also play a role in this new sexual economy. This led me to ask: are men really the clear winners in this game? I scoured the countless studies and interviews in Premartial Sex in America and came up with the following chart to sort all the data out.

Wins in the Emerging Adult Sexual Market by Gender

Women – 3 wins
Men – 3 wins
5 washes

By my calculations men and women are breaking even.  But I realize this conclusion is partly due to the fact that I’ve categorized the financial advances of women as part of a tradeoff, rather than a clear win for the other side. Ironically, the more power they get in terms of knowledge and jobs, the less they seem to have in terms of sex. I’ll also concede that “possible antidepressant qualities of semen” is a weak win. So, when it comes to sex amongst heterosexual emerging adults, men do seem to have the advantage.

Now. Given some of the reasons behind this win, I’m still feeling optimistic for womenkind. But that’s just me. Ladies, gentlemen, emerging boys and girls, take what you want from this, and good luck out there.

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