Sex Is Cheap

Science, technology, and life.
Feb. 12 2009 1:11 PM

Sex Is Cheap

If you're looking for a safe industry to invest or earn a living in during the recession, maybe you should think more about sex. No, I'm not suggesting a career in porn or prostitution. I'm talking about condoms. Charisse Jones has the update in USA Today :

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William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

While car purchases plummeted and designer clothes mostly stayed on the racks, sales of condoms in the U.S. rose 5% in the fourth quarter of 2008, and 6% in January vs. the same time periods the previous year, The Nielsen Co. reports.

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Why are condoms up while the rest of the economy goes flaccid? Theory No. 1 is that the sex drive is immune to bad times. No offense, but I'm not buying. See, for example, this November story from the Los Angeles Times about the economy whacking the sex trade :

Signs of the economic free fall have cropped up in many of Nevada's 25 or so legal brothels. ... This summer, the Shady Lady gave $50 gas cards to those who spent $300. The Moonlite Bunny Ranch offered extras to customers paying with their economic stimulus checks. ... Donna's Ranch has seen its business plummet nearly 20%. More than three-quarters of its customers are long-haul truckers, and high fuel and food prices have drained them of "play money," owner Geoff Arnold says.

Theory No. 2 is that it's cheaper to stay home than to go out. Jones reports:

The sales bump squares solidly with one of the nation's most common trends during any recession: nesting. ... "If people don't have the money to go out to a fancy dinner or are looking to cut back, Trojan gives them some real affordable ways to stay in and make some great memories together," says Jim Daniels, vice president of marketing for Trojan, the nation's No. 1 condom maker.

That makes sense: Make love, not reservations. Instead of buying your date dinner and hoping for sex, skip the dinner part and go straight to the main event.

Then there's theory No. 3: controlling the family payroll. "Condoms make for a relatively inexpensive form of birth control at a time many cash-strapped families are hesitant to grow," Jones observes. "Contraception may also be more popular during a time when families are stretching dollars and want to avoid having more mouths to feed."

I'm rooting for theory No. 3. I'd like to think that when times are tough, people become increasingly rational and careful about limiting their financial commitments, especially when the welfare of existing children is at stake. But the part about condoms being a "relatively inexpensive form of birth control" worries me. Including a barrier method is generally a good idea. But if people are cutting back on more foolproof contraception and relying entirely on condoms, there's always a risk that one screw-up will lead to pregnancy. And if you're really strapped, that's an economic and moral cost too great to risk.

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