The price of sex has plummeted, throwing the “mating market” into a tizzy, according to Texas sociologist Mark Regnerus.
“It turns out that a world in which it is possible to satisfy our sexual desires much more immediately carries with it a number of unhappy and unintended consequences,” writes Regnerus, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin, in a Wall Street Journal editorial. For his new book on the subject, Cheap Sex: The Transformation of Men, Marriage, and Monogamy, Regnerus conducted 100 in-depth interviews of young adults in five major cities and surveyed more than 15,000 people.
Marriage, an institution that studies consistently find creates the best environment for children and leads to happier, healthier, more financially stable adults, is in retreat: In 1970, 80 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds were married, compared to just 40 percent in 2015, according to U.S. Census data. Although young adults – especially women – say they want to eventually marry, Regnerus argues marriage is declining chiefly because the marriage market is now controlled by men who have access to cheap sex.
Why is sex cheap? Because women today expect little in return. Whereas women once demanded more care, commitment and fidelity – serving as the gatekeepers in the sexual market – data shows women today give sex away for next to nothing, then wonder why they find dating so frustrating and marriage so elusive.
Regnerus explains the shift with three developments: the birth control pill, online pornographic videos and online dating. All three give men the opportunity to have cheap sexual fulfillment with little investment.
While the sexual revolution promised women sexual and economic freedom – and Regnerus agrees the pill led to more education and career success for women – it also handed the keys to the marriage market to men, he argues.
Some sociologists disagree, arguing today’s declining marriage rates are motivated primarily by men’s dropping wages. In a response to Regnerus, published last week by the Institute for Family Studies, New York University sociologist Paula England points to data showing the decline in marriage is especially pronounced among those with less education.
“The retreat from marriage among these less advantaged men is not just a matter of them marrying later to get an education and build careers; they often manage to do neither,” writes England, concluding that men’s economic woes are a key barrier to marriage.
Regnerus agrees, in part.
In a reply to England, also published recently by the Institute for Family Studies, Regnerus agrees men’s economic woes have contributed to declining marriage rates. But he does not believe rising wages would in turn increase the marriage rate. Studies show uneducated men get just as much, if not more, sex than educated men, Regnerus argues. A study of U.S. regions that saw economic booms from fracking found no increase in marriage rates, he notes.
“As marriage recedes culturally – that is, as few institutions reinforce it and respectable lives can be lived without it – I see no evidence to suggest marriage would notably and widely reemerge even if working-class men’s earnings rose,” Regnerus concludes.
Instead, he says men and women today are losing out on “the real relationships that are most likely to lead to their long-term flourishing” because cheap sex has taken away their ability to cultivate and sustain them.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kiley Crossland writes for WORLD News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine, worldmag.com, based in Asheville. Used with permission.)