Anti-feminist market theories of sexuality fail to explain the data.

What Women Really Think
Aug. 10 2011 12:11 PM

Do Women Like Sex?

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Photo by YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images

The common theme of anti-feminism of the '60s through roughly the '90s was basically, "Feminism is emasculating.  Now go make me a sandwich."  Alas, anti-feminists are beginning to realize that overt misogyny isn't really the selling point it used to be, and so now anti-feminism has taken a strange turn. Instead of pleading on behalf of men, anti-feminists claim that feminism is bad for women.  

The argument goes something like this:  Feminists, being ladies and therefore gullible, took a look around and saw that men controlled religion, government, business, and family and assumed that this meant that we lived in a patriarchy where women were inferior to men.  Not so!  Actually, it was a system created and dominated by women, where women used men's need to have sex with them to control men and obtain resources for them.  All that stuff that looks like patriarchy, including vicious control of women's sexuality through slut-shaming, religious garb, and female genital mutilation?  Just women controlling the market to make sure the price of the poon was high.  And all that business, religion, government, etc?  Just men trying to get resources so they could acquire top-dollar vagina, which was a market that women controlled totally and men have no say in.  And feminists ruined it all for women by making them work and stuff.

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It's a strange theory that has no real historical evidence for it, but adherents to this belief will not give it up without a fight. Which explains this bizarre interview with Roy Baumeister.  Baumeister's theory is that women are the producers but not consumers of sex, and men are the consumers and not producers of sex, and it causes him to point to things like men buying dinner (ladies are whores for the hamburgers!) and the supposed death of sex in marriage, as women who have obtained a man's resources stop having sex because they got what they wanted.  Baumeister is trying to make this women-producers/men-consumers theory fit the evidence that more gender equality leads to more sex, but really, he fails utterly.  His argument is that equality somehow "lowered" the price of sex, because as women have more economic resources of their own, they slut-shame each other less. Okay, fair enough.  But the theory falls apart when you assume, as Baumeister does, that women just aren't into sex.  He claims married women aren't into it, but also that single women aren't into casual sex.  Commitment doesn't make us horny.  Newness doesn't make us horny.  It appears nothing makes us horny.  

If that's the case, then we should actually see sex rates plummet, and not just in marriage.  Actually, we should see marriage rates plummet, too, if marriage is simply an exchange of vagina for economic stability. If women just aren't into sex, and they don't need to exchange sex for goods and services, which is the traditional reason Baumeister says we have sex, then why wouldn't we just give it up?  That's actually how markets work.  If you're producing a good (in this case, sex), and no one on the market has anything you actually want to exchange for it, then you'd probably just stop producing it.  Baumeister likes to dwell on casual sex, but he argues that women neither desire it for itself nor can they expect anything in exchange for it.  Then why on earth do they do it?  He literally gives women no real world motivation for it, except a vague sense we're too stupid to know better.

The feminist theory about sex is probably still the better one:  Women, like men, enjoy sex.  In a patriarchal system, women's bodies are seen as objects to control, and women's sexual desires threaten the system because women will make choices based on what they, as women want, and not what men want them to do.  So women's sexuality is systematically surpressed.  Women enforce the rules because the system penalizes them for not doing so, but if women collectively stop enforcing the rules, i.e. become feminists, then the system collapses.  And women, liberated from patriarchal domination of their sexuality, start having the same kind of variety of sex (casual, commited, somewhere in between) that men have always preserved for themselves alone. It's a theory that explains the data without the glaring flaws that Baumeister's theory has. 

Amanda Marcotte is a Brooklyn-based writer and DoubleX contributor. She also writes regularly for the Daily Beast, AlterNet, and USA Today. Follow her on Twitter.

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