Sex Economics 101
Image: Bard Wrisley

No News Flash: The West is facing an economic collapse whose effects will stretch on for decades. News flash: The West is also facing a challenging marketplace economy in sex and marriage, at least according to Mark Regnerus. "Neither a strong gender constructionist nor a strong gender essentialist, but a sociologist" (at the University of Texas-Austin), Regnerus describes the traditional marriage economy this way: Most men want sex more than do women and have traditionally gained access to sex via marriage. In turn, most women have given sex for marriage, which has brought economic security and commitment.

Now, says Regnerus—whose 2009 "case for early marriage" in Christianity Today made quite a splash—women are expected to commence sex early, with little promise of commitment. And this hurts everyone, but especially women. Speaking with CT associate editor Katelyn Beaty, Regnerus explained this and other findings from his new book, Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate, and Think about Marrying (Oxford University Press), coauthored with Jeremy Uecker.

You frame your research using sexual economics theory: Sex is a transaction in which men pay, via economic stability or education or as little as dinner, to get access to sex, while women pay with their sexuality to get goods that men can offer. Describing sex this way seems pretty cynical. Why use this theory to explain your research?

Because it's accurate. There are lots of lenses to use to evaluate how people make decisions about sex and relationships. Some of them are far more idealistic than realistic. I find the economic theory [developed by psychologists Roy Baumeister and Kathleen Vohs] to be remarkably ...

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Sex Economics 101
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February 2011

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