Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Not enough fun in the sack: a poor argument against promiscuity

The repentant Mary Magdalen
A lady calling herself 'Jennifer Joyner' has written an interesting critique of sexual promiscuity, without reference to religion. She makes many good points about the unsatisfactory nature of 'hookup culture', writing as a woman, and addressing women primarily. There's something I want to disagree with, however, which is encapsulated in the following paragraph.

In a culture claiming to promote gender equality, I believe hooking up has taken a dramatic step in the wrong direction. Whether we like it or not, sex is intrinsically biased against the woman: biological reality dictates that she carries the brunt of sexual risks while he wields the majority of the of sexual power. Make their coital relations mutually selfish—that is, primarily about fleeting pleasures and not about caring for the person—and she always loses. She plays a rigged game.

She goes on to specify that women bear the risk of pregnancy, and also of the experience not being a pleasurable one: in her phrase, it may not be that much fun in the sack.

She makes the common mistake, in assessing the costs and benefits involved in the 'sexual economy', of ignoring the cost to men of rejection. Men invest—or gamble, in you prefer—in advance of the actual 'hookup', and whether we are talking about honourable courtship or the utterly sordid way of life the unfortunate writer experienced, and then repented, they bear a significant risk of rejection. If they are rejected the investment—or gambling stake—is completely down the drain: the time and often money spent cultivating the woman. This is a very important factor in considering the incentives involved. However, I want to draw attention to a distinct, though related point.

From the article is seems almost incomprehensible that women behave as, sadly, they too often do. But if we don't understand why they do, we stand no chance of persuading them to stop. So at the risk of making a life of sin sound more attractive than Joyner does, I want to be a little more realistic.

Young women who embark on a career of sexual licence certainly aren't going to find spiritual solace or lasting emotional satisfaction, and they may not be as physically gratified as the movies would have us believe—no—but in the immortal words of Renton, the heroine addict in the film Trainspotting 'we're not that ... stupid.' No: they will reasonably reliably get something which they think is worth having. In the case of promiscuity, what they will get is lots of flattering attention from men.

Young men can make themselves available all right, but it doesn't have the same result. Unless they are very exceptional, they'll not get several young women every evening making advances to them, offering to buy them drinks and meals and what not. Joyner can call it a rigged game, but I'm not sure it is rigged in favour of men. Young women's experience of promiscuity is not of desperately seeking partners, but of rejecting four out of every five men who would like to go to bed with them. One might almost call it, in this sense, empowering for them. But here come the caveats.

One is that the sexual revolution did not actually help women to get male attention. When men did not expect to be able to go to bed with their girlfriends as a matter of course, they still chatted girls up, bought them drinks and all the rest of it. What the sexual revolution changed was the price women have to pay for getting the flattering attention they were already getting: the price went up. The argument for sexual permissiveness can't rely on empowering women, but on the gratification offered by the sexual experience itself, and here Joyner's arguments come into play. It's not all it's cracked up to be.

Another caveat is that a major reason each young woman can choose between several potential sexual partners each evening, and young men cannot, is that there is mutual attraction between women in their twenties and men not only of their own age, but older ones as well. Young women have scarcity value because of the rapid decline of attractiveness which, for each one of them, is just around the corner. The 'male fixation with youth'  can be mapped on graphs using figures from dating websites, but I don't think I need to labour the point. For young women, it may be fun for ten years, but then the music stops. It is not surprising to find that most women aim to get married before the end of their twenties, and most still manage it.

Joyner's article was a warning to young women not to be tempted by the empty promises of promiscuity. Essentially, she is missing a major part of what the promise is, and accordingly doesn't realise that it is not, in fact, entirely empty. I want to use another post to say more about why she is going wrong, and consider what to say instead.

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