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How has the economy of sex changed?

Updated: Jul 5, 2023

Last week a majority of my readers voted on Instagram to learn about the economics of sex and how it’s changed over time.

My interest in this topic started a few weeks ago when I was reading an eBook which linked to a video from The Austin Institute which outlines the Economics of Sex.

How has the economy of sex changed over time?

The video offered a perspective on how the role of sex and the value of sex have changed over time. Historically, sex has been a marital duty for women (and still is in many developing countries) and therefore the price for sex was generally marriage which came with an exchange of security.

The video explained how the pill and the sexual liberation of women have changed the exchange of sex, and created two groups in today’s Western society between people looking for short-term hook-ups and marriage- with men being more concentrated in the former, and women in the latter.

Simplifying the issue to supply and demand, the video explains these imbalances are why women have an easier time attracting sex, but a more difficult time gaining marriage and visa-versa. The Austin Institute concluded by stating this imbalance has caused the price of sex to go down, that today’s sex economy favours male sex preferences and jokingly concluded women should collude to wait for sex until marriage again.

What is the role of sex in our society now?

Sex in our society is something I think we all question because no one seems to have the same view on sex. Even within ourselves, opinions can change based on how we’re feeling, our most recent partners or the sex lives of our friends.

Although the video argues the value of sex has gone down, I’d argue the price of marriage has gone up as well. For both parties.

In preparation for this video I listened to a podcast suggested by my friend Phillip on finding the sweet spot between love and desire from Esther Perel. Perel explains how sex used to be a reproductive economy, a perspective the Austin Institute left out. People didn’t used to have sex just to have sex, they had sex primarily to continue bloodlines. Sex used to be mean security, family and duty for a woman.

Now the landscape is different.

Sexuality in the modern age is for pleasure and connection. Sure, a lot of people still have children, but it’s no longer a requirement, which means marriage is less of a requirement in our society than having to love, or at least like who we’re having sex with. Sounds like common sense given where we are now, but for a long time loving someone you were married to was luck of the draw vs. a requirement.

Modern-day partnerships require two whole people. Someone can’t just be a husband or a wife anymore. They often have to fulfil roles like a best friend, a business advisor or a therapist on top of being a good sexual partner. In other words, we now require from one person what we used to get from an entire community.

Researching the sex economy leads me to believe it’s contributing to feelings of loneliness in society. For both genders. I don’t actually think the price of sex has gone down, especially regular sex, I think the price of partnership has just gone through the roof.

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