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The Economics of Sex

When you walk in the Red Light District, have you ever seen a male prostitute? I haven’t. There are only females. O wait! There are males, but ones that are dressed as females and try to act as feminine as possible to attract male customers, so I would still consider them females (with penises).  Let’s take a look at common male-female interactions: isn’t it considered harassment if a male directly asks a female for sexual interaction, while if the opposite happens, it is a lucky moment for the guy? If a girl has slept with many men, she is considered a slut, while a man who has slept with many women, is considered fortunate. We see males lustfully looking at females all the time, cat calling them and sometimes sexually harassing them. We rarely hear the story the other way around.

Why is it like that? Because heterosexual pleasure appears to be a female resource, and male sexuality has little or no value. Sex is a commodity, where females are suppliers and males constitute demand, and according to economics, there is a market clearing price which equates quantity demanded to quantity supplied. The scarcity of sex comes from the fact that a female is not willing to give sex indefinitely because if females do so, that increases the supply of sex, and the value of the commodity will be driven down, hurting females’ interests, while for males, it does not really matter. Digging deeper to figure out why the sex market mechanism is as described, leads to finding a biological explanation. For example, it is proven that males (in almost all species that reproduce sexually) have a higher drive to be sexually active than females. Most males can have sex at almost any time, while females have sex on discrete times, when it feels right to them. It is often very easy to turn a male on, while it is always tricky to get the sexual attention of a female. The biological reason is that males have sex to increase their chances of having progeny, while females are picky and choose the best candidate to make sure their babies will have a significant chance of survival.

As for any other commodity, there are two factors affecting the price of sex; one is availability, two is quality. Demand and supply are mainly dictated by sex ratios. A city or a town with a high female to male ratio is likely to be offering sex with a relatively lower ‘price’ to males, and vice versa. Sex is not a homogeneous product; it is differentiated primarily according to the level of female’s attractiveness, which is determined mainly by; physical attributes, personality, intelligence, playfulness, social status, and perceived or known sexual history (quality depreciates as the number of past sex partners of a female increases, because exclusivity that can be given to any future male partner is diminished). The more attractive a female is, the higher the price she asks for sex, so as in any given market, sex has different prices according to ‘quality’, which reflects males’ expectations of the pleasure received from the sexual interaction. Another factor affecting the price of sex is social norms regarding sex. In a society that offers permissive sexual norms, the ‘price’ of sex is lower than in a sexually conservative society.

Aside from these factors that render an individual female a price taker in a given sex market, individual female preferences may apply. A female with a higher than average sex drive, for example, may offer a slightly lower price than the perceived market price. Or a female tourist to some exotic area that wants to explore native males in that area, may simply give it for “only the fun of it”.

So these are the determinants of the volume of the price, but what is actually this price males pay for sex?  The price males pay to females for sex is not only an economic one. The price can be one or a combination of economic support, affection, companionship, pleasure, respect, prestige, security provision, a promise of short term or long term commitment to a relationship, marriage and other goods. In prostitution, which is a tiny segment, but the most explicit form of the aggregate sex market, it is simply a well-defined economic value. Thus, the lowest price is some money as in prostitution, or pleasure (and a few drinks) as for a female that has liberated herself from the pressures of the market that pushes her to ask for more. The highest price is a state enforced marriage contract.

Recent Trends in the Sex Market

Price of sex has gone down recently from long term commitment, to a short term fun. This is due to a number of reasons, mainly; female liberation, female economic independence, and increase in the supply of sex with the availability of porn, toys, sex robots, etc. This downward pressure on prices can be seen on marriage rates (marriage is the highest price paid for sex), which are declining everywhere. For example, in the European Union, the annual marriage rate was around 8 out of 1000 in 1970. In 2011, it is around 4 out of 1000. The annual divorce rate (divorce is driven by the availability of other sex options) was approximately 1 out of 1000 in 1970. In 2011, it doubled to 2 out of 1000. Dating apps revenues and the number of users have skyrocketed in the last few years. Dating apps are mostly used for hook ups and short term fun, or in other words; to get ‘cheap’, or uncommitted, sex.

The trend is obvious. Changes in attitudes towards sex along with technological developments in the sex/mating industry led to an increase in supply of sexual pleasure, and that has driven the overall price of sex down.


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