I actually agree with the bulk of Phi’s post on sexual market value, taking issue with a chart that appears to show roughly equal SMV among men and women over lifespans, but with women peaking sooner than men. Phi’s objections seem to be (1) the chart assumes equal buying power among both sexes, and (2) a lack of recognition on the chart for de-facto polygamy.

I’d argue that these two, to the extent that they exist, are actually functions of the same thing. Which is to say that if women are in general less excited about casual sex (more on the casualness in a minute, as well as the reasons for lack of excitement), then it absolutely makes sense that they would be more discriminating. And that in a buyer’s market, they would hold out for better while men who are not better would be forced to shop “downmarket”[1].

If you’re a guy whose primary purpose is looking to get laid, this is a problem. I’d argue, though, that the problem is with male priorities far more than it is with female priorities. Both from the guys at the top who are apparently too indiscriminate if they are sexing downmarket, to the midmarket and downmarket guys who are feeling shafted by being unable to have sex with women like the upmarket guys can.

I focus on casual sex because that’s where a lot of the numbers are going to be moved. I’m defining casual sex as that which is (a) outside that of a committed relationship of even the medium-term, (b) outside that of a new relationship that is reasonably expected to become a committed relationship. Aspirational sex, wherein someone holds the feint hope that a relationship will occur due to the sex that is occurring, is mostly folded in with casual sex provided that there is not a reasonable basis to assume that the goal is going to be attained in this manner. “Casual” is not actually the best word here because sometimes it’s anything but, but it’s the word that I have.

While most sex might not be casual sex, I suspect that most partnerings will be. People who have sex inside a committed or forming relationship are more likely to have a single partner for a duration of some degree while those of more casual inclinations will be having multiple partners. To use a personal example, I had one partner over the course of multiple years, followed by more than one partner over a much shorter timespan, eventually followed by my marriage and the one partner I have had since. There are exceptions to this (I have a friend who had more sexual partners during the course of a particular relationship than he’d had prior to it and than I think he has had since…), but as a general rule I think it holds.

While I’m not sure how sexual value is being defined here, I’d assume it’s some variation of “quality and quantity of sexual opportunities a man or woman has.” This being a value regardless of whether actual “sales” are made. AC Green and Tim Tebow are both likely to have very high SMV, even if the former remained a virgin until marriage and the latter is still one[2]. Even so, society often makes these determinations based on results. And, to an extent, sales are a function of selling, so we judge male sexual value by conquests. So we might judge someone who’s had twenty partners as having a higher value than someone who has had five, even though the former has such a high count because he “put himself out there” to a greater degree than the latter, either because of extroversion, different priorities, or fewer monogamous relationships of any length.

All of which is to say, it’s complicated. To bring us back to the main point, it is perfectly rational for women to withhold sex except when it is particularly worth their while. When it’s a particularly hot guy. When it’s a guy with whom there is substantial relationship potential. This is true for a variety of reasons, but mostly because when we look at the consequences of casual sex, they fall disproportionately on women[3]. We can talk about the specific risks men do face, but the more we rack them up, the more it becomes apparent that men should be more particular than they are. Men should hold out for either upmarket women, or women with whom they have a significant bond (making it no longer casual, of course).

Casual sex isn’t the same as committed sex, of course. So what I say above is of little help for the guy who says “But it wasn’t about casual sex to begin with. I’m looking for a relationship and the sexual marketplace – and the extent to which it has become a marketplace – has made all of this harder.”

To which, I am actually sympathetic. I think there is a problem here, in that since they are two different things, we’re not exactly talking about a singular marketplace anymore. We’re talking about the car rental market on one hand, and a car lot on the other.

There is a tendency to want to say “But women really desire in a mate the same thing they desire in a sexual partner.” That when women settle down with a different kind of mate than they slept with, it was because they dialed back expectations and wouldn’t have, if only they’d had the option. This is true for some, trivially true for most, and false for many. Some young women – like young men – never switch gears from asking “Is this a person I like getting hot and heavy with?” to “Is this a person I want to spend the rest of my life with?” It’s trivially true for most in the same sense that if they had the choice between hot good marriage material and fair good marriage material, they’d take the former (who wouldn’t? Except…). Others take a different track entirely, being suspicious of hot products more generally.

Phi’s previous (exemplary) post on moral universalism vs. particularism touches on this, and hits a perfectly true note for a lot of people (men and women, though in my observation more frequently the latter, YMMV). There’s an old saying that women get married believing he will change and men get married believing that she won’t (and they’re both wrong). But I have to say, that’s really not how it seems to have unfolded in the longer game. Among my cohort, at least. By and large, the majority of people I know settled down with people whom they were equally yoked (to repurpose a biblical saying). Lessons learned and people moved on.

The pathway to get there has winners and losers. Guys like Phi that probably would have preferred to settle down sooner (though a lot of the resentful had a… different set of priorities). I get the sense that a lot of the resentment I see is directed at women who take advantage of their increased leverage in their early to mid-twenties only to shut down the game and get married right when that leverage is gone. It’s an interesting narrative, and compelling from the guy’s point of view, but it doesn’t fully account for the ways that sex is logistically and socially (and perhaps emotionally) different. It seems a bit like looking back at my time with Evangeline and saying “See? He got all that excitement before finally settling down with a doctor!” There’s not a false word in there, but the narrative doesn’t actually capture the story. In my experience, my Story of Wasted Time is not all that different than women’s Story of Wasted Time. I can’t say that I’m entirely sorry for having gone through it[4], but its ignoble conclusion was not a tribute to lost leverage and a matter of settling.

All of which points to the downside of the new paradigm. Or the many downsides, plural. Doubtless, the answer for many is for women to gear their sexual activity towards the range of guys they are likely to marry (or as Phi would likely have it, not engage in sex at all until marriage). While I’d disagree with the parenthetical, I think there is something towards that so long as we include guys in the criticism. It would be a better world had my count were half of what it is, limited only to forward-minded encounters or special circumstances. It also would have been a better world where I hadn’t felt the pressure to be and remain sexually active to the extent that I did, and a better world where young women weren’t under similar pressure (from the same source, though a different direction). It’s not really the world we live in, though, and there is a lot of blame to go around for that and only a minority portion, if that, towards the sexual decisions of women.

[1] I’m not entirely conceding that this is the case. Sometimes it is. Particularly for those guys who want sex at more regular intervals. For my part, most of my relatively small selection of partners were roughly in range of my place in the pecking order. It is the case, though, that if I were to want to have sex as available to me as it would be to my female counterpart, I’d have had to sacrifice my standards a great deal more than I did. And that itself probably wouldn’t have been enough. I’d probably have had to pay for it.

[2] I don’t know if that’s true, but we don’t hear otherwise, which suggests that he has at least kept it to a minimum. I suspect that if he were promiscuous, that is something the media would find very interesting in a way that they don’t find interesting for other athletes. Ditto for Green, who was very vocal about his virginity and scores of women did not step forward.

[3] Women get pregnant while men do not. STD transmission is more likely from male to female than the reverse. Women face greater social scrutiny for prolific sexual behavior. Women are put in a position to be raped in ways that men are not, generally. There are ways in which they do have advantages, such as statutory rape when they are young and a greater degree of control over reproduction, but they simply don’t stack up nearly as high, in my view.

[4] There’s a bit of a paradox involved. If I hadn’t gone through it, I wouldn’t be a person who could be sorry for going through it.

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2 Responses to SMV, MMV

  1. “It’s an interesting narrative, and compelling from the guy’s point of view, but it doesn’t fully account for the ways that sex is logistically and socially (and perhaps emotionally) different.”

    I think this is all missing the point of some basic physiological issues, namely women tend to have lesser sex drives than men, and, their sex drives tend to dwindle at an earlier age than happens to men. If women were, on average, as sexually driven as men, they would probably care less about pregnancy, emotions, or commitment. But because they aren’t blinded by physiological impulse to the same extent as are men, and even if they are, it is of shorter duration over lifespan (again, on average, of course there are outliers in either gender), they have the presence of mind to be patient and picky.

    • trumwill says:

      With regard to sexual peak, we’re actually talking about women when they are at their sexual peak. Differing sex drives may also account for some of it, though I do think the consequences matter as well. Either way, pointing to different sexual needs more than an exploitation of the system.

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