Regnerus, “Cheap Sex”

9780190673611We’re a little late getting to this, but a few months ago Oxford published a new book by University of Texas sociologist Mark Regnerus, Cheap Sex: The Transformation of Men, Marriage, and Monogamy, which has received a lot of attention. Regnerus addresses millennials’ apparent lack of interest in marriage and family and says much of the problem (if it is a problem) results from the fact that sex has become more accessible and less costly, and not only in monetary terms. As religious scruples fade, the spiritual costs of easy sex decrease as well — and when the cost of something goes down, more people decide they can afford it. In fact, Regnerus argues, for some people sex may take the place of traditional religion, offering a substitute, though ultimately dissatisfying, path to the transcendent. There are interesting gender dynamics, too. Regnerus, a conservative, points out that a regime of cheap sex favors men more than women–another irony of the sexual revolution, which was supposed to lead to greater equality between the sexes. Here’s the description from the Oxford website:

Sex is cheap. Coupled sexual activity has become more widely available than ever. Cheap sex has been made possible by two technologies that have little to do with each other – the Pill and high-quality pornography – and its distribution made more efficient by a third technological innovation, online dating. Together, they drive down the cost of real sex, and in turn slow the development of love, make fidelity more challenging, sexual malleability more common, and have even taken a toll on men’s marriageability.

Cheap Sex takes readers on an extended tour inside the American mating market, and highlights key patterns that characterize young adults’ experience today, including the timing of first sex in relationships, overlapping partners, frustrating returns on their relational investments, and a failure to link future goals like marriage with how they navigate their current relationships. Drawing upon several large nationally-representative surveys, in-person interviews with 100 men and women, and the assertions of scholars ranging from evolutionary psychologists to gender theorists, what emerges is a story about social change, technological breakthroughs, and unintended consequences. Men and women have not fundamentally changed, but their unions have. No longer playing a supporting role in relationships, sex has emerged as a central priority in relationship development and continuation. But unravel the layers, and it is obvious that the emergence of “industrial sex” is far more a reflection of men’s interests than women’s.

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