WASHINGTON – “Sex sells at a low price in today’s society,” said Mark Regnerus, a sociologist at the University of Texas and author of the recently-released book Premarital Sex in America . Regnerus spoke to a group of Christian leaders in Washington, D.C., Wednesday and explained the reasons behind the cultural trend that has men and women getting married later in life or not at all.
“Young men have the upper hand in bed,” said Regnerus, “even when they’re failing at life.”
The sociologist points to one reason for this discouraging news for single women: a divided dating market. He explained that in today’s dating pool, the single persons are divided: on one side there’s the group who wants sex and on the other side the group who desires marriage. Thirty years ago, Regnerus continued, these two markets were coupled. Today, however, with the onslaught of the birth control pill and other contraceptives, which makes it easier to have one without the other, women have performed sexual acts without gaining any commitment in return.
Why would women lower the value of sex? Regnerus explained that it has to do with the unequal dating pool.
Successful women outnumber successful men, giving men the upper hand on sex.
“If women were more fully in charge of how their relationships transpired, we'd be seeing, on average, more impressive wooing efforts, longer relationships, fewer premarital sexual partners, shorter cohabitations and more marrying going on,” Regnerus writes in Slate Magazine. Instead, according to the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, society is seeing a trend in more premarital sex and less marrying.
While Regnerus recognizes that some women just want sex and some men want relationships, he says on a whole, more men generally want access to the bedroom, and committing to a woman was once the way to gain that access. So, according to Regnerus, with a rise in premarital sex, it is not surprising that we see fewer marriages and fewer commitments being made in romantic relationships.
“Men will work for sex,” he said, but when women have to compete with other women for romantic attention, males gain the upper hand and thus do not have to work as hard.
“Analysis of demographic data from 117 countries has shown that when men outnumber women, women have the upper hand: Marriage rates rise and fewer children are born outside marriage. An oversupply of women, however, tends to lead to a more sexually permissive culture.”
Another possible reason for the decline in marriages, according to Regnerus, is that women no longer need men.
“They may like men, they may want men. But they don’t need men.”
Women used to rely on men for security and comfort. Now, with the percentage of women with college degrees outnumbering men, it has become apparent that women can provide for themselves. In fact, male financial earnings for 25- to 34-year-olds have fallen 21 percent since 1971; last year, women made up the majority of the work force for the first time.
Therefore, while women could still want marriage, they don’t need the security that it provided 30 years ago. So, women – faced with more competition from other women – are more likely to give up sex, a tool once used for alluring a future husband, to a man who has not fully committed himself to the relationship.
So it’s no surprise, according to Regnerus, that the percentage 25- to 34-year-olds who are married has decreased by an average of 1 percent each year for the past 10 years.