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The Depressing News on the Cost of Success?

by Tamara Shayne Kagel

January 26, 2011 | 9:28 am

So this week I read the most depressing article I’ve read in a long time (and I read a lot).  Tracy Clark-Flory in a story on Salon interviewed Mark Regnerus, the co-author of a new book that was just released, Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate and Think About Marrying.  Clark-Flory reports that despite the skyrocketing accomplishments of women, (outnumbering men in college, out-earning their male peers when they first enter the work world), when it comes to relationships, they say men are calling all the shots—which means less commitment and more sex.  However, I’m not sure his research actually sustains his ultimate conclusion.

I’ll excerpt the highlights of what the author Mark Regnerus says in the interview:

...The cold-hard truth is that women’s successes have left them with a small pool of similarly educated and financially stable men…It’s created an imbalance that tips relationship power in the direction of the men. Instead of men competing for women, today women feel like they must compete for men…So how do we measure how people price [sex]? A couple different ways: First, the time until they have sex in a relationship. A second measure is the number of sex partners that “sub-optimal men” have had. I define that group as men who are 22 years old, dropped out of high school and don’t have a full-time job—men who don’t have a lot going for them. We compare the number of partners they’ve had with the number of partners of a male college graduate who is employed full-time. Theoretically, if sex is valuable to her then she’s not going to trade it away to just some crummy man, and when we look at the data, we find that those sub-optimal men report a lot more partners than men who actually have a lot going for them.
    ...In the book, 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…All he has to do is maybe buy her dinner and text her…It’s not that young educated women don’t marry—in fact they have the highest odds of getting and staying married—it’s that if you look at the whole relationship scene out there today, more than ever women feel like they’re competing for men. In American colleges, 57 percent of students are women and 43 percent are men. That’s a radical reversal of where we were 30 or 40 years ago. Presuming that people are attracted to people who are like them educationally, it means looking for secure relationships becomes challenging because the sex ratio is so imbalanced.
    ...That’s a terrible environment to try to get men to commit. The women wind up competing with each other—not necessarily to marry because they’re not interested in marriage at that point—but they compete with each other to attract men. How do you compete with other women to attract men? Well, sex is the way to get his attention. It’s the opposite of a cartel effect where women would say, “All right, we need to band together and artificially restrict the price of sex and get it high, even if we don’t want to, in order to extract things from men.” It used to be women would shame each other for selling low.
    ...There’s plenty of that mentality of “Well, if I give him what he wants then he should stay.” I think women feel they have to compete with each other, and that if they stick to this script it will eventually work out for them…I don’t think it’s in women’s interest to play the field for a long period of time. It can get depressing, not only about their relationships but to see the pool of men in their 30s who are available. My advice is if you find somebody who you love and who loves you, make it work, whatever it takes! To always think that something better is down the pathway, you might be mistaken.
    ...I think it’s a bad idea for women collectively to compete with each other for men and to just sort of say I’ll do whatever it takes to be in a relationship with men. Women need to somehow reacquire control over the direction of relationships. They feel like they don’t have control. They feel like he calls the shots. That is most unfortunate. Part of that, I think, involves—and this is what some women don’t want to hear—the artificial restriction of sex until later in the relationship. You might not feel like doing that but it’s for a greater future goal. Men who have sex early in a relationship feel little impulse to make strong commitments. Women desperately want that to not be true, but it is. Men and women make relationship commitments very differently. It doesn’t sound modern and it doesn’t sound natural, but I don’t care what it sounds like, I’m telling you how things work. Giving it away early gives a great deal of power to him.
    ...I wish I could say, “Oh, an individual woman will get what she wants by withholding sex,” but that is not the case when it’s not the case collectively, when there are lots of other women happy to underbid her. She’s in a bind, which is why a lot of women don’t restrict it because they feel, “Oh, he’s just going to go to my roommate or the other woman at the end of the bar,” which is true. But I still think you have better odds of succeeding, especially if you’re attractive, if you don’t give in, if you make him work hard, get to know you, make commitments—all that stuff that seems pretty basic. This is not about getting sex…This is about getting commitments.

I’m not sure what to say about this.  One problem with Regnerus’s theory is that it assumes that women don’t want sex, only relationships.  And while at some point later in life this may be true, I have a hard time believing this is true for most women in their early twenties.  I have a feeling that plenty of women are having sex at that age because they want to and not because they feel they have to keep a man interested.  It also assumes that men will only want sex and not relationships in perpetuity, whereas I meet men all the time, usually in their thirties and forties who say they’re sick of playing around and ready to settle down; I think they would be willing to wait a while to sleep with someone they thought might be a potential wife.  Furthermore, there’s no research that shows that fewer marriages are occurring nor that people are settling down at a slower rate.  It seems that if men really did call the shots and all they want is sex, men would be less likely to settle down, but the marriage rate has stayed steady for years.

Until, there is evidence that the women who wait to have sex are the ones ending up in relationships as opposed to the ones who don’t, it seems like all women are affected equally: there are less accomplished men for the ones who give it up and for the ones who don’t.  That’s the really sad part of the study - we live in a world now where men are going to be constantly under-performing.  Not giving these men sex doesn’t seem like it’s going to solve the problem helping men achieve.  It’s just going to keep these under-achieving men from getting laid.  Apparently it’s time for boy-power.

 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Tamara Shayne Kagel is a twenty-something fixture on the Los Angeles scene currently living in Santa Monica.  Currently, Tamara is a successful freelance writer (just ask her...

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