“How do women decide to begin a sexual relationship? Pricing!”
The above video showed up in my Facebook feed the other night. It’s from a purported think tank, the Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture, which is actually a Christian think tank/advocacy group. The video claims to be a scientific look at the “Economics of Sex” based on the concept that men want sex for its own sake but women want sex for intimacy, security and, ultimately, marriage. Therefore sex is a “resource,” subject to supply and demand, which women control. “Men know that sex is cheap these days if they know where to look!” we are told. The video then implores women to dole out the supply of their resource to men (the “demand”) in exchange for other stuff. Essentially: ‘All sex is prostitution and women are prostitutes.’ Hello, Christian Right! Thought you were in there somewhere.
There’s so much in this video that makes me mad, I almost don’t know where to start: the fact that it’s a call to female solidarity drawn and directed entirely by men; the fact that they talk about women ‘policing women’s relationship interests’ when they mean slut shaming; the comparison of the birth control pill to chemical pesticides; the blazing heteronormativity. Smart women have already chimed in on this stuff, though, so I’ll focus on the completely bullshit notion that “men want sex more than women do.” I’m not saying this statement is untrue — I’m saying it’s utter nonsense to which no truth value can be assigned.
“The Economics Of Sex” dresses up ideological opinions in bullshit statistics with pretty animations and calls it science. You aren’t right just because you drew a graph. The video talks a lot about “data”, but data is tricky. If you ask a thousand people the question “How highly do you value sex on a scale of one to ten, where one is “not at all” and ten is “very highly”?’, you will get one thousand numbers — but that doesn’t change the fact that the original question is total garbage. Let me, as a man, get one thing straight: I don’t want sex, I want good sex, and I want to decide for myself what good sex is. Spoiler: it’s not the sex the Austin Institute thinks is good.
The Austin Institute talks about sex as a resource. It is meant in the same way that, say, gold is a resource. Standards of quality are universally agreed on; one ingot of of 24k gold is interchangeable with any other. If two people want to sell you gold, the only thing to talk about is price. Sex obviously isn’t like that, because everyone’s particular tastes in sex partners and sexual activity are different.
If we want to talk about sex as a resource, it’s more like food. We need food, but no one would believe that the quality of a thousand calories of beluga caviar is interchangeable with the quality of a thousand calories of Hot Pockets. To say that I place a high value on sex without further explanation is like saying that I place a high value on food. It’s not wrong, exactly, but it tells you nothing useful about how to satisfy me. It’s a statement with almost no meaning.
There are places that treat food primarily as a means of exchange, like McDonald’s and Dominos. Fast food is less about experiencing the pleasure of eating and more about quickly and inexpensively getting something that approximates a pizza or a hamburger into your mouth. When the Austin Institute says that “sex is a resource,” that’s the kind of sex they’re talking about: Dominos sex. It fills your belly and it’ll do when you’re drunk or only have $2 in your pocket, but it’s not something to build your dinner plans around. On the contrary, the best food comes from people who are passionate about preparing and sharing it with people. The best food comes from people who value the pleasure of eating good food for its own sake. (Good God, have you people learned nothing from watching “Kitchen Nightmares”?) Sex is the same. Why does the Austin Institute think that men don’t understand this?
Western society has only been taking female sexual pleasure seriously for a few decades. In that time, a lot of what’s been talked about is the pursuit of the female orgasm. Weirdly, however, we don’t seem to challenge much the the idea that — since we come every time — all sex is always awesome for all men. In fact, prior to the sexual revolution, men accepted crappy sex for the same reason women did: we didn’t know any better. Now we do. That “sex as a resource women control” the Austin Intitute is talking about? The kind of sex a lady is supposedly not really interested in, but occasionally opens her legs for anyway, since she got a diamond ring and he mowed the lawn today? It turns out, men don’t really want that kind of sex, either, not when something better is on offer. Sex as a means of exchange — sex that you’re supposed to be grateful to have at all — is bad, unfulfilling sex. I know this because I have accepted it in the past when I thought there was nothing else to be had, or that I didn’t deserve better. I was supposed to have been grateful to have it at all, yet it was never what I wanted.
The Austin Institute is worried about declining marriage rates. Well, I’m married. But I didn’t marry my wife to shore up my access to a couple places I could shove my dick a few times a month. I also wasn’t worried about how many other men had had access to her “resources” before me. I married her because sharing my life with her made every part of it better, and I wanted her as a life partner. One reason I felt comfortable making such a big commitment to one person was that we had good, fulfilling, intimate sex. It’s not Dominos, where I’ll take anything just to feed an empty stomach. It’s a place that I know takes as much pleasure in preparing my meal as I take in enjoying it. My wife’s openness in discussing sex, what we wanted and what pleased us both, made me confident it would stay good over time.
You can’t have that kind of sex if you think it’s a commodity.
Kale Bogdanovs is a standup comic and also Jessica’s husband. Follow him on Twitter.