The Price of Sex

My feminist staple, Jezebel, has a take on a study that was discussed on Salon about how the price of sex is decreasing. The Jezebel article is a personal take on it, arguing that all this marriage advice is pretty useless–just anxiety-producing.  Agreed.  I am pretty disturbed by this article, though, for its encouraging commoditization of sex, particularly for men.  Salon interviews the author of a study from the University of Texas at Austin, Mark Regnerus.  Regnerus explains that sex has become “cheaper” for men–he claims that because men will pay for sex, either with other men or women, but women won’t, that means it’s more “expensive” than sex that women look for.  Though this is a pretty logical conclusion economically, sex is a little different than other physical commodities, and thus, I would argue, should be treated differently (much like health care–though that’s another post).  Sex is not a zero sum game.  If I have sex with one person, it doesn’t mean I don’t necessarily want to have sex with someone else.  Even immediately after.  It’s not like if the first guy gets it, the second doesn’t.  They could BOTH get it.  Or neither.  Very different from an apple, which if I eat, is gone.  No one else can eat that apple.  So that’s the first fallacy to me.  Plus, I would argue that men don’t really pay for sex.  They pay for something else.  They pay for faux vulnerability.  The ability to be intimate with someone without having to mess with cultural norms, and without the possibility of pain.  I’ve heard it said that men pay not for sex, but for the woman to leave (hah, hah, right??!).  I’ve also heard that men pay not for sex, but to eschew any possibility of getting rejected.  I think there is something to be made of the fact that women can get whatever they’re looking for that includes sex for free, while men are willing to pay for it.  Though I also might argue that a lot of times, both men and women are confused about what they want–thinking they want more or less from the context of sex than they really do.  But that is cultural.

So I have a problem with the main crux of the claim that sex is something that can be understood as a marketplace like any other good or commodity.  But let’s work with that.  Let’s say that it is.  Regnerus continues to explain how the sex market works by pointing out that “theoretically, if sex is valuable to her then she’s not going to trade it away to just some crummy man.”  Which may be true theoretically.  But what if sex isn’t valuable to her? What if she enjoys it, and it is something she freely gives?  What then??  Regnerus also explains that “we report that 35 percent of men’s relationships are reported to have become sexual within two weeks; and 48 percent become sexual within a month. That gives you an indication that it doesn’t take long for men to access sex, so it must not be all that valuable, right? That’s how we get an indirect sense of the price of sex.”  HOLD UP!  If you don’t wait for longer into the relationship to have sex, it is less valuable??  Here’s where I start to get really pissed.  Why would you WAIT to do something that is a)not disappearing and b)NOT valuable?  If I had access to an infinite supply of, hm, let’s say, delicious chocolate cake that would not make me fat, WHY would I let it sit on my counter for 3 months, or a year or two ([until I’d had a chance to marry it and make sure only I could eat it, right?? ;-)] to have a piece?  What world does this make sense in?

Oh, right.  One where women have “sex” to “give” to men.

But then, Regnerus continues on to explain if “sex was the highest possible cost. You’d see women never having sex with anyone until a man commits to marry her — that’s the most expensive thing you can charge.”  And here’s where he begins to limit the role of men.  Why is marriage always about trapping a man?  Men benefit more physically, emotionally, and more recently, financially (which the article mentions–it begins by pointing out that women have a smaller pool of “eligible” men from which to draw because more women than men and now attaining higher levels of education).  Why is there this myth that women somehow need to get married? I suppose you could argue that they actually are so harmed by marriage (again–physical health, emotional health, and financially) that we must convince them that they will be better off if they’re legally partnered, but ugh.  I’m so stuck on this–“[marriage is] the most expensive thing you can charge” for sex.  As if marriage somehow benefits women.  HOW does marriage protect you?  What benefit is conveyed by marriage that it warrants being some huge payment for the sex that women evidently don’t want to just give away?

Regnerus also seems to think that slut-shaming is the way to “increase” the price of sex–he claims that “it used to be women would shame each other for selling low.”  Maybe if sex were something to auction off.  I suppose this whole argument assumes monogamy.  And Regnerus points out that women are competing for men and that they do that through “offering” “inexpensive” sex as undergrads.  Ugh.  This reminds me of the article in the NY Times about the shortage of men, which specifically mentions the University of North Carolina, where I went to college.  The argument there is essentially the same, if a hasty generalization as opposed to a ridiculous conclusion from research.  One young woman explains that many of her friends “meet someone and go home for the night and just hope for the best the next morning, ” which begs the question–the best? What is the best? Why must the best mean that you have some sort of a relationship? He’s probably a douche-bag.  The young woman further explains that “Girls feel pressured to do more than they’re comfortable with, to lock it down,” which is utterly disturbing.  I think this is a great qualitative example of how this whole thinking is a self-feeding cycle.

The more women’s attitudes tend toward “giving” sex away instead of making a decision about whether to have sex or not based upon whether they WANT to or not, the more men are able to treat sex with women as commodities.  It isn’t about making sex more expensive.   It’s about looking at sex as a shared experience, instead of an exchange of something tangibly valuable.  It’s about fostering an attitude toward relationships that recognizes them as something that can, of course, be fantastic and worthwhile but stops short of placing them on a pedestal that is unattainable and extremely unrealistic.  Many relationships fail.  Just because you locked some dude down doesn’t mean he’ll stay down.  And why must we promote this idea that men have to be locked down anyway?  Can’t they choose to be in a relationship of their own volition?

Yet, Regnerus offers some advice for women.  He says that “giving it away early gives a great deal of power to him,” so women should restrict sex until later in the relationship.  I’m sure you can guess what I’m going to say.  I have a problem just with the language he uses.  GIVE it away?? Still stuck on this commoditization.  And Regnerus goes on to undermine his own argument, admitting he doesn’t know how much “bargaining power” an individual women has (evidently, we all have to be on board for this restriction of sex for it to “work”).  Women could definitely get “underbid” by their slutty neighbors, or that round-heeled woman at the end of the bar.

What is most disturbing to me is the underlying (and sometimes not so underlying) message that “women…are paying a social price for success,” as the NY Times article states.  The Salon article says this in its own way.  The message, though, is that maybe this success in other areas of life–career especially–isn’t (or shouldn’t) be worth giving up “success” in relationships to women.  The problem to me is that if you just look at sex a little differently, if you just take a relationship off the table as some prize, or something to be exchanged for sex, it changes the picture immensely.  But that requires seeing women as willing participants in sex.  It’s kind of amazing to me that this thinking is as radical as it is.  If you think about it, the reverse implication of this is exactly what Andrea Dworkin argues in Intercourse–that all heterosexual sex is, at some level, rape.  And it’s amazing that while Dworkin is pretty out there, her characterization of heterosexual sex as rape actually is the foundation of the argument that sex is a commodity.  Who would’ve thought?

The interview ends with Regnerus’ explanation that “this is not about getting sex. Women can get sex whenever they want. Post it on Craigslist and you can have it within the hour. This is about getting commitments,” which pretty much sums it up.  Maybe “women are not as successful in relationships as perhaps they once were,” but who defines success?  The sociology research community studying relationships has some work to do, in my opinion.  Regnerus claims he is using a theory that social psychologists have come up with (the one that I am so fond of, that sex is a commodity?).  Herein lies the problem.  There is an entire field of people who are doing research, using interviews with people, to supposedly prove that this market is real.  But I think we also must examine the anthropological aspects of these issues.  What are the reasons women allegedly are so desiring of relationships and commitment? Part of me cannot believe that there is this entire article, and an entire BOOK that Regnerus wrote with his research partner (“Premarital Sex in America,” if you’re interested), and the question is about this marketplace philosophy that never examines the impetus for placing commitment and marriage on such a high pedestal.  I also just really hate the position the commoditization of sex puts men in.  They become takers and wanters of sex, instead of people.  Sex can be a beautiful, fun, pleasurable thing–whether with someone you care deeply about for a lifetime or an evening, or someone you don’t really give a rat’s ass about.  But that’s when it is sharing, not just some kind of exchange.

On a more personal note (and I apologize, this is getting mammoth), I really do want a relationship.  Commitment is important to me, at least to a degree of sharing a life with someone.  However, sexual monogamy is not, to my mind, essential.  I have no idea what my overall relationships will look like.  But I think we need to re-examine a lot of our ideas about what commitment means.  So many marriages are broken up by infidelity when they don’t really have to be.  And while I have some concerns from a public health perspective in regards to sexually transmitted infections, condoms are really very effective (as much as the abstinence only team would like you *not* to believe that).  I think our marriages would be more stable (isn’t that what these people want??!) and our people much more satisfied if we could drop our guard a bit about monogamy.  For more on that, I will not hesitate in recommending Sex At Dawn, by Christopher Ryan, PhD and Cacilda Jetha, MD.  It is one of the most amazing books I have ever read.  Hands down.  Also hilarious. Though non-monogamy is not for everyone, and I’m not sure even if it for me, I think the only way we can get out of a patriarchal culture is by de-commoditizing sex, which can only be done if it is more free.

Snowpocalypse Travel

The holidays in Chapel Hill were lovely. But the trip back left something to be desired. I want to try something out, though, in telling this story. I’m doing to tell it from an optimistic point of view in an attempt to remember it more positively, instead of as an awful experience, one that is full of challenges I met and plenty of dumb luck.

My flight was originally scheduled to leave Monday the 27th in the afternoon, around 5:30, and arrive at LGA at 7:15. My holiday with the family in Chapel Hill was lovely and I enjoyed seeing everyone, especially Ellie, the little sister. I got some real quality time with both my parents, which was really wonderful. And then the weather chose the most interesting time to snow a lot. It snowed first in Chapel Hill, where we got a fantastic 3-6 inches of snow–perfect because it coated everything in white but also didn’t disturb too much because it was cleared easily from streets and melted quickly.

And then the storm moved north, dumping massive amounts of snow on New York City and the LaGuardia Airport. Stir in winds of over 60mph and you have the perfect storm for planes not being able to land. So my flight was cancelled. Which meant I got to spend some more time with Ellie! I called the airline to reschedule the flight, and the soonest they would be able to get me to New York would have been Thursday, the 30th. I was a bit shocked, but agreed to a flight that would get in then at 12am (so I guess technically the 31st). I was excited about getting to spend some more time with the family and just to relax, though it meant using 3 more days of vacation than planned. But I emailed work and everything was going to be fine.

I still was open to other means of transportation to get home a bit sooner. A couple of people suggested looking at trains, which I did. They were sold out. And then my mother mentioned that her cousin was driving to Baltimore the next morning and that perhaps I could take a bus from DC. I looked at the site for cheap bus tickets and found one trip that was not totally booked. I requested a seat after my mom’s cousin said it was totally fine for me to come with her.

The next morning, mom’s cousin came by to pick me up and we arrived in DC an hour late, but still an hour before my bus was scheduled to leave. I got some food and headed to the massive line of people waiting for buses. It was just before 4:30, bus scheduled to leave at 5pm, which I thought was pretty perfect. Then I heard this one young woman mention she was supposed to be on the 3pm bus. I braced for a tough wait.

I made some friends in the bus line and hunkered down, relieved I had picked up some food for myself. We waited. And waited. And waited. And finally, around 6:45pm, our bus arrived. I pushed to the front of the line by the bus, which had become a jumbled mess despite the fact that I’d been at the front of the line waiting, and therefore had been waiting the longest. I managed to get the 3rd last seat on the bus, and we were of. The driver got us home in just over 4 hours–pretty good, especially considering we stopped at one point. And we arrived in snowy New York City around 11pm. I felt (somehow, magically) up for taking the subway (and a bit avoidant of the cabs since there was lots of ice on the roads), so I managed to get home for free (or for what I’d already payed).

After a 14-hour travel day, and about 27 hours later than planned, I arrived home. Thank goodness for multiple forms of transportation. And not getting stuck on a plane, in an airport or in a subway car on an elevated track overnight (with no bathroom, food, or heat). It could be so much worse.

Don’t leave your lights on

OH, blogger…you obnoxious interface…So I had a beginning written. Promise. And then when I inserted a picture, it got erased. So here’s a synopsis. I took my mom’s dog, Jenny, for a run on Wednesday. Here’s what she looks like:

Unfortunately, I discovered this to be a mistake. You see, Jenny is still more or less a puppy, and she’s very energetic (hence the needing to go for a run….), and she doesn’t really know how to run with someone yet (though she’s gotten better). So she was on my left side and then ran behind me and as I was thinking that it was probably a good idea to be able to see her at all times…..she ran around to my right side and managed to wrap the leash around my right foot, and I tripped quite hard. So my right knee got pretty well torn up, and I scraped up my shin, ankle, shoulder and skinned both of my palms, as well as bruised my hip pretty well. It was not fun. Less fun was walking home, which took about 15 minutes, and I had the dog with me. She is lucky to be unharmed. Anyway, a week later, my knee is finally starting to more or less heal. It still hurts to walk on a bit, but I’m trying to get over it.

Out of the boonies (sort of) now, I’ve arrived in Durham (well, commuting). Siler City ended well, and Durham has been a complete change of pace. It’s busier, but I’ve had fewer real conversations with people, so that’s different. I am working with one of the other students who just finished her first year in medical school, Fatima. She has been nice, and we’re learning how to work together. But both of us have been more or less bored for the majority of the day. The most frustrating part is that you can be working on something to stave of boredom–reading, looking at blogs, whatever the case may be–and then in the middle of that, you have to get up and go approach someone. It’s not horrible. Just annoying.

The week has been eventful, not completely in a good way. Sunday evening I went with my friends Jesse, JD and Gage to visit Ali, my former roommate, in her hometown of Warrenton, NC (about 1 hour and 15 minutes North of Chapel Hill). I knew that it would make life hard on Monday morning, but it was also the last time I would be able to see Ali and probably the others as well for quite some time. So it was worth it. But because of the trip, I got about 3.5 hours of sleep Sunday night and woke up Monday morning exhausted. I drove to work, got there on time with everything I needed and the morning went just fine. I went to lunch with Fatima and as we were walking by my car, I thought that it looked like maybe my lights were on…so I checked. And yes, I had left them on and yes, my battery was dead. Now, for those of you know don’t know, I have had quite some trouble with my battery–I have a history of leaving the lights on and killing it, and the last time it happened (Ali), we couldn’t jumpstart it. So I was worried. But after work, Fatima and I attempted to jump start Coche with her car…and it failed. So I had to call AAA who, despite my not having my card, was able to send someone to start the car. Yay AAA! But it did take them an hour to come, so by the time I got home, it was a few minutes after 6 (and I had gotten to work at 7:15, leaving home at 7am).

When I got home Monday night, I wanted to work on some paper work for my current job (stuff for housing) and for VISTA in NYC since the woman who hired me called and sent an email to us with some forms for proving we’re citizens, getting tickets to come to the city, etc. One form for each I had to print out, sign, and scan back into the computer. I went to turn on my computer…and the screen didn’t wake up. So I tried to restart it, to no avail. I called Applecare and talked to them for an hour, concluding that I needed to erase my hard drive and reinstall the operating system. Awesome. Second time in a year. At least my computer still recognized that I HAVE a hard drive this time. So I did that, which also took for-ever (1.5 hours..~), bringing us to 8:30. Except that it didn’t quite finish, and I had to restart it. So I went to bed before it had finished. Anyway, I was exhausted and sick of dealing with obnoxious stuff, things breaking.

Tuesday, I wanted to take my computer to the Apple store because it had stopped working AGAIN during the day Tuesday (I brought it to work and re-loaded a bunch of stuff from my external hard drive), but I tried to cleverly find directions to Southpoint Mall from the clinic I am at in Durham, and took a wrong turn which landed me in Hillsborough. Hillsborough is NOT Southpoint (in case you were wondering…). In getting back to Chapel Hill, I somehow went the wrong way again, which I realized because I saw the exit for the clinic, and I was passing by it heading AWAY from Chapel Hill. So I again did not get home until 6, at which point I was exhausted and frustrated to say the least. My lovely mother fixed me some dinner, and then I went to babysit for the last time for one of the wonderful families I’ve had the pleasure of working for in the past year. It was definitely sad to say goodbye, though I also really feel like it is time to move on from the babysitting phase. I have enjoyed it, learned a lot, and think I’ll be a better mother, and am a better person, for having done it. But time to move on.

Speaking of which, I finally got the date that I will be moving to New York City! I start my new job in AmeriCorps (though I’m still not sure what that will be exactly) on August 18th and I’m planning on moving up there the 14th/15th. So I am extremely excited, as well as nervous. It should be the adventure of adventures! I am looking forward to being in a place where everyone wants to visit, and I hope I will have many many guests over my year there :-). Anyway, this is getting long. So I should probably wrap it up. Until next time–

The moveout

My roommate, Ali, moved out today and I went with her and Hans to Warrenton (her hometown) for Memorial Day. We went swimming in the lake and ate a delicious dinner from the grill (thanks, Hans & Victoria!) and relaxed. It was very nice, despite having to say goodbye to Ali. So now my apartment is totally empty except for my room and the refrigerator. And I am faced with the task of packing up my remaining stuff…of which there is plenty. Also I’m wondering how May passed me by so friggin’ quickly, and concerned with how quickly I know June and July will come…until I am gone. So it’s a good thing I’ve got some great things happening. For now…I’m just contemplating.

Tomorrow is my first day of work, so I’d better get to sleep.
Much love,