Got money?

Who has got the money in your relationship? I mean, who has the capital? – The man, the woman? Who do you think has it in most male-female interactions?

Well, I am not talking money as in bucks or accounts. I am talking about assets much closer to a relationship: sexual capital. With the cold, indifferent mind of the economist, we need to acknowledge that the woman has it. Always had.

Here is why. There are markets for sexuality. Let’s leave values and emotions to one side just for a minute and imagine that sex is a commodity that can be sold and bought. Well, it can. There is prostitution, there is pornography, and both can be lucrative trades. Some economists even argue that marriage is a lifelong contract about selling sex. In the vast majority of cases, it is the man that is buying and paying a price, and the woman that is selling and receiving the money. Occasionally a man is selling, too, but usually to a man, and the market for that is pretty small. The big market for sex is women selling to men; visual material, audio material and physical actions. (And the marriage bed. There is evidence of monetary returns to marriage for women, but not men.) In short, the sexuality of a woman is an asset. It can be hired out and sold. The sexuality of a man – cannot.

Let this sink in for a while, ladies. YOU have got the capital. And you largely have control over the price: your offer is in short supply and men’s demand is, hm, high. Higher than you think. Higher than they want you to think, possibly. And you can regulate your supply. Here is a secret: any signal of scarcity increases the price. This is the whole secret behind guys wanting a woman that hasn’t had many men: a signal that her capital is in scarce supply. True, it matters if you are surrounded by willing or less willing sisters, but you are much less substitutable than you think. And, paradoxically, scarcity signals make you less substitutable.

In countries where women don’t have much power they still hold sexual capital – and treasure it all the more. Hence the high regard for virginity in these places: a scarcity signal so strong it suggests a monopoly. Non-virgins don’t need to worry though; sexual capital is a renewable resource. As far as signaling goes, virgin is as virgin does (not did).

Good Things Happen to People Who…Wait

Victoria is a beautiful and educated young woman from a well-to-do family.  She is also not too easy to please. She loves good manners and protocol and has a well-developed appreciation for gentlemanlikeness. Including for men to make the first move and to invite the ladies; not the other way round. She has had several admirers. And turned them down time and again. While she turned 20…25…30…she dismissed men she found not good enough. She plainly refused to think about any ticking clock, going against the current in her peer group. And then she met John. He passed the bar and she had in fact met her soulmate. But that is another story.

Victoria waited. She was happy to wait and happy in her wait. She met her girlfriends regularly, she had a bookclub and went to a sports club. She also loved organizing charity events and mingled in her university’s alumni club. Her time was well and happily filled and there was probably too much buzz to hear any clock ticking. She also switched careers and became a ‘mature student’ again at age 28, getting her MD at 32. (She married John one year later, by the way.)

When people wait comfortably for a partner, the match will be better and more sustainable. This common sense insight has some solid economic theory to back it up. Dale Mortensen in ‘Partner for Life’ reviews the labor market literature that is applicable not only to employer-employee but also husband-wife partnerships. And finds that people who find a way to sweeten the wait end up better matched. (And the unemployed who receive an unemployment benefit end up in a better matched job. But that is another story.)

 

 

How long should you wait for sex?

Dear Economist,

how early in a relationship should you expect, or give in to, sex? I hear so many views on this topic that I am quite confused. Most guys want it as early as possible, and by the third date at the latest. Many dating gurus advise to wait – but not on how long. The only advice on timing comes from several world religions, which promote waiting until marriage. But how can this work in the modern world of dating? There seem to be no rules. – Now, do economists have a view on this?

Grateful for any light in this confusion, Yours, Katja

Dear Katja,

thanks for giving us an opportunity to answer this awesome question. We hear it a lot in conversation and counseling practice, but few people dare debate it online in a serious manner.

Yes – economists do have an opinion. A clear one, and empirically founded one. You should wait – for as long as you need a clear head to decide if the guy is the right one for you, and deserves your trust. (The question to you is then: what is ‘the right one’? If you are looking for someone to marry, then, yep, waiting until marriage is a good idea.)

Because after sex, the clear head will be gone and you will trust blindly. We owe this insight to a team of experimental economists at the University of Zurich. They tested the effect of oxytocin (the hormone women emit during orgasm, and also childbirth) on people’s judgment in an investment game. While the testees could still calculate well, they started to behave more trustingly and thereby opened themselves up to abuse.

Now, while it’s a good idea that mum and baby are bonded in blind trust, it may not be quite so useful in a dating relationship. Imagine you are high on oxytocin with someone that for some reason does not deserve your full trust. You risk being mucked about without even noticing.

You will say, great, but how can I ‘wait for sex’ in practice? My friends will think I’ve gone nuts.

First, your friends’ (or the majority’s) opinion should not come before your own wellbeing. Second, those who agree with the above (e.g. many world religions) have figured out all sorts of ways to delay sex until a time when it’s right. My favorite books on the matter haven been written by ladies who tested both worlds (waiting and not waiting)and then made their own conscious choice, Dawn Eden and  Wendy Shalit. You can save yourself your own trial-and-error by just reading about theirs.

Hope this works for you! Do check back in.

Best wishes,

Dr de Bergerac