“Treat them mean, keep them keen.”
“Don’t have sex early on in a relationship.”
“Men don’t respect women who have sex on the first date.”
No, this is not your great-grandma talking, nor are they quotes from the self-help bargain bin. For once, this is not the Tao of Jacob Rees-Mogg. They are the clear inference from a newly published academic study by Mark Regnerus, a sociologist at the University of Texas (feign surprise here) whose previous work includes a study concluding that children with same-sex parents are worse off than those with heterosexual parents, and who has publicly spoken out against equal marriage and “the normalisation of gay men's sexual behaviour”. Regnerus has, in the past, seen his data and research methods criticised heavily by peers, but has nonetheless secured plenty of press coverage for his new book, Cheap Sex, including a lengthy essay published in The Wall Street Journal this week.
Women are offering up sex to men too easily, he claims, and this is largely responsible for having “created a massive slowdown in the development of committed relationships, especially marriage”. As well as the greater sexual availability of women, he blames contraception, dating apps and pornography for the modern imbalance in the “supply and demand” market of sex – which, he asserts, is a key factor in the forming of committed romantic relationships. Through the lens of the essay, women are seen to be in possession of a commodity that – at least in the critical early days – men prize over any other aspect of a potential new mate’s overall worth. In 2017, the forbidden fruit of sex has become too low-hanging, Regnerus believes, and men are losing their incentive to stick around.
While Regnerus’ commodities metaphor apparently reduces women to little more than suppliers of sex, it also reduces men to walking erections, powerless and entirely reliant on their partners to uphold critical moral standards. I suppose there’s a single fibre of accuracy here – it’s certainly true that many men have issues with women who have sex early on in a relationship, and may well exclude those women from consideration when it comes to choosing a wife. It was ever thus and, frankly, has always provided an extremely useful filtration method for knowing exactly which men to bin off at our earliest convenience. A man who’ll happily allow his penis to drive his brain towards me, but whose brain judges me for effectively doing the same, is about as likely to be my soulmate as a mangy alpaca.
Another huge omission in Regnerus’ study, and one that perhaps says a great deal more about the author than men in general, is any consideration for the sexual needs and drive of women. It seemingly doesn’t occur to him that women may themselves be gagging to get their rocks off more than they are to catch a prissy husband who’d prefer them not to be acting on such unladylike impulses. In my experience, a woman engages in casual sex because she’d like, well, some sex. But in Regnerus’ world, we are merely misstepping in our implicit quest to find a baby-daddy by prematurely giving men what they really want, thus depriving them of sufficient appetite to hang around for the main course.
Waiting for a man to take us down from the dusty shelf is no longer a consideration for anyone I know
While few of us would have no trouble in accepting that most men and women are indeed looking to meet a partner with whom they can settle down, it also seems pretty obvious to anyone living in the modern world that women’s expectations for that partner are higher than before – and that includes the expectation of sexual compatibility, which let’s face it, can only be measured on a “try before you buy” basis. Waiting for a man to take us down from the dusty shelf is no longer a consideration for anyone I know. The question now is what are our criteria when we no longer necessarily need him for companionship, a home, sex, financial security, children or to complete an already busy life?
Regnerus, a Christian who openly believes that one’s religious faith should inform one’s academic teaching and research, is in possession of the wildly assumptive belief that marriage is in decline in the US (figures are actually on the rise in Britain, after a gradual fall in recent years) purely because women are failing to ensnare a man, and not because women are no longer under the same pressure to marry for the sake of marrying, as was the case in our mothers’ and grandmothers’ generations. This could be cured, the study essentially concludes, if women would only keep their crinolines lowered for a lot longer. At no point does it wonder if women are now in possession of enough agency and freedom to marry someone they truly love, who adds to their life, not compromises it.
Even if we are to take onboard the study’s convoluted metaphor of sexual relationships as an economic model, why is it assumed that it’s female behaviour that somehow needs to change? If there's too much cheap sex, why is it all about reducing the supply? What can be done to reduce the demand instead? Just as women who are harassed in the street are told they just need to think more carefully about their wardrobe choices, women who are judged negatively by men for enjoying sex should apparently just stop having it.
I’m afraid it’s a hard pass, Dr Regnerus. Let your squad get on with their pathetic sexual passivity, misogyny and judgement, and allow me to get on with my sex with partners who aim a little higher. Men who rate kindness, good humour, empathy, shared values and understanding above the well-timed opportunity to empty their nutsacks. Mercifully, there are plenty of them around and, in the basic world of sexual commerce you describe, they must surely be cornering the market.