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WTF Wednesday: “Sexual economics” with Margaret Wente

Sara Harowitz

I’m 22-years-old. I graduated from university in June. I am a girl. And, well, I think Margaret Wente’s Globe and Mail article on “sexual economics” is nuts. Beyond anything else, I’m not really sure what it’s trying to teach me. Is it that young women like me are giving away sex like smiles because we’re just so happy to be professionally acknowledged? Is it that men never change and therefore only want sex from me? I’m calling bullshit, so I’ve pulled out some of the article’s most ridiculous passages.

For guys (unless they’re in engineering school), life is a paradise of sexual opportunity. For women, it’s a wasteland. The old-fashioned custom known as “dating” (as in: guy calls up girl and asks her out next Friday, takes her to a movie and a meal, picks up the cheque, takes her home, kisses her goodnight and, if he’s lucky, gets to third base) is something their grandparents did. Today, people just hook up.

Okay I get that the “guys in engineering school are too nerdy to get laid” thing is a joke, but it’s not funny, it’s outdated. And while it’s true that there are more females than males in university today, saying that it makes school a “paradise of sexual opportunity” for men and a “wasteland” for women is bogus, for a few reasons. First, Wente makes it seem like men are just dogs who think with their penises and will literally sleep with any female who blinks twice at them. That isn’t true; guys have types and “deal-breakers,” too. Second, does Wente think university girls look around campus and pout, “But I wanted to have seeexxxxx tonighttt and there are noooo boyyyyssss“? (We don’t.) Finally, that last line: “Today, people just hook up.” Are you serious? Yeah, sure, young people do that. But to say that “hooking up” is all “young people” do is a major generalization. I have a lot of friends, both male and female, in serious, long-term relationships. Some of them even live together. Some of them even talk about marriage. And we still go on dates! Seriously!

What explains the campus hookup culture? One widely overlooked factor is the scarcity of men. As buyers in a buyers’ market, they’re on the right side of supply and demand. The price they have to pay for sex – in terms of commitment, time and money – is at a record low. Plus, women are more inclined than ever to say yes.

So basically what Wente is saying is that these horny dog-men finally get the sweet deal they’ve always dreamed of: no being nice to girls, just sex! Sure, there are guys out there who only want sex from girls. But there are also guys who like relationships, who only want to hook up with that girl they’ve had a crush on since the first day of class—and they want to date her, too. Even if it’s easier than ever for a guy to get laid without putting any work in, it doesn’t necessarily he’s going to go that route. Also, why are women “more inclined than ever to say yes”? Because we’re just so happy that one of the few guys on campus is talking to us, so we’d better snatch him up before the bitty in the next booth does? Blah.

In economic terms, our unequal desire for sex means that, in the sexual marketplace, men are the buyers and women are the sellers. Until recently, the price was steep, up to and including a wedding ring and a promise of lifetime commitment. In my parents’ generation, the only way for a 22-year-old guy to have a lot of sex was to get married. Today, plenty of 22-year-olds can get all the sex they want for the cost of a pack of condoms.

Okay not all women want marriage oh and also so what?

Dr. Baumeister argues that, throughout history, it was to women’s advantage to keep the supply of sex restricted. “Sex was the main thing they had to offer men in order to get a piece of society’s wealth, and so they restricted sexual access as much as they could, to maintain a high price,” he says in his essay Sexual Economics, Culture, Men and Modern Sexual Trends (with Kathleen Vohs). But as women began to gain power and opportunity, that began to change. Women can now get a piece of society’s wealth on their own. And life for everyone is a lot more fun, because it turns out that, wherever women have more autonomy, people have more sex.

So sex was only ever our way of feeling successful. It was never an act of passion or love or fun. Nope, it was just our way of feeling like we were worth something. Great message.

The changes in gender politics since the 1960s have been good for both sexes. Women got something they really wanted (access to careers and money) and men got something they really wanted (more sex). But this bargain is having some unexpected consequences. Young men are in no hurry to get married. Why should they be? As my dear old dad used to say when I waltzed out the door in my miniskirt, “Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?” I hated it when he said that. But he’d grasped the central principle of sexual economics.


A lot of women are in no hurry to get married, either. But it might not work out so well for them. They’ve watched too much Sex in the City. They think they’ll still have the same choices at 35 and 40 that they had at 25. They have no idea that men’s choices will get better with age (especially if they’re successful), but theirs will get worse. Believe me, this sucks. But it’s the truth.

WHAT? Saying that we watched too much Sex and the City and therefore have this distorted view of what it is to grow old and have sex and be a woman is actually making me feel queasy. (If Sex and the City misleads anything, it’s how easy it is to make it as a professional writer. There’s no way Carrie could afford all those Manolo Blahniks off a single column.) Also we’re just supposed to accept that while we get super gross and boring once we hit age 30, men get sexy so they’ll be fine—and therefore we need to get him to put a ring on it pronto for fear of living alone? What year are we in?

University is hard. True. Work is hard. True. Being an adult is hard. True. So why is Wente pointing the finger at those of us who are still trying to wade our way through the muck? And if what young men want most of all is sex, then why work hard if they don’t have to? Young men like sex, for sure, but news flash: so do women! If young females are having more sex, it’s probably because they like it. Also is sex really what guys want most of all? If a 22-year-old guy was offered one night of sex or a university degree, do you think he’s going to pick the former? Are men really that shallow? Are my guy friends really just hugging me when I’m sad because they want to get in my pants? Is the barista who told me to have a nice day as I stirred sugar into my Americano really telling me that he’d like to take me into the staff room and have sex with me? If he was, like, should I go back and talk to him?

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