Sexual Economics

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Sexual Economics:
Sex as Female Resource for Social Exchange in Heterosexual Interactions

Roy F. Baumeister
Florida State University

Kathleen D. Vohs
University of British Columbia

RUNNING HEAD: Sexual Economics; Sex as Female Resource

In press, Personality and Social Psychology Review

Sexual Economics; Sex as Female Resource, p. 2

Abstract

A heterosexual community can be analyzed as a marketplace in which men seek to acquire sex from women by offering other resources in exchange. Societies will therefore define gender roles as if women are sellers and men buyers of sex. Societies will endow female sexuality, but not male sexuality, with value (as in virginity, fidelity, chastity). The sexual activities of different couples are loosely interrelated by a marketplace, instead of being fully separate or private, and each couple's decisions may be influenced by market conditions. Economic principles suggest that the price of sex will depend on supply and demand, competition among sellers, variations in product, collusion among sellers, and other factors. Research findings show gender asymmetries (reflecting the complementary economic roles) in prostitution, courtship, infidelity and divorce, female competition, the sexual revolution and changing norms, unequal status between partners, cultural suppression of female sexuality, abusive relationships, rape, and sexual attitudes.

Sexual Economics; Sex as Female Resource, p. 3

Sexual activity is often regarded as among the most private of activities, negotiated by two individuals on the basis of their own individual desires and values. Idealistic treatments describe the two individuals as potentially equal and interchangeable. In this manuscript, we place sexual negotiations in the context of a cultural system in which men and women play different roles resembling buyer and seller — in a marketplace that is ineluctably affected by the exchanges between other buyers and sellers. In recent decades, two main theoretical approaches have dominated the field of sexuality. One of these emphasizes biological determinants, especially as shaped by evolutionary pressures. The other emphasizes social construction, especially as shaped by political forces. Both have proposed to explain differences between men and women. The evolutionary approach stresses the different reproductive strategies of men and women and the difference as to what pattern of sexual response would have led to the highest quality and number of successful offspring. The social constructionist approach, generally based on feminist theory, has emphasized male subjugation of women and how women respond to their oppressed position in society. Thus, the disciplines of biology and politics have been most prominent in guiding how psychologists think about sex. This article turns to a different discipline, namely economics, in order to elucidate a theory of sexual interactions. An economic approach to human behavior was defined by (subsequent) Nobel laureate Gary Becker (1976) as having four main assumptions. First, the behavior of individuals is interconnected in market systems in which individual choices are shaped by costs and benefits in the context of stable preferences. Second, scarce but desirable resources are allocated by price shifts and other market influences. Third, sellers of goods or services compete with each other (as buyers also sometimes do, but not as much). Fourth, people seek to maximize their outcomes. Although initially economists focused on material goods and material needs, many have begun to look at nonmaterial

Sexual Economics; Sex as Female Resource, p. 4

goods (such as services) and nonmonetary media of exchange (such as time or emotion). In adopting such an approach, our theory will therefore be primarily cultural in the sense that it looks at how individual behavior is shaped by the market and other aspects of the collective network, but just as economic exchange...
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